Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Can't make it to spin class. I just won the Nobel Prize."

A phrase surely uttered for the first time when, a few weeks ago, Carol Greider found out she had won the Nobel Prize. A molecular biologist at Johns Hopkins University, Carol has done ground-breaking research on telmoerase, which is indicated in both cancer and genetic diseases. She found out she had won the prize while up before 5 am, folding laundry, in advance of the only exercise time she could squeeze in. While most of the Nobel press focused on Obama's award this year, I thought the Washington Post's Liza Mundy found some interesting points in Greider's win:
  • Greider cites her focus skills, used to overcome dyslexia, as the number one tool used to fit her life into her work. She said "That's how I deal with family and work. I focus on one thing."
  • Mundy also talks about the founder effect, an evolutionary term that describes how traits of a population's founders show up in later generations. Greider made an important career move (choosing Berkley for grad school) because of the work, attitude and vision of her now-mentor with whom she shares the prize, Elizabeth Blackburn (along with Jack Szostak). Greider notes the subtleties of gender difference in male-dominated fields, particularly science. "I really think there are subtle societal factors. It doesn't have to be that the men at the top are saying, 'Oh, no, let's not promote women. . . . ' I think that there are comfort zones, and a man going to a meeting may feel a little more comfortable introducing his [male] graduate student to his colleagues. . . . Those are the kind of mechanisms by which subtle effects can actually affect the outcome."
  • Greider further describes how it's important for women at the top, in her case, the lab she runs at Johns Hopkins University, to live a flexible work schedule. She states, "My job is to be productive. I don't have to be here from 9 to 5, there's not a clock. I will just say I'm going to watch Gwendolyn's play today, and I'll leave. I make sure I say why I'm going. . . . I think it's important for people to know that this is okay, [to] send that signal."