You are only the second woman to be named dean for a major medical school. The first was Nancy Andrews for Duke University School of Medicine in 2007. What needs to be done for female scientists and physicians to take on more prominent roles?
It is a tough problem. You have biology intersecting with a time when you need to be devoted to your career. It’s not easy, and I know that. I’ve lived through it with three kids. I remember when I was a postdoc at the NIH. The guys – at least some of them, not all – would sit around, schmooze and talk science. They didn’t have to think about picking up a child at day care. I barely ever saw the cafeteria at NIH. I would make lunch and bring it in a paper bag. I didn’t have time to have coffee and chat with the other postdocs. I had to work, work, work, because I had to pick up my daughter at 5 o’clock from day care! When I was home while she was still awake, I spent time with her, but I would be up late working. I didn’t want to spend my entire weekend in the lab. Yes, I would go into the lab for a few hours [on weekends] but couldn’t and didn’t want to do that all the time. This became even more challenging with the arrival of two more children over the next several years.
Ideally, postdocs who are primary caregivers should have access to another pair of hands to help level the playing field. I’m not saying they shouldn’t do the experiments themselves, and of course they should direct the research. But, realistically, they may not be able to put in the long hours during the week and weekend that their peers can. I started a program when I was president of the AAI, the PCTAS program at [the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases], which stands for Primary Caregiver Technical Assistance Supplements. It provided technician salaries. It was a small program. I wish it had more funding, but I did get a number of letters from young women who said it made a real difference in their careers for them to have a technician.
You have received numerous awards. Which one makes you most proud?
The award that I’m the most proud of is the American Association of Immunologists’ Excellence in Mentoring award [in 2008]. That, to me, is the major task of the senior scientist. It’s to train the next generation. I think it’s a huge responsibility. It’s going to be one of my emphases as dean to make sure the mentoring programs at WCMC are as good as they should be.
Rajendrani Mukhopadhyay (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the senior science writer for ASBMB Today and technical editor for JBC.