Monday, November 28, 2016

Women in Science - Dr. Alison Jolly

Dr. Alison Jolly was born in Ithaca, New York in 1937 as an only child to Alison Mason, a landscape artist, and Morris Bishop, a Cornell scholar of romance languages. As neither her parents were involved in the sciences, Jolly pursued the sciences to round out the family. She spent her entire childhood in Ithaca and even earned her undergraduate degree in zoology in 1959 from Cornell University.

Figure 1 Dr. Alison Jolly in the field.

In 1959, Jolly began her Ph.D. in Zoology at Yale University to study sea sponges. After 3 months of unexciting sea sponge research, a chance encounter with lemurs at a Yale primate facility sparked the beginning of her career as a renowned primatologist. Dr. John Buettner Janusch, the founder of the Duke Lemur Center, brought the first lemurs from Madagascar to Yale University to start a research colony and needed students to help babysit them from time to time.

Changing her dissertation focus from sea sponges to lemurs, Jolly traveled to Madagascar to begin field work observing ring-tailed lemurs living in the Berenty Reserve, a private property dedicated to conserving Madagascar’s biodiversity. At the time of her research, in the 1960s, it was commonly accepted that primates, like chimpanzees and gorillas, lived in male-dominated societies. Dr. Alison Jolly discovered that contrary to other primate groups, lemurs, especially ring-tailed lemurs actually live in female-dominated societies.  Dr. Jolly received much criticism and disbelief towards her fi4ndings.


Figure 2 Ring-tailed Lemurs
However, Dr. Jolly’s disposition and personality allowed her to not be easily dissuaded from continuing her work. Dr. Jolly was known to not compete for her positions or give in to academic pressures. Instead, she combatted criticism by continuing to publish new findings on these female-dominate societies in lemurs every birthing season. Dr. Jolly published over 100 articles about wild ring-tailed lemurs and authored textbooks and textbook chapters on lemurs. Dr. Jolly also influenced dozens of up and coming primatologists by encouraging students to join her every field season in Madagascar. As David Attenborough once said, “A whole generation of primatologists and conservation biologists came of age with her encouragement and support."

During her Ph.D. studies, Jolly married Richard Jolly and started their family of eventually four children. Richard and Alison were supportive of each other’s professions and traded off following each other’s careers. Both partners moved to different countries around Africa so each person could move forward in their individual careers. Dr. Alison Jolly sought only visiting professor positions and never attempted to gain tenure at any her affiliated universities.


Figure 3  Dr. Alison Jolly and her husband Richard Jolly

When Dr. Jolly was not working on ring-tailed lemurs, she focused on conservation efforts towards Madagascar’s diminishing biodiversity. There are over 80 different extant species of lemurs and they are all endangered due to the pet trade, deforestation, and local cultural beliefs. Jolly and local Malagasy collaborators created The Ako Project. The Ako Project consists of illustrated children’s books that depict a day in the life of different lemurs and how each one confronts daily environmental threats. Each book is accompanied with an informative poster about each lemur and their habitats. The Ako Project has ensured that each classroom in Madagascar has at least one book per student.


Figure 4 A page from one of The Ako Project books
Dr. Allison Jolly was a decorated scientist that had won multiple awards and honorary doctorates over the course of her career. She was well-respected in and outside her field and is truly missed. Jolly passed away from battling breast cancer in 2014. She is remembered for being a giant in the field of anthropology and an inspirational female role model.
By Marie Vergamini

Monday, November 21, 2016

Women in science - Roger Arliner Young

Roger Arliner Young was the first American black woman to get a PhD in Zoology. Though Young’s life was difficult at times and she did not receive much acclaim while living, it is obvious from her dedication to research and teaching that she was a talented scientist.

Young was born in Clifton Forge, VA and grew up in Burgettstown, PA, outside of Pittsburgh. Upon graduating from high school in 1916, Young enrolled in Howard University to study music. While attending Howard she cared for her invalid mother, which she continued to do for the rest of her mother’s life.

She did not take her first biology class until 1921, with Ernest Everett Just, who saw promise in her work as a scientist. After Young graduated, Just, the head of the zoology department, hired her to teach and assisted to facilitate her work in zoology by helping her to find funding for graduate school and to publish her research. In 1924, Young became the first black woman to be published in Science in zoology for her newly observed findings on paramecium. This study, titled “On the Excretory Apparatus in Paramecium,” was circulated among academia as far away as Europe and Russia.
In 1926, Young received her master’s with excellent grades from University of Chicago studying under Just’s mentor, Frank Lillie. She returned to Howard to teach with Just and was invited to conduct research with him at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Wood’s Hole, MA, researching the effects of UV light on development of marine eggs.

Young had a busy year in 1929: she started going to Wood’s Hole independently and while Just had an appointment in Europe, she stood in as head of the zoology department at Howard and took over the majority of his teaching responsibilities. All while writing proposals for doctoral funding!

In early 1930, she returned the University of Chicago with the intention of pursuing her PhD with Lillie. However, due to the enormous stress of filling Just’s shoes, being separated from her mother, and damage to her eyes during her work with radiation, she failed the qualifying exams and disappeared for a few months.

She persevered and returned to Wood’s Hole and Howard to teach later that year, but her friendship and mentorship with Just was essentially over. He had expected Young to return to Howard after receiving her PhD and was disappointed at her failing the exams. Eventually, she confronted him about his negative attitude toward her and in 1936 she was fired from Howard for misuse of laboratory equipment.

She did not let this derail her life for long, though, and was accepted to a PhD program at University of Pennsylvania under a colleague from Wood’s Hole, Lewis Victor Heilbrunn, where her dissertation was “The indirect effects of roentgen rays on certain marine eggs”.

After completing PhD in 1940, she taught at various black universities in the south. Many of these universities had little money to provide for research and she could no longer afford to return to Wood’s Hole each summer. Her mother died in 1953 and hastened a mental break for Young. She became worried she would end up like her mother, but had no family to take care of her. In the following years Dr. Young was in and out of mental hospitals and could not hold a job for several years. She hospitalized herself in the late 1950s until 1962. In her final years, Dr. Young took a position at Southern University in New Orleans where she died in 1964.
Young wrote, “Not failure, but low aim is a crime” in a yearbook at Howard. I believe she tried to follow this as best as she could her whole life. I can only imagine how hard it was for Young as a black woman in America and the scientific world in the early 1900s. She had to deal with racial and gender disparities throughout entire her life. I am proud that she could pave the way for opportunities for me and other female scientists today.

By: Liz Keily

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Women in Science - Hope Jahren

Hope Jahren has a very unique story on her claim to scientific celebrity. Not only is she a renowned scientist, studying stable isotopes dating back to the Eocene, but she is a prominent writer, a mother, a wife, a friend, and an activist. Hope Jahren got national recognition for writing a book titled “Lab Girl” that was recently published in 2016. In her book, she talked about her journey through science and what she has endured being a woman in Geology.

            Hope Jahren grew up in Minnesota where her father taught chemistry at a local community college. She would go with her dad to his class and he would let her play with the scientific instruments including beakers, pipettes, and even Bunsen burners. She felt a calm whenever she was in his lab, and soon realized that she would be a scientist just like him. While at the University of Minnesota, Jahren had a few odd-end jobs, including a stint at a hospital where she was in charge of making IV bags. While she didn’t particularly like working in a hospital setting, she realized that she was good with working with her hands. This realization soon led to her majoring in geology, in which she as able to work with her hands in a lab, focusing on stable isotopes analysis from soil and plants.

            After receiving her Ph.D. from University of California, Berkley in 1996, Hope Jahren packed up her bags and went straight to Georgia Tech. While going right to an Assistant Professor position, she was not well versed in getting funding. From her Ph.D. program, she brought with her a lab manager and friend, Bill Hagopian. While citing that Bill is one of her closest friends and colleagues, she has never been able to secure him funding. Throughout her career, her and Bill had trouble getting money. This resulted in Bill oftentimes sleeping in their lab, and a constant moving around of positions. Hope Jahren went from an Assistant Professor at Georgia Tech to Johns Hopkins University, to a full Professorship at the University of Hawaii, to most recently the University of Oslo. All the while, she has not been able to secure funding for her lab manager. Even through many awards, including three Fulbright scholarships and pioneering research, her trouble with funding shows the competitiveness that scientists today face.

            Hope Jahren has often cited that being a woman has led her to the many problems that she has had academia and in science. While at Johns Hopkins, Hope Jahren was the first woman to go on maternity leave, which led to much criticism and discrimination from her male colleagues. About this, Hope Jahren said, “It can be a challenge to be the real me and the science me.” Along with the sexism she has often faced in science, including her lack of ability to secure funding, Jahren has suffered from manic depression. Her manic depression was often sparked by the harsh reality of being a woman in scientist. However, through all the issues she has faced in her academic career, she has managed to prevail and has come to be known as Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” in 2016.

            Hope Jahren has been an advocate for women in science over the last few years, and continues to speak out against sexual harassment in science. She has led a campaign over Twitter to get more women working in science to show off their hands, contrasting “#Science hands” with the polished hands that Seventeen Magazine asked to see. Not only has she continued to gain recognition for “Lab Girl,” but she has continued to gain recognition for her activism. Hope Jahren, now in Oslo with her husband, her kids, and her lab manager and best friend, Bill, continues to do pioneering research. There will be much more to come from this amazing contemporary woman scientist.

By Chelsea Barreto

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Moving forward after huge disappointment

Yesterday, November 9, 2016, I woke up after very little sleep feeling hopeless and dejected. Then I had to tell my 9 year old son, who was nervous about the election, why he did not need to be afraid. And I had to tell him the truth. After that, I went to teach a class on multivariate statistics to a class of dispirited students. However, that was nowhere near as difficult as attending a graduate class the hour after learning about the twin towers on September 11. That was hate. A vote for Trump is not. I have spent the day reading news stories, seeing reactions on social media and I have a message of hope. In academic environments we are sheltered from the rest of our nation. What is important to us is not important to everyone. There are many things that we can do to move forward and bring about positive, great change. But it as to start with us. First, we have to stop seeing every Trump supporter as a supporter of hate, racism, sexism, etc. People care about other issues that we may not be aware of or know about and vote on that. I know very good people that voted for Trump for reasons that are important to them and just as valid as my reasons for not. I listened to an African-American woman talk about her vote for Trump because she couldn't fathom a woman in the White House just as a woman shouldn't be leading a church. We need to understand that so many people have grown up different from us and may be scared to realize their own power after centuries of being oppressed. It is a process and takes time. We need to help all women know that the stories we have been told growing up are not true. We need to empower all people to believe in their voice and ability. Second, we must get better at bringing our science to the public. We need to stop focusing on our metrics of success through impact factor and journal citations and also value the ways in which we motivate, train, and mentor others to care about ecology, the environment, and other disciplines in science. Keep talking about what you are passionate about. Help others outside of the acaemic environment see the wonder in the natural world as we do. And finally, we need to be role models of tolerance and hope. Fear breeds hate. There are so many things that COULD change under this new leadership. That doesn't mean it will. The fear of all that can go wrong is what brings about bad policies and people stop listening. When that happens, we lose. There is a bright future ahead of us, even with so much uncertainty. This is what I told me son: our daily lives don't change. Go to school and respect your peers and speak up when someone laughs or jokes about someone, anyone for being different. Know that one person, or a group of people don't get to change our world. And don't live from fear. That is the worst way to start your day.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. -Mahatma Gahndi