Celebrating International Women and Girls in Science Day, February 11 (Part 1 of 2)

Part I

UN Secretary-General António Guterres notes that On this International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we highlight a simple equation: More women and girls in science equals better science.” Gender bias, stereotypes, and structural barriers to the recruitment of girls and women still exist in science, engineering, and medicine, which keep women from fulfilling their potential in these fields. In some cutting-edge fields, like artificial intelligence, just one in five professionals is a woman, well below the distribution we would expect from their proportion of the population. As Secretary-General Guterres has said, We can all do our part to unleash our world’s enormous untapped talent – starting with filling classrooms, laboratories, and boardrooms with women scientists.”

With these ideas in mind, we interviewed several women leaders at Generate:Biomedicines to ask for their perspectives based on their own experiences: Daria Hazuda, Head of Infectious Diseases and Vaccine Research; Kristen Hopson, Vice President of Preclinical Discovery and Development; Alex Snyder, Chief Medical Officer; and Lisa Wyman, Senior Vice President, Technical Operations and Quality.

Part I deals with the questions: What drew them to careers in science, engineering, and medicine? Who were their role models and mentors? What advice they would have for other girls and women thinking of pursuing similar careers? Their responses were thoughtful, surprising, pragmatic, and inspiring.

Part II will be posted on Saturday, February 11, which will address the questions: What are the biggest opportunities you see for girls and women in science, engineering, and medicine? What should we do to break down barriers to girls and women in science, engineering, and medicine, and improve access?


Our first question was what drew you to a career in science and technology? For Daria and Lisa, it was curiosity. As Lisa recalled, I was motivated by curiosity, solving problems and intellectual challenge so I was drawn to a career that fueled that passion and would give me an opportunity to make a positive impact in improving people’s health and lives.” Daria said, I was always curious and excited by learning new things; also, I love a challenge. As a scientist, you learn something new almost every day. As technology advances, our ability to learn and explore new ideas is expanding at an ever-increasing pace, which can often turn the impossible into the possible.”

Kristen remembered, I have always liked tinkering with things – I loved Lego robotics at an early age and even set up my own dissection lab in my barn growing up to take apart various bugs and insects!”

For Alex, it was the desire to become a doctor, sparked by a childhood experience: My best friend from childhood had cystic fibrosis. I had a close-up look at chronic disease through her eyes, and always wished I could do more to help. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go into medicine because I got dizzy and nauseous when I saw blood or wounds, but I felt a responsibility to use my education to contribute to improving the care of people with severe diseases. So, I became qualified as an EMT and got a job working on an ambulance to force myself to get over my issues, and then felt ready to go to medical school.”

We next asked what did you want to be when you grew up? All four aspired to become doctors or veterinarians. As noted above, Alex’s inspiration came from wanting to help people like her friend who were living with chronic conditions. In Lisa’s case, I dreamed of being a doctor or having a job in business. I loved math and biology and was drawn to science watching my own mother navigate a career in medicine.” For Daria, becoming a doctor or veterinarian seemed the natural” route for someone with an interest in the biological sciences. Like many, I started out on the pre-med track in college, but had the opportunity to intern in a research lab and quickly realized there was a world of options that I had not appreciated. I also developed this somewhat naïve aspiration of wanting to do something that could have a broad impact and that influenced my choice to work in pharmaceutical research.” Like Daria, Kristen also turned toward research: I initially thought I would want to pursue a career in medicine, which then transitioned to veterinary medicines – and then I finally landed in research science. The idea of making new medicines and developing novel treatments that could help people really drew me to research science vs. treating people or animals.”

Role models are critical to young people as they make career choices. In the case of this quartet of Generators, it’s striking how important the role of family members was in providing them with role models. Kristen said: I had an older cousin who was a doctor whom I looked up to – he was also the reason I played rugby!” Lisa noted that her mother and grandmother both played special roles in shaping who I am today.” And grandparents were also important for Alex and Daria. Alex recalled: My grandmother was an immigrant and only went to school until age 10, but she was smart and tough and the life of the party. She was a person who looked on the bright side and brought everyone along with her.” And for Daria, a key role model was her grandfather: He had an amazing intuition and love of nature. I think he sparked my interest in biology at a young age through gardening.”

Mentors also play an important role in helping young scientists, engineers, and doctors successfully navigate the transition from training to professional success. Each of our quartet of Generators was able to benefit from relationships with mentors at different stages in their careers. Alex recalled she had been fortunate to have several wonderful mentors,” including Jedd Wolchok, a medical oncologist who leads the Meyer Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medicine; Carol Aghafanian, an expert on the medical treatment of gynecologic cancers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; and the late José Baselga, who was Physician-in-Chief of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Our question prompted broader reflections on the role of mentorship by Lisa, Daria, and Kristen. For Lisa, mentorship is earned, it is a privilege and cannot simply be expected. You can have many mentors; rarely can one person give you everything you need to grow. I have had many mentors in my life and career. I am grateful for the mentors who have advised me, delivered tough feedback, made introductions along the way, and taught me by example. The mentors who had the most impact in my career were a boss at Boston Scientific, my dad, the former CEO of Acceleron, along with the many colleagues and teammates who help keep my perspectives fresh and relevant.”

Daria, like Lisa, feels there are too many [mentors] to mention. One of the things I have enjoyed most about working in drug discovery and development is that it is so interdisciplinary. I have had the opportunity to work with many amazingly talented people with different backgrounds and perspectives and learn from them. These experiences have made me a better scientist and given me a deep appreciation for the value of diverse perspectives in solving complex challenges.”

Kristen, in similar fashion, views mentorship less as a single person or people who have specifically helped me advance – more the community I’ve built over time. This starts with a college professor who took our advanced chemistry class on a spring trip to Florence to visit laboratories, to the strong network of current and former co-workers that help me balance work/​home, provide thoughtful feedback and guidance around my career development and advice on how to navigate this extremely challenging and intense — but exhilarating — work we get to do!”

Our next question was What advice would you give your daughter or other young women about whether to pursue a career in science and technology? The responses we received were clear and practical. Kristen said: Follow your curiosities, don’t EVER feel like you have to have it all figured out!” Lisa added: Be curious, work hard, take risks, put yourself out there, fail a bunch, seek out people in the field whom you can learn from as they will have an enormous impact on your motivation, job performance, and well-being.”

Alex offered a complementary perspective: Think of pursuing a career in science and technology as a continuous process rather than a single moment (e.g., do internships, read, join interest groups). Only do it if it is the only thing you could possibly imagine. Check in with your true north” and let it guide you. Anything worth doing is hard.”

And Daria offered an expansive view: I think this is honestly the best time to pursue a career in science. The technologies that we have today or are on the horizon present unprecedented opportunities to tackle challenges that we could not have imagined even a decade ago. This means there are so many options: make sure to explore different options and, most importantly, find something that ignites a passion in you.”