Saturday, April 29, 2006

A Time for Mentors

With my husband traveling for 5 days to a conference and me with the kids, I find very little time for blogging (or anything else intellectual or relaxing!) but while the kids nap, I finally sat outside in the sunny 80 degree weather here to read through the latest Nature. I was pleased to find a small bit in the editorials concerning mentoring awards ("Mentoring award 2006", Nature 440:970, 2006).

Once again my hats off to the UK. Last year Nature/NESTA sponsored awards for creative mentoring in science. This year the program includes both the UK and Australasia. I have always been a proponent for recognizing the skill of mentoring. As rightly stated in this short editorial, " There are many heads of labs whose students have turned into outstanding scientists, but all too often such cases have exemplified survival of the fittest rather than being the product of deliberate nurturing." I agree. I have always enjoyed and have spent a lot of time mentoring PhD students, undergraduates wanting some lab experience and in my other "profession" of figure skating coach, 6 - 70 year olds pursuing ice dancing goals. I have reaped great rewards from these mentoring relationships and my students have gone on to receive national fellowships in science and acheived higher dance test goals than they ever thought they could.

A few years ago when I was serving on the fledgling WICR (Women in Cancer Research) council prior to it's acceptance as a component within the AACR (American Association of Cancer Research), I often brought up the idea of rewarding in a small way, the mentoring talents of women in science. It was never received with much enthusiam and the focus was on sponsoring a high profile award lecture at the national meeting, which didn't necessarily have to go to a woman. I believed then and still do now, that WICR is not serving women in cancer research in many of the areas that they most need. This includes possible grants for re-entry into science, that I talked about in my last blog. So far it's UK 2, US 0!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Where are the women?

I read an interesting essay in Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology by Fiona Watt (Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology 7:287-290,2006), looking at the issues concerning the attrition of women as senior scientists. One issue Dr. Watt mentions is the process of "re-entry" into science for women (and men) who have had to step back for family, health or other reasons. She writes:
"In addition, to legislation that prevents discrimination on the grounds of sex, there have been various initiatives to encourage women to remain in science. A practical example is The Wellcome Trust's re-entry fellowships scheme in the UK, which was launched in 1994. This gives scientists the opportunity to re-embark on a scientific career after a break, and allows them to work part-time if they choose. Most people think of a break as lasting a year or two, but it is possible to re-establish a scientific career after a break of more than 10 years."

I say "Bravo" to the Wellcome Trust for their support of a non-traditional science career. Unfortunately, Dr. Watt does not mention that such programs do not exist in the United States. Many years ago, the NIH had such a re-entry grant which was very underpublized although I was aware of one person who received one, and this was a male faculty member! However, these, along with such funding mechanisms as the R29, have been discarded. Now one can check the box "New Investigator" on an R01 application. In my personal experience having sat on study sections for 15 years now, this makes little difference. The R01's get reviewed equally with R01s from "established investigators".

Why is this issue important to me? Because I'm one of those women who has had to take a "non-traditional" route to my science career, for the sake of my husband's scientific career. In our most recent move to BTCC (Big Time Cancer Center) in the Southwest, I took a non-tenure track, part-time position with no lab space and no start-up money to facilitate my husband's significant career move. I was not necessarily against this decision for a year or two, but now I realize how much I have put my scientific career in jeopardy - a lack of interest in my career from the department chair and the current diminishing NIH budget pretty much makes it impossible for me to succeed at the level of an R01. In addition, what I was not aware of was that this part-time position prevents me from competing for any of the internal funds which are available to other investigators. Why I ask is that? I want to add that my "part-time" status makes very little difference in the amount of time I spend in the lab and was taken in part for flexibility reasons to deal with health issues for one of our children.

It now makes me wonder why I worked so hard to obtain an Associate Professor level after obtaining a PhD at HPU (High Profile University) in New England and a postdoc with a world reknowned cancer biologist. I'm sure some will see this as complaining. However, I only wish to open up a dialogue to say that there are many routes to a successful science career and sometimes those careers can get derailed. Science should be more open to these issues and avenues, especially for women as they will almost always be the ones who have to deal with these situations. I couldn't forsee this future 10 years ago and my goal still remains to be a successful scientist, and add something important to the field of preventing and/or treating cancer. I end by asking the question: "Why don't such groups like the Women in Cancer Research group within AACR or the Avon Foundation and other private funders of cancer research, support such women's issues and offer such fellowships to help stop the attrition of good women scientists from the field of cancer research?"

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Intro to Doubleloop

Hello and welcome to my blog. This is my madien voyage into the world of blogging. I am a research scientist who has become a Mom late in life. In addition, I am following my husband around as his career takes off. All of these things have greatly affected who I am and where my career is headed. Some of it good, some of it not so good. I've long been interested in women in science, how they "make it" and what the obstacles are to getting to where they're going so I hope to blog about those issues here. In addition, until I had my family, I taught ice dancing part time. Although I've given up the teaching for now (those pesky kids....) I'm still very much interested in the world of skating. And so I hope to share my random ramblings on being a Mom, being a scientist and being a figure skating enthusiast.