The Gazette from Montreal, Quebec, Canada on June 21, 1985 · 27
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The Gazette from Montreal, Quebec, Canada · 27

Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Issue Date:
Friday, June 21, 1985
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SCCTION (Lin 0!tcuc Architect , - .... has blueprint ; for career Pago C-3 UU VA 7M7U Inside: CUSJNESS SPOHTS vw;-- A 1 ML LIVING MIXTION MONTREAL I hlDAY, JUNC 21. - 1 V. -V'V;. i pjnl r . ,7 f l i . V' V ' - - ' " i l7 H r ' - r ' . rc k . , A-y r;.;:;;s-r;-3 . l 1 - - ,.. ' ; ; .r-7' " ' - j . '. j Or ; f . . f 7 . j K - - ' I t . '.. ' f I I . '. , Sly I I ... ....... . v ? I . ... . '7 :-. 1. ' ,r -' 7- 7 -A '' - v v Gazette photos. Richard Arless . Rose Johnstone, left, chairman of the department of biochemistry at McGill University, and Gloria Tannenbaum of Montreal Children's Hospital. CO I dOBIfBOfOSfi n n ran mm r3 n n By SUSAN CARSON of The Gazette Not yet halfway through her career, Gopalan Shyamala has firmly established herself as a world name in hormone research. With a PhD in endocrinology, she has her own laboratory at the Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research and an annual budget of well over $100,000 in grants (generous by Canadian funding standards), which she personally secures from several funding organizations. Her method of assessing cancerous breast tissue to determine treatment is now standard procedure at the Jewish General Hospital and other treatment centres in Canada. She is an associate professor of medicine at McGill University, and consultant to the U.S. National Institutes of Health in Betheseda, Md., and the Medical Research Council in Ottawa. The problem? Shyamala is still very much a minority. Today 62,000 women work in the field of science in Canada, compared with 354,000 men about double the number of women with such jobs in 1976, when males numbered 301,000. But the vast majority of these women work at the bottom end of the hierarchy, as lab assistants and technicians (some with graduate degrees, others with technical diplomas) to the men who continue to dominate the middle and senior stratas. Set up organization To prevent women from becoming lost in the science shuffle, six regional groups of women who work in the sciences in universities, research facilities and in industry united two weeks ago to form the Canadian Federation of Women in Scholarship, Engineering and Technology. Margaret Ann Armour, who develops undergraduate chemistry laboratory programs at the University of Alberta, helped set up the organization, with some financial help from the Science Council of Canada. ' We need to network and lobby if women in science are going to move ahead," said Armour. "We're starting by publishing a listing of 1,500 biographies of women in the profession in order to let potential employers know we are out there, so that when openings occur, qualified women do not escape everyone's notice." If women aren't visible in the higher echelons, it's not for want of trying, Shyamala said. "They are in the universities doing postgraduate degrees" at McGill University, for example, women now make up 45 per cent of the 50 students at the graduate level in the department of biochemistry "but they don't make up 50 per cent of the faculty." However, women are failing to move upward from entry jobs as a result of benign neglect, Shymala says, not as an intentional move to The male is still favored as more competent' keep them out of positions of power. "There's no question but men have traditionally dominated science. When a position is open, the male is still automatically favored as being more competent. There's an assumption that women don't want the big jobs, mostly on the grounds that their families sap too much of their energies. "In this aspect we're behind the U.S., where they're at least talking about the non-presence of women in science." When Rose Johnstone, now chairman of the department of biochemistry at McGill University, graduated with ber PhD, she took the first research job that came along, "because all I was interested in was a nice little job that gave me some financial independence. "As an. undergraduate I'd even switched from microbiology to bio chemistry because I liked the professor better. I certainly wasn't planning ahead. It was only later that I became more ambitious and found I had to fight for what I want ed." Johnstone, who is "past 40 and not ready to retire," runs her blood-cell research lab on J 110,000 worth of grants annually. She still sees too many women students taking roughly the same attitude today as she took years ago. 'They don't take risks' "They don't think ahead," she scolded. "Talented postgraduate female students will tell me they don't want to take a job that may be a big break in another city because it will take them away from a boyfriend. Or they'll hesitate over another offer because the hours aren't regular. "They don't take risks. They don't aim high. The majority would rather go with a big name who's prepared to go out there and fight for the bucks to pay for his lab, run by all these women who won't accept real responsibility. That's your answer to why women aren't making it, because it's easier jnot to. The trouble is, later, when their families are almost grown, they regret it." However, Johnstone isn't putting all the responsibility on women for their lack of progress. "When there's a choice to be made between a male and female candidate, men will usually choose a man," she explained. "When pushed they'll tell you that experience has taught them to be wary, but I ask you: How many woman have they hired? On what are they basing this decision?" Men don't refuse jobs because they're worried about how they'll combine it with their parenting duties, Johnstone said. "Young women come to me all the time and ask how they can have a career and a family," she said. "I raised two children and enjoyed my career. If you have good health, it can be done. It's not easy I only took three weeks off after each birth but if you want both things you can have them, if you are prepared to work very hard. "There really isn't any other way. In some professions you can take five years off while you have your children. But in science, take five years off and you're hopelessly outdated." Shyamala says having children probably helped her in the long run. "Researchers live under terrible pressure. It's very difficult not to take their work home at night, at least in their head. So they never get away from work and many just burn out. "Children don't understand work pressures. They want your attention now. When my two children were young, I always found I was forced to turn off at least for a few hours when I got home and I think in the long run that benefited me." For the first 10 years of her career, Gloria Tannenbaum typified the kind of woman Johnstone says Graduate school was the only way to progress predominate in science: She had "a nice little job" as a research technician at the Montreal Children's Hospital (MCH). "I got married right after graduating with a bachelor of science and found a technician's job at the MCH. Two years later I got pregnant and left the work force." Over the next 10 years, Tannenbaum had four daughters, but after three years at home, she decided to go back to her job on a part-time basis. "I knew I needed to get out of the house, although at the time I felt tremendous guilt. However, mine was a job with no future. I was just a pair of hands." Tannenbaum remained in the job for five years. But the day her youngest daughter entered kindergarten, she entered graduate school at 30, knowing it w is the only way her career could progress. In 1976 she earned her doctorate in neuroendocrinology, the study of how the brain and central nervous system controls the hormonal sys tem. Then she returned to Montreal Children's Hospital, where she continues to work, on a postdoctoral research fellowship, with her own lab and technicians, investigating control mechanisms governing the secretion of growth hormones. "I worked like a fiend," she said. "Some nights I'd still be doing experiments at midnight and my husband would arrive with my dinner under his arm. I still had no long-range plans. It was only as I realized that my colleagues had been in the business 10 years longer than I bad, that I knew I would have to be more aggressive. I felt I had to fight. "Without grants, there's no research, and without research, there's no success, so I became very competitive. That means being first with the research, but also being sure your research is good. It means publishing. It means presenting your research at international conferences." The rewards of a career in science are many, although Tannenbaum says these rewards do not include generous salaries. "Financially, it's the pits," she laughed. "I could earn two to three times my present salary in a government office." Geneticist Dr. Naomi Fitch says not everyone has to work 18 hours a day to have a successful career as a research scientist. "Close to 99.9 per cent of all research scientists work terribly long hours. It's understandable. They have experiments going on in their labs and even if they no longer do them themselves they need to be around. "But I am one of the rare people who has been able to find a very challenging research job that allows me to work regular hours. I planned my life around that job. I adopted two children as a single parent and I wanted to be free to spend evenings and weekends with them." But it took both a doctoral degree in zoology, specializing in genetics, and an MD d gree to do it Fitch is abie to control her hours because as a scientist studying birth defects, she works not in a laboratory but with families and scientific litera ture. She was 36 when she decided she didn't want to spend the rest of her life working with mice and trained to become a physician. That was more easily said than done. Most medical schools insisted she was too old, but the University of British Columbia finally accepted her. After graduation she was hired by the Lady Davis Institute to do research. Most of it has been on abnormalities in newborns, although she is now about to examine the incidence of Alzheimer's Disease (the progressive, degenerative brain condition with no known cause or cure) in Montreal families. Pay for success Fitch says she has never been aware of her gender getting in the way of her career. Hard work and natural talent seem to have done the job for her, although like all the women interviewed, Fitch said luck has been a factor in her work. More important still, Shyamala says, is the price one is prepared to pay for success. She routinely works 10-hour days, often on weekends, with approximately only half the time spent on pure research. The rest is administration, teaching, attending seminars, consulting and preparing grant applications. Those are prices both men and women must pay, but there are others reserved exclusively for women. She says that working in any profession involves a kind of informal socializing. According to Shyamala, there are several factors that will determine a woman's progress. "She'd better be damn good at entry level, as an assistant professor in a university, for example. She needs that extra something a degree from Harvard or Yale, for example, something that distinguishes her from good men. "She must be young, under the age of 35. Older women, cr men, for that matter, are not considered because it just takes too lo-g to achieve anything."

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