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Dr Rosalind Franklin And Photograph 51

Durriya Doctor

On Sunday April 7, IITAGNE sponsored the Show of "Photograph 51" which recounts the story of the race for discovering the structure of DNA, Dr Rosalind Franklin's contribution with photograph #51 which played a pivotal role in the discovery of DNA structure, yet did not get the credit and recognition that was her due in the Nobel prize.

Following the play IITAGNE sponsored a speaker panel of 5 leading women scientists to discuss the relevance of Dr Rosalind's experience in our current times. 

The panelist were:

Dr. Meenakshi Narian, Professor of Physics, Brown University and a Fellow of the American Physical Society. As an experimental high energy physicist, she works with large detectors at particle accelerators, to study the interactions of matter at a fraction of a second after the big bang. Currently she is working on the CMS experiment, one of two large general-purpose particle physics detectors built on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland and is the USCMS Collaboration Board Chair and is the first woman to hold this position.

Dr Radhika Subramaniam, Assistant Professor at MGH and Harvard Medical School where she heads a research group.

Dr. Bhavna Lall, an internal medicine physician with a background in global public health and public administration with a strong interest in bridging gaps between public health and medicine. She is affiliated with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center 

Dr. Aditi Hazra, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School. She is a genome scientist and has a PhD in cancer biology, MPH in epidemiology, and postdoctoral training in molecular and genetic epidemiology. She leads global breast cancer genomics and prevention research leveraging "precision health equity" strategies.

Chelsea Powell, a PhD candidate in the Chemical Biology Program at Harvard University. She works in Dr. Nathanael Gray's lab at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Her research with Dr. Gray focuses on developing novel cancer therapeutics by either inhibiting kinases or inducing their degradation.

Each panel member was able to identify with multiple aspects of Dr Rosalind's story starting with the love of scientific pursuit, the sheer joy of scientific discovery, the biases each one of them had encountered as women scientist on a daily basis in small and larger things. While 60 yrs have passed since Dr. Franklin's death, Dr. Lall remarked that it is a very contemporary story of a female scientist or medical resident today. Dr. Hazra presented statistics on the paucity of women scientists leading labs, discrimination when the name on grants is feminine, and many other gender discriminators. Dr Subramaniam raised the key issue that credit was not given where it was due and that stings. Chelsea Powell shared her story as a PhD candidate student and how getting her early education in an all-girls school shaped her view on this topic. Dr Meenakshi moderated the panel and also shared her experiences from Physics where today the gender ratio is even more imbalanced than in Biological Sciences.
The panel members also shared strategies for how they have addressed the implicit and sometimes not implicit biases in their daily lives, supporting and nominating women to boards and conference or journal review committees to increase the network influence.

There was a discussion on how women were over-mentored and under-sponsored. There was a consensus that both Men and Women need to be part of the solution. Each one of us can have an impact in addressing this by first recognizing the biases and calling out and addressing discrimination when we see it. 

The panelists engaged with the audience and there was a lot of thoughtful and meaningful audience participation - we could easily have gone on for another hour. 

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