Friday, June 29, 2012

The Real Housewives of Science Labs

The European Commission launched a campaign entitled “Science: It’s a Girl Thing,” with admirable intentions of attracting more young women into science and research professions. To kick off the campaign, the EC produced a minute long video that juxtaposes science with every possible offensive female stereotype:  mini-skirts, pink, high heels, makeup, sexy posing, nail polish, gasping, blowing air kisses, bubbles – and we can’t forget my favorite, a pink tube of lipstick used as the “I” in Science.

According to, the campaign was designed to target teenage girls from 13-18 years old. In their defense, I totally get the appeal considering today’s mainstream. If I was a 17 year old girl today searching for better self-esteem, watching the perfectly groomed, rich and popular Kardashian sisters on a weekly basis, then watched the EC video, MAYBE I would consider a degree in science rather than a fashion degree because “HEY, I want to dress and feel like these beautiful models doing what looks like science too!”  

Is that enough reason for a young girl to pursue science? Shouldn't we be teaching young women that the greatest accessory for a successful science career is not what we have in our makeup bags, but rather the accessories of knowledge, curiosity, enthusiasm and intelligence?

The disappointing thing about the EC’s campaign execution is if you go to, there are videos of real life women in science—meaningful role models. Any of these videos could have been a more valid way to encourage young women to prefer science.

The truth is, when I was 17 years old, I had genuine women as role models. These women had the perfect balance of cliché femininity, a passion for their careers, and a decision to pursue a career that did not involve their potential wardrobes. These women taught me it’s okay as a woman to diverge from trivial things like fashion and makeup, and still feel womanly.

In my personal life, I am as feminine as they come. I learned to walk in my mother’s high heels at 3 years old, I have enough makeup to last me at least a decade, and I cannot resist a good sale at Bloomingdale’s.

But when it comes to my work life in the laboratory, none of those things are important. None of those things will make me as successful as my knowledge and fascination for science will. I make sure to leave my high heels at home because as my boss (who I’ve added to my list of strong female role models) recently told me, “You walk faster wearing flat shoes.” And maybe that’s what we should be stressing to young women.

To counter this campaign, we also wanted to show real life women scientists here at MSKCC who are making a true impact in cancer research.

Dr. Christine Pratilas, a Pediatric Oncologist who also researches novel therapies to treat Children who  have different cancers.

Dr. Tari King is a surgeon whose specialty is  treating Breast Cancer. She  is also the Principal Investigator  of the William F. Keck Laboratory for Breast Cancer Research at MSKCC

Dr. Christine Mayr is a cutting edge Cancer Biologist at MSKCC.

Laetitia Borsu, PhD, is the Project Manager of the Genomics component in the Human Oncology and  Pathogenesis Program here at MSKCC.

Adriana Heguey, PhD is the head of the  Geoffrey Beene Translational Oncology Core Facility at MSKCC.

Vanessa Rodrik-Outmezguine, PhD, is a research associate here at MSKCC studying the role of novel breast cancer therapies

Written by Diane, Photos By Laura