Different paths, challenges

The fellows were drawn to careers in science in different ways, and now are facing different challenges as female researchers.

Sophia Bryant’s exposure to research began early in life when her father, a surgeon, took her to his laboratory to show her slides of blood cells. As a teenager working in a hematology laboratory during the summer, she liked the thought processes involved in laboratory research and enjoyed “tackling a problem in an organized way.”

She enjoys the collaborative environment at the U-M, “where people are willing to share ideas.”

Southard Smith was drawn to research from a possible journalism career because she also enjoyed the process of problem-solving in the laboratory. “It’s such a kick when experiments work,” she says.

Married to an internal medicine resident, Southard Smith does not question whether she will become a scientist. She does, however, sometimes wonder how a family and children eventually will fit into her busy life.

Sheryl Jankowski feels that women in scientific research have tough choices to make early in their careers.

“Science is not an easy field for women to stay in because you have to give it your all,” she says. “Scientific success demands that you spend 80 hours a week in the lab, leaving little time for anything else. “You’re either going to feel like a bad mother or a bad scientist,” she adds.

Jankowski also notes that scientists need a strong emotional base, since many experiments fail as part of the process. “When an experiment succeeds, however, it’s an emotional high that lasts.”

As a woman, Elizabeth Ninfa feels lucky to be carrying out her goals in this era. “Previous generations of women would have encountered more obstacles to pursuing a field such as molecular biology,” she says.

Janet Owens was drawn to medical research while working in a pharmacology laboratory at Cornell University and during a research internship at Harvard University.

She doesn’t feel she has encountered any obstacles because of her gender, but admits that “balancing personal and professional goals is sometimes difficult.”


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