LGBT Scientists Hear About Coming Out on the Job

By Shipra Shukla on March 02, 2009

Jay Keasling

The UCSF Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) Resource Center and the Office of Career and Professional Development collaborated on a groundbreaking panel, titled “Out in Science,” on Feb. 20. The event brought together a distinguished group of lesbian and gay scientists to discuss how being “out” has affected their careers. “Career paths in the life sciences are generally more welcoming to LGBT scientists than they ever have been,” said Bill Lindstaedt, director of the UCSF Office of Career and Professional Development. Panelists included Jay Keasling, PhD, professor in the departments of chemical engineering and bioengineering at UC Berkeley; Carolyn Bertozzi, PhD, professor of chemistry at UC Berkeley; Jeff Harris, MD, PhD, associate clinical professor of medicine at UCSF and medical director of immunology, tissue growth and repair in diagnostics and early clinical development at Genentech; and Frauke Bentzien, PhD, associate director for pharmacology at Exelixis. The panel generated a sense of excitement in an audience of nearly 100 gathered at Genentech Hall at UCSF Mission Bay. “After the panel, you got the sense that many of the young scientists in the audience truly believed that the sky is the limit,” said Lindstaedt. “That kind of supportive message must do wonders for young LGBT scientists concerned how coming out might affect the quality of their work life.” Despite the progress, experts are still cautious about the hopeful atmosphere for the LGBT community. “Most of the LGBT postdocs and graduate students I’ve known at UCSF over the last decade have been very worried about coming out,” said Shane Snowdon, director of the UCSF LGBT Resource Center. “And with reason – many of them have been advised by teachers and peers not to come out, to avoid career damage. However, coming out is seen as the best way to make an environment more LGBT-welcoming.” The LGBT Resource Center wanted to give students and those entering the field of scientific research a chance to hear what four scientists well into their careers advise. This panel was an example of how UCSF is nurturing diversity in the health sciences, a key goal in the UCSF Strategic Plan. “Sometimes I don’t know who I can look to as a role model of what my life may look like if I keep with this path,” said Jennifer Markovics, PhD, former member of the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Issues and co-chair of the UCSF marriage equality group. “I feel strongly that people should always be out, to be true to themselves and also to help show the world that we are here and we are part of all walks of society,” she said. “Panels like these are valuable to know what the experiences were like for these out scientists on their career journeys.” Photo by Pop! Tech

Related Link:

UCSF LGBT Resource Center