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MIT Professor to Talk about Progress in Achieving Gender Equity in Academia

By Lisa Cisneros

Nancy Hopkins

Nancy Hopkins, PhD, the Amgen, Inc. Professor of Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), will talk at UCSF about the progress made and challenges ahead in achieving gender equity in academia on Wednesday, April 21.

The UCSF community is invited to the lecture from noon to 1 p.m. in Toland Hall on the Parnassus campus. Presented by the Center for Gender Equity at UCSF, the lecture also will be simulcast to Mission Bay in Genentech Hall in room S 261.

Hopkins made national headlines and in 2003 received the UCSF Medal – the University’s most prestigious honor – for her work uncovering gender inequities among faculty at MIT and speaking out about the issue at universities across the nation.

During her visit to UCSF on April 21, Hopkins will talk about the changes MIT made, how they were accomplished, and what more should be done to overcome remaining obstacles to achieve a level playing field and to attract more women into science fields.

Gender equity became an issue at MIT in 1994 when tenured women professors presumed that their numbers were low compared to men because fewer women were interested in science. But when they started investigating at the nation’s prestigious institute of science, they uncovered subtle bias and examples of inequities between men and women. First, they noticed that women had offices and laboratories about half the size of their male colleagues of equal status.

The women asked then MIT Dean of the School of Science Robert Birgeneau to establish a committee to analyze the status of women faculty relative to male faculty of comparable accomplishment. In 1995, Hopkins, a molecular biologist, chaired the first Committee on Women Faculty in the School of Science at MIT, which documented disparities in salary, laboratory and office space, access to administrative resources, grant monies raised, publications, and tenure among men and women faculty.

In 1999, a summary of the committee’s findings, endorsed by Birgeneau and by then MIT President Charles Vest, was made public and was known as “The MIT Report on Women in Science.” The research showed that discrimination - often unintentional and subtle - existed at many levels. The findings led to a series of changes in recruiting for, hiring and retaining women and minorities at MIT and institutions, including UCSF, have since made similar findings and improvements.

UCSF’s Response to MIT Report

When former Chancellor Mike Bishop, MD, learned about the findings in the MIT report, he commissioned a similar study at UCSF in 2001. Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Dorothy Bainton convened a small committee to initiate the study and subsequently, a Washington DC-based opinion research firm was asked to conduct a survey by mail of the faculty. Published in January 2002, that report, “The Climate for Women on the Faculty at UCSF,” is posted online [PDF].

For its part, the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on the Status of Women (CACSW), which for nearly 40 years has worked for women faculty, staff and students on critical issues such as retention, promotion and mentoring, documented a history of the struggle for gender equity at UCSF. That report, “Slow Steps to Change: 1971-2004” by lead author Barbara Gerbert, PhD, a professor in the Division of Behavioral Sciences, Ethics, and Professionalism, is also posted online [PDF].

Among other actions, then Chancellor Bishop formed the Chancellor’s Council on Faculty Life,  which has since launched several programs and initiatives, including those for faculty development, mentoring, leadership and enrichment. These improvements are making a difference. Last year, UCSF was named the country’s second-best academic work setting, according to a 2009 survey conducted by The Scientist magazine. Read more here.

More About Hopkins

Hopkins obtained a PhD from Harvard University working in the lab of Mark Ptashne, and was a postdoctoral fellow of James D. Watson and Robert Pollack at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. She joined the MIT faculty in 1974 and worked on mechanisms of leukemogenesis by RNA tumor viruses for 17 years then switched fields of research. Her lab developed retroviral-mediated insertional mutagenesis for the zebrafish and, used the technique to identify 25 percent of the genes required for a fertilized egg to develop into a free-swimming larva. Some of the genes identified predispose fish to cancer.

Today, Hopkins’ lab focuses on using the zebrafish as a cancer model. In 1995, she was appointed chair of the first Committee on Women Faculty in the School of Science at MIT and in 2000, she was appointed co-chair of the first Council on Faculty Diversity at MIT.  Hopkins is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and served on its Council.

This event is co-sponsored by the UCSF Student Activity Center and Women in Life Sciences.
For more information, please email Chelsea Simms.

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We.news, December 29, 2008