This page contains a student made transcription of an ARC recording. We cannot guarantee the accuracy of this transcript, if you need exact quotes, please check this transcript against the recordings we have from the event.

If you'd like to help us transcribe a lecture, see the Help page.

Honorary Degree Recipient Talksrecording...
Transcription by Lissa Minkel '07 · Amy Rosenzweig's speech. Includes Q & A.

MARK MARSHALL:

It is my pleasure to welcome back to Amherst Amy C. Rosenzweig, the Irving M. Klotz research professor at Northwestern University. Amy is a member of the class of 1988 of Amherst College, she graduated then with a degree in chemistry, summa cum laude. That was actually the end of my first year at Amherst College, and Amy was in the first class I ever taught at Amherst College. And however, we have a mutual agreement not to mention any of the details of that class.

[0:41]

Following Amherst, Amy went off to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she received her Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry. She spent three years as a post-doctoral fellow under the auspices of the National Institutes of Health and Harvard Medical School at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. From there, she went to Northwestern, where unsurprisingly she rose rapidly through the ranks.

[1:08]

She is the recipient of many honors and awards, not the least of which were the White Prize for excellence in chemistry in 1987, and the Howard Waters Doughty Prize for the best thesis in chemistry in 1988. I won't point out that we have the 2005 one in the audience. More recently, she has a been a David and Lucille Packard fellow, a Camille Dreyfus Teacher Scholar awardee, and in 2003, she was awarded a MacArthur fellowship.

[1:42]

Professor Rosenzweig's research interests are in structural biology and bioinorganic chemistry, metal uptake and transport, and oxygen activation by metalloenzymes. She is the author of 49, 50--CV's a week old--50 research publications including two while an undergraduate at Amherst College. Please join me in welcoming Professor Amy Rosenzweig.

AMY ROSENZWEIG:

[2:22]

Hi. I'd first like to thank the president and the trustees for giving me this great honor to speak with you today. When I got the invitation from President Marx back in January to come here, this was shortly after a big media frenzy that followed some remarks that were made by Harvard president Lawrence J. Summers at an economics conference, and you probably all have read something about this event. The focus of this conference was women and underrepresented minorities in science and engineering, and President Summers' remarks dealt specifically with the lack of women in high-end science and engineering professions.

[3:04]

So, I am a woman in such a profession. As Professor Marshall said, I'm a tenured professor at Northwestern. I'm in the departments of biochemistry, molecular biology, and cell biology, and also the department of chemistry. And so when asked for a title for this talk, I thought, how could I not talk about this in some form or another. Since January, there have been numerous articles, opinion pieces, examinations of the data, and so on. There was a no-confidence vote by the Harvard faculty. And I don't know all the statistics, I'm certainly not a scholar of gender and science, and I'm not here to give another summary of this whole incident, but I thought, nevertheless, some consideration of his remarks in the context of my personal experience might possibly lead to some sort of constructive conclusions.

[4:04]

So, before I get to President Summers, I wanted to tell you a little bit about exactly what I do. In the newspapers, on college campuses, by the office water coolers, everyone is debating whether women can do well in science and you know, much of that debate seems, to me, very separate from what we actually do all day, every day. So the first thing I want to do today is tell you what it is that I do all day.

[4:34]

So, most important, and probably most time-consuming part of what I do is research. So, I develop projects for the lab. I have a research group of eight people. I guide the experiments that my students do. These are students, post-docs and undergraduates. Now, you might have heard the phrase 'publish or parish,' and that's absolutely true--as soon as we get research results in the lab, we write them up for publication. In addition, it's very important in science to keep up your visibility, so we spend a lot of time presenting our data at conferences. And that's why I'm doing this presentation in power point like this. This is how scientists present their data, and I don't know how to give a speech any other way.

[5:27]

Another very important part of my job is raising money, so I have to raise all the money to do all the experiments in the lab, to pay all the graduate students and post-docs, and laboratory research is very expensive. And then of course, I teach. I teach undergraduate and graduate courses, and I also am involved in a variety of peer review tasks and I participate in service on various committees at the University.

[5:59]

So let me tell you what my research is about. I am an inorganic chemist by training, and the field that I work in is called bioinorganic chemistry. It's also referred to as metals in biology, and it's really a subdivision of chemistry and biology. We work on a type of proteins called metalloproteins, and 1/3 of all proteins are metalloproteins, and what this means is just that these proteins contain metal ions such as iron, copper, and zinc in addition to carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, and sulfur atoms.

[6:39]

And metalloproteins are very important. They play a key role in all sorts of critical biological processes, including respiration, so you can't breathe without metalloproteins, photosynthesis, and defense against toxic agents. And an example of a metalloprotein that everyone here has probably heard of is hemoglobin. In hemoglobin, oxygen is carried by binding to an iron.

[7:07]

So what do we do specifically with metalloproteins? We are interested in determining their atomic structures, their molecular structures, and in my laboratory we use a technique called x-ray crystallography to do this. And what x-ray crystallography can give you is a three-dimensional picture of a single protein molecule, and from a three-dimensional picture, you can find out things like the shape of the molecule, what it's surface looks like, and the location and surroundings of every atom in the protein including the metal.

[7:44]

So, why would anyone want to know the shape of a protein? Why is that important? Well, there's lots of reasons. If you know what a protein looks like, you can begin to understand how it functions in a living organism, and in some cases, you can understand how abnormal protein structures can cause disease and then use that type of information to design new drugs. So, for example, Mad Cow Disease is believed to be caused by a change in the shape of a protein called the prion protein, and that's--we know that because we can see this protein at the molecular level.

[8:22]

And then, finally, structural data can be used to design new enzymes. Enzymes are biological catalysts, or synthetic catalysts to perform industrially relevant chemical reactions. So for example, one of the research projects in my laboratory is directed at understanding how an enzyme from bacteria oxidizes methane gas to methanol, which is a reaction that is of great interest to industry.

[8:51]

So, the experiment that we like to do goes like this: the first thing that we do is we grow crystals of the protein that we're interested in. I've lost my centering here...but that doesn't matter. The crystal contains trillions of identical molecules, and this little cartoon here outlines the experiment for you. Before you get to this stage with the crystal, you do a whole lot of what we call wet biochemistry, which involves growing bacteria, extracting the protein of interest from the bacteria, separating it out from other proteins, and then growing the crystals.

[9:32]

Once we get crystals, we beam powerful x-rays at them and we collect x-rays that get scattered by the crystals on an electronic detector. And at this point, the work becomes more equipment and more computer-intensive. We use this information that we can get from these defracted x-rays, and on computers we can actually calculate back to the position of every atom in the crystalized molecule. First, through representations like these, this is called an electron density map, and then once we know the structure, we can draw diagrams like this that tell you things about the shape and the properties of the molecule.

[10:13]

So this is clearly very specialized work, what I've just told you about, but the skills that we use are common to all scientific pursuits. We have to ask the right questions, we have to develop hypotheses that we can test in the laboratory, we have to trouble-shoot and trouble-shoot again, systematically, when things aren't working. And we have to think critically about all the data we obtain and the data that other people obtain that we read about in the literature. So, really what we do is solve problems, both big problems and small problems. So, the overall research goal might be a life-long problem. Why a computer program doesn't work for you that day is a day-to-day problem, and we're always thinking about both.

[11:00]

So, just to show you some pretty pictures, these are pictures of crystals of protein. These are taken just looking through a regular light microscope. In the corner here is some rock candy, which is also crystalline. The crystals in these pictures here are about 50-1,000 times smaller than the rock candy that you're looking at. And a crystal that is .5 mm, or .2 inches on a side, contains this many, 10 to the 15th, or a quadrillion molecules of protein in it.

[11:41]

So, this is one of our latest results, the newest work to come out of our laboratory. And what we did was we determined the molecular structure of an enzyme, again, a biological catalyst that catalyzes the conversion of methane, CH4, to methanol, CH3OH. And this enzyme is of great interest to a lot of people because in industry, if you want to break that carbon-hydrogen bond in methane, it's very costly, inefficient, expensive, it's something that has to be done at high temperature and pressure, yet bacteria, using this enzyme, can do this same chemistry under ambient conditions. And they do it using a metal-containing enzyme.

[12:28]

So, this project was technically challenging because this is a big enzyme, it's difficult to work with, and it took us seven years to get the results that are described in this paper, which just appeared in March in the scientific journal Nature. So on the next slide, I'm going to show you a picture of this, this is actually a movie of this enzyme, rotating around. Just because it looks cool and this is one way that we represent our work. So this is the molecular structure, shown in kind of a cartoon fashion, of this enzyme. This is some idea of the dimension. It's 105 angstroms long. One angstrom is 10 to the negative 10th meters, and this is actually a big protein.

[13:15]

Now, if you read the publication that I showed on the last slide, it would become clear to you that this structure is really just a starting point for understanding this process of biological methane oxidation. And what we learned from this has probably given us ideas for ten more years of research. But maybe someday we, or somebody else, will be able to use this information to develop a better industrial catalyst.

[13:41]

And another thing I really like about what I do is there's an artistic side. You get to make pictures, you get to decide what color to make them, and so on. So it's kind of aesthetically pleasing as well.

[13:55]

So, I'm going to now move on to some more general discussion. This is a picture of my current research group. Right now we have seven women in the group and three men. Post-doctoral fellows, graduate students, and undergraduate students. And this brings me directly to the issues that President Summers addressed, this dearth of women in science. So, from the slide of my research group it might appear to you that there's no problem, but in fact there really is a problem.

[14:27]

What is the problem? The big issue with women in science is what is commonly referred to as the leaky pipeline. And the leaky pipeline basically says that although the number of women in science and engineering at U.S. universities continues to grow, and has grown, the proportion of women faculty hasn't kept up. Or in other words, the path from a bachelor's degree in science to a faculty position loses women every step of the way.

[15:00]

And these are some statistic I took out of the magazine Chemical and Engineering News. We can just look at a couple numbers here. In 1983, 17% of Ph.D.s in chemistry were women. Over the ten years to 1993, that increased, and it's gone up a little, or held stable, since then at a little over 30%. So keep that in mind when I show you the next slide. This is now academic chemists by gender, and if you just look at this first line, this is full professors, and the percentage that are female is 14%. Yeah, we had 30% getting Ph.D.s. And here are some other pieces of information. In 2004-2005, women represent just 12% of the total chemistry faculty at the top 50 institutions. Women are concentrated at the assistant and associate professor ranks. And in looking at tenured track positions, the NSF found that women with extensive post-doctoral experience employed full time in academia are less likely than men to be tenured.

[16:18]

So what does all this mean for someone like me? It means that I am often the only woman in a room at a meeting, or the only woman speaking in a symposium at a conference. And there is much discussion on why the pipeline leaks, how it can be plugged or patched, and when President Summers gave those now infamous remarks, that's what he was trying to address.

[16:48]

So, what did he say? He said that there are three hypotheses that could possibly account for the differences between women and men in science. The first one he called the "high powered job hypothesis." And the idea here is that women are less likely than men to want to put in an 80 hour work week. The second argument here, which he called "different availability of aptitude at the high end," caused one preeminent female scientist to walk out of the room, and what he said is that there might be innate differences between men and women, and I quote what he said exactly, "In the special case of science and engineering, there are issues of intrinsic and particularly of the variability of aptitude." And in his final argument, he discussed effects of socialization and discrimination. And he ranked the importance of these three hypotheses in the order he introduced them, most important to least important.

[18:01]

So, I am one of the few women who didn't leak out of the pipeline. What do I think about this? So my first thought was, frankly, you know, leave me alone, I just want to do my work, leave me alone, I don't want to get into this. And that reaction is directly related to his first argument about the high powered job hypothesis, right? I don't have time...And let me elaborate on the issue here. So the idea is that women, particularly women who are married and have children, are not able to put in the long hours that are required to become a prominent, tenured faculty member.

[18:42]

And President Summers has a point here, and he's certainly not the first person to talk about this issue. All those things that I said I do all day, establishing a research group, getting funding, publishing lots of papers, and generally achieving the kind of visibility that you need to be successful in this field, requires a huge amount of work. And many people believe that this quest is just not compatible with having children. And a major problem is that training is getting longer and longer, particularly post-doctoral training. So, by the time a woman has obtained a position and gotten tenure, she's forty years old and it might be too late to have children. Therefore, many women don't even start this race.

[19:34]

This is my chronology of what happened to me. I graduated from Amherst in 1988. I went directly to graduate school from college. I got married along the way. I got my Ph.D. from MIT in 1994. I did a three year post-doc and I became an assistant professor at the age of thirty. The way that the tenure process works is you submit your materials for consideration for tenure and then you wait almost a year while the university does all this research on you and so on. What I did was I submitted my tenure package and I had my first child a couple months later, age 34. I got tenure in 2002 and two years later I had my second child, at age 37. I submitted my promotion package this year and received a full promotion, the promotion to full professor just this month. So, I managed to cram it all in before I turned forty, but just barely.

[20:39]

If I had taken any time off after college, if I had done a longer post-doc, if I had been slowed down for any reason, you know, I would be forty now and still not have tenure. So, there are plenty of women that I know now who are not doing what I did, they're having their kids younger, so they're having their children as post-docs, or I have a former post-doctoral fellow from my lab who's an assistant professor at the University of Kansas and she just had her first child, while struggling to set up her lab and get going, and she's doing just fine.

[21:18]

So, this is just a picture of my daughters. That's Sabrina and that's Alexa. So, great, I crammed it all in, but that's not the end of the story. The higher up you get, the more work you have to do. So how do you juggle everything? I think you have to have some superpowers, like Wonder Woman. I used to love Wonder Woman. She's kind of like a woman in science. She's twenty percent of the people hanging out at the Hall of Justice here, so she's actually doing better than a tenured professor.

[21:55]

One of the key superpowers is efficiency. When I'm in my office, I work. I eat lunch in my office, I start tasks well in advance of deadlines, and I don't work eighty hours a week. I work about eight and a half hours a day right now. And I'm well-trained. I know how to do my job now, so I should be able to do it efficiently. Now, there are always sacrifices. I don't have any hobbies. Personally, I never had any hobbies and I don't think I would have gotten into Amherst today, but nevertheless it's a lifestyle choice to have no outside interests besides work and children, and I think one that men are not making in the same way.

[22:39]

Most important is I have a husband who shares equally in child care. I drop the children at day care in the morning, he picks them up. If I have to be out of town for a few days, which is really unavoidable in this profession, he's perfectly capable of taking care of them.

[22:57]

Finally, nobody every mentions that there are actually advantages to this type of career. There's a certain amount of flexibility that comes with being a professor. I don't have a boss looking over my shoulder. Nobody's clocking me in and out of my office. If one of my kids gets sick, I can generally just pick up and leave and go to the doctor's office. Right now, travel is very stressful because I'm leaving very small children behind, but in the future this too could be an advantage. The American Chemical Society meeting is held at Disneyland every few years, so...family vacations.

[23:35]

There's a lot that can be done to address this high-powered job hypothesis. Day care on campus, flexible tenure clocks, higher salaries to off-set costs of extra household help, child care scholarships for students and post-docs. And a lot of schools are putting these types of initiatives into place and have put them into place, and just this past week President Summers announced a fifty million dollar commitment to a variety of programs aimed at doing things like this, and improving the climate for women scientists at Harvard.

[24:16]

So, let's now move on to the most inflammatory of President Summers' remarks, the different availability of aptitude at the high end. There is just no evidence for intrinsic aptitude differences between men and women. I don't need to recapitulate the data. Many many articles since January have refuted his comments. The president of Stanford and the presidents of MIT and Princeton, who are both women by the way, recently said in an essay to The Boston Globe, "Marie Curie exploded that myth."

[24:51]

Furthermore, this hypothesis isn't even really relevant because the question we're talking about is not why the women aren't starting in science, it's why they're leaking out of the pipeline. The real issue with this business might be one of perception. In a commentary on Summers, Professor Gregory Petsko, who's a famous crystallographer and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, said the following: "Almost without exception, the talented women I have known have believed that they had less ability than they actually had, and almost without exception, the talented men believed they had more. If women are being told they can't do science, why would they even try?"

[25:36]

How did I get this far? One interesting thing is that I went to an all-girls school, the Ellis School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from sixth through twelfth grade, so it's possible that I missed out on some initial instilling of this message. After high school, as you know, I went to Amherst, and that's me. At Amherst, I started out by taking Chem 11 and Chem 12 freshman year, because I thought, well, I'll keep the pre-med option open. And then, as shown in this picture, I embarked on organic chemistry. First semester with Professor Silver and then second semester with Professor Hanson, in his very first class here. Orgo was very difficult, and me and my friend Diane Aberzinckis, shown here, who is a physician now, spent many many hours interrogating Professor Hanson with questions. There was never any sense that we were having trouble in t he class because of gender. Orgo is just a hard class. So, I think good professors can really make a difference early on.

[26:47]

Now, the key part of my science education at Amherst was the thesis work that I did in Professor David Dooley's lab. He is now the provost of Montana State University. And he introduced me to the field of bioinorganic chemistry, and here, twenty years later, I'm still in the same field. I worked in his lab for over a year. I had the opportunity to go do experiments at MIT, at the Magnet Lab, and also at IBM. And some of my thesis work later appeared in publications, one of which is shown here. Nothing like a snappy title, right? And it was really my experience in his lab and the advice I got from him that led me to graduate school.

[27:34]

So, at MIT I worked for this man, Professor Steven J. Lippard. He's a famous professor of inorganic chemistry, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the recipient of many awards. This is a picture I had made of him for a symposium I organized at an American Chemical Society meeting. It was held in Anaheim so we photoshopped on the mouse ears. During my time in his laboratory at MIT and over the years since I left, his research group was, and is, at least half women. And he is well-known for supporting all of his students, and particularly for encouraging women.

[28:20]

Two women chemists trained by him, myself and Professor Jacqueline Barton at CalTech, have received MacArthur awards. Several years ago a group of female colleagues nominated him for the American Chemical Society award for encouraging women in chemistry, which is rarely, if ever, given to a man. He didn't get it, but perhaps he will in the future. And importantly, as chair of the MIT chemistry department, he's tripled the number of women faculty. As a student in his laboratory, I was given the opportunity to present my work at national meetings. I was introduced by him to various prominent scientists in the field. And just really well-trained. I think having a good mentor goes a long way toward dispelling any of these perceptions about ability.

[29:11]

Now this is not to say that I'm completely free of such perceptions. For example, I have found myself, on occasion, sitting in a talk, in a big meeting with a lot of people in a room, and hesitating to ask a question, only then to hear the man next to me asking the very same question, or more commonly, a less intelligent one. So, we women in science must constantly remind ourselves to speak up and to be heard.

[29:45]

Finally, President Summers talked about socialization and discrimination. And I'll separate it into the two. So, as an example of socialization, he cited his twin two-year-old daughters playing with trucks that they were given instead of dolls, and finding themselves saying to each other, "Look, the daddy truck is carrying the baby truck." And President Summers got a really bad rap for this comment, but he actually, in the speech, discounted the socialization idea, again, because it's a leaky pipeline. Women are going into science. They're just not staying there. And I agree with him. Socialization is not an explanation or an answer, and on the next slide is the evidence. So, this a picture of me and my sister Jane in 1974, playing with our new Barbie dolls. I have skiing Barbie, she has windsurfing Barbie. We played with Barbie dolls all the time. I still play with Barbie dolls with my own children. Socialization is there, but it made no difference in my path and career as a woman in science.

[30:58]

Finally, let's come back to discrimination. Discrimination is a serious issue. It's there in many forms, including lower salaries, less lab space, fewer speaking invitations, and more subtle incidents that occur every single day. I've never really noticed any major discrimination, but I've certainly experienced these more subtle slights. I remember in graduate school, a male graduate student telling me, "Oh, your project is never going to work." I was annoyed but I kept on doing. The guy that said this did okay. He's a scientist at a drug company in Boston. I did better.

[31:42]

In a recent address, the president of Princeton, who is a biologist, Shirley Tilghman, stated that, "It has been my experience that many successful women in science simply fail to perceive that there are obstacles in their path. They are able to go through life with metaphorical blinders on. Not that they would deny that there are forces working against the progress of women, but rather that they refuse to acknowledge that those forces apply to them."

[32:09]

Similar sentiments were expressed by MIT president and neuroscientist Susan Hockfield recently in The New York Times. And it may be that the experiences I had at Amherst and at MIT equipped me with these sort of metaphorical blinders. And thanks to these women, and other people such as former MIT president Charles Best and Professor Nancy Hopkins, who spearheaded major efforts to rectify gender inequity in science, the situation is improving. And hopefully the bumbling of President Summers and his latest fifty million dollar commitment will continue to move things in the right direction.

[32:55]

So, in conclusion, I would like to thank President Summers for bringing these issues to the public eye, and I would like to try to counter his three hypotheses with three points of my own. First of all, the eighty hour work week is not a prerequisite for an academic career in science. It is hard, but with efficient work habits, good training, and a supportive partner, you can have both a career and a family. Second, a good education and strong mentoring, whether by men or by women, can go a long way toward mitigating perceptions that women somehow have less ability in science. And finally, don't dwell on people who tell you you can't succeed. Find good mentors, be confident, and blaze ahead with your research. Women can excel in science.

[33:53]

And I would like to thank you for your attention and the honor of being here today, and congratulate the class of 2005. Thank you.

{QUESTION INAUDIBLE}

ROSENZWEIG:

[34:22]

There are many many efforts our there now to provide mentoring to women who aren't getting it. For example, there's a program called Coach, I can't remember exactly, and they sponsor workshops at the American Chemical Society meetings where not only can you network and find women to mentor you, but they teach you things, like--I haven't been to one but a friend of mine told me that they teach you things like, always wear a jacket when you give a talk, and when you're in a meeting with a bunch of men, sit a certain way and make your points in a certain way. So there are huge efforts out there to provide more mentoring.

{QUESTION INAUDIBLE}

ROSENZWEIG:

[35:18]

There's a number of diseases that are related to abnormal handling of metals in the body. Wilson Disease and Menkes Syndrome are examples of genetic disorders of copper metabolism and so you have a mutation in a certain protein and in the case of Wilson Disease, you get way too much copper in your body, in the case of Menkes Syndrome you don't have enough copper. Like in Menkes Syndrome, that means that certain enzymes that need copper don't get it, and that's what causes the specific symptoms. Lou Gehrig's disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, just a small fraction of those cases have been linked in mutations in a copper-containing enzyme called superoxidismutase, so there's a lot of research going on in that area. And then I mentioned the prion protein. That protein binds copper, although people are still studying the significance of that.

{QUESTION INAUDIBLE}

ROSENZWEIG:

[36:33]

I don't know. All I know is that the mutation's in the copper enzyme, so for Lou Gehrig's disease it's I think about 20 or 25% are familial or inherited and the rest are sporadic, and then of those 20 to 25%, it's I think just about 10% that are attributed to this mutation, the copper-containing enzyme. I don't know about the link to the childhood...

{QUESTION INAUDIBLE}

ROSENZWEIG:

[37:14]

I totally agree that. It's to hard to have that at the university because there are so few women. In the field that I work in, metals in biology, there is a critical mass of women, and as an example, there's a board in conference, which is a very sort of small meeting every year and it's held near Santa Barbara in California, and for years the men were always going off to the golf course, and in recent years the women at this conference have started sort of like a spa trip to counter the golf course and there's a lot of networking among the women in this field now, at the senior down to the junior level, but there's nowhere near the critical mass in your department to ever have that.

{QUESTION INAUDIBLE}

ROSENZWEIG:

[38:40]

Yeah, I mean I think that sort of comes back to we have to get a critical mass. I mean, I think as a woman in a male-dominated field, you have to kind of learn to hang with the men, that's just part of it, but, right, you're not going to do that all the time. Right, and people like to have people that are like them, but I think getting critical mass through all these initiatives is going to help.

MARSHALL:

[39:10]

Well, if there are no more questions, let's thank Professor Rosenzweig for a very interesting talk.