SUMMARIES > KEYNOTE ADDRESS: WOMEN AND SCIENCE: NOW AND THE FUTURE
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VIVIAN PINN, MD
Associate Director for Research on Womens Health; Director, Office of Research on Womens Health, Office of the Director, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD
The others in her medical school class were all white men. Vivian Pinn was an African American woman. One of the men said, "'Vivian, you're just taking the place that some man should have because you will never make it through medical school.' I said, 'why is that?' He said, 'well, I read in my anatomy book that women have smaller brains than men.'" Unlike Dr. Pinn, that student did not graduate.
Nonetheless, in her keynote, Dr. Pinn, the first full-time director of the Office of Research on Women's Health at NIH, noted considerable attrition among women. Although women represent almost 50% of students at the undergraduate and graduate levels of science and engineering, only 26% of life scientists are women. One reason, she said, is that women are afraid to deal aggressively with unfairness. She recounted how a woman resident, now a medical professor, received a poor evaluation on a rotation at Boston City Hospital. "...I said to her, 'did you speak up? And she said, 'I didn't want to be called the B-word.' And I said, you've got to be aggressive... So what if they call you that... She went back to the second rotation and came out with an A...'"
Women receive fewer new investigator awards than men, although statistics show they are just as successful at getting renewals. The pay is lower for women by about $6,000-$8,000 among postdocs and assistant professors, rising to around $40,000 lower among university administrators and CEOs, said Dr. Pinn.
"Women need to ask for more money, because they tend to get less money and they tend to ask for less money," said Pinn.
"'For many minority women, even reaching the glass ceiling is an accomplishment,' said Dr. Pinn, quoting Dr. Hazel Harper.
"...when I [took] this job at NIH, Faye, Clarice Reid..., and Marilyn Gaston ... said, 'Don't you... think because you're in this position you're going to forget what you are.'... So right from the beginning, we have incorporated women of color into all of our projects and programs."
Dr. Pinn's Office of Research on Women's Health has established many valuable initiatives. Career development in interdisciplinary research & development is one focus. The Office builds mentoring into all of its programs. One program was set up to help scientists re-entering the workforce, by supplementing ongoing research grants so that they could return to the lab, said Dr. Pinn.
The Women's Health Initiative lacked minority scientists, said Dr. Pinn. So her Office funded a Women's Health Initiative Minority Science and Minority Investigator Award for institutions that identified minority scientists. "...all they had to do was bring them to work with the Women's Health Initiative as investigators and we funded them."
Another program surveys professional societies' efforts to encourage women/minorities to go into science, and works with them to do more. Programs include a health science curriculum especially for middle school students, and videos of women who are scientists. One of the latter, "Women are Surgeons," has the first black woman to be certified in cardiovascular surgery, and a Native American orthopedic surgeon working on an Indian reservation.
Some of Dr. Pinn's Advice:
- "Have a mentor and be a mentor..." from elementary school on up.
- Overcome barriers and exceed expectations if you're going to succeed in biomedical careers." Confidence, and academic and strategic preparation are critical.
- "Beware of the well-intended because sometimes the well-intended are also well-intended for their own advancement."
- Avoid becoming an EEO statistic. "You don't want to apply for every job opening... because people begin to hear. After a while, you're not as attractive as a candidate..."
- "Identify your own passions. Don't take a job because it offers promotion if you're not going to enjoy what [you are] doing."
- "Forget envy and learn respect."
- "You can have intelligence, but if you don't work hard, you won't get anywhere, either."