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Researchers reflect on 50 years of women in science at Penn State College of Medicine during symposium

When doors open, women must seize the opportunity, but at the same time, they must never lose focus on their goals.

Dr. Elaine Eyster delivered these words of advice at the virtual full-day symposium on March 12, “A Celebration of Women in Science.” The event captured the contributions and words of wisdom from women in biomedical sciences during the past 50 years at Penn State College of Medicine and Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

Some of the best moments of the day came from women who were pioneers as faculty and researchers at the College of Medicine and Milton S. Hershey Medical Center telling their stories.

Eyster, distinguished professor in the Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology and Oncology; and distinguished professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, arrived in Hershey in 1970. She and her husband, the late Dr. Robert Dye, made newspaper headlines as the first husband and wife clinical faculty members to join the College of Medicine. She was one of the few women on the faculty at the time.

“It was a great experience,” she said. “Not easy, but nothing worthwhile is easy.”

Joanna Floros, Evan Pugh Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, and professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Department of Cellular and Molecular Physiology, talked about raising eyebrows more than four decades ago when she wanted to be both a mother and a researcher. She pushed ahead with her personal and professional goals, she explained, even though many colleagues and managers questioned them.

Dr. Leslie Parent, vice dean for research and graduate studies at the College of Medicine and associate vice president for health sciences research at Penn State, said the idea for an event to celebrate women in science came from a conversation with Dr. Judith Bond, Evan Pugh Professor Emerita at Penn State College of Medicine, and adjunct professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Bond was the first female basic science chair at the College of Medicine.

“From the very beginning of our College of Medicine, women scientists, physicians, trainees, students, technicians, administrative staff and nurses have made exceptional contributions to all of our missions — research, teaching, innovation, patient care and community outreach,” said Parent. “Our graduates are making their mark across the nation, and we are proud of their accomplishments.”

Bond agreed, saying “It’s wonderful to highlight women’s contributions to the College of Medicine, to scientific knowledge, to the community and to the challenges facing society. Women have increasingly taken on leadership roles in the College of Medicine and are involved in national and international endeavors.”

The audience also heard discussions about research projects, mentoring and a panel on industry, biotechnology and government. Attendees said the event described a foundation that younger female scientists are now able to stand on.

“As we embark on our next 50 years, we want to encourage and support the next generation of biomedical scientists and do what we can to promote equity,” said Parent.

The day ended with a group of women reading a poem written by Dr. Rebecca Phaeton, assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Department of Microbiology and Immunology:

Celebration of Women in Science Toast

We are here today, past, present, and the future to be,
Coming together, purposefully laudatory.
Women in Science and those that support in the wings
Encouraged, empowered, to challenge glass ceilings.
Bonded in science and together in heart,
We acknowledge our beginnings and initiate a fresh start.

Raise a glass, a cup or just a hand,
Toast first to yourself, and then take a stand.
Stand for change, for science and for innovation,
Together we have 50 years of celebration!!

Raise, sip, take a drink …..
Reflect on the day and take time to think.
Of your goals, your vision and what is distinct.
Take it away! Go ahead and do the most!
You got this! And for this reason we toast!

Ring the alarm, a bell, or give a cheer,
Blow the whistle for the day’s end is near!
Hip, hip, and a resounding hooray!
Thanks to all for a spectacular day!

Look out for more news and events related to women in science

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