In this the second part of our blog celebrating International Women’s Day (read part one here) we hear from more fantastic female scientists from our Editorial Boards. They have all reached the top of their profession in their diverse fields, from astrophysics to molecular biology. This time we hear from Polly Arnold, Suzanne Alonzo, Hope Klug, Genevieve Almouzni, Andrea Graham, Rita Mehta, Sue Healy, Giovana Tinetti, Magdelena Sauvage, Rosemary Knapp, Susanne Renner and Claire Spottiswoode.
Polly Arnold – University of Edinburgh Associate Editor, Proceedings A
My research is focused on exploratory synthetic chemistry that challenges preconceived ideas of structure, reactivity, and bonding. The group designs and makes metal compounds that can activate small, traditionally unreactive molecules such as carbon oxides and hydrocarbons, and develops these into innovative catalytic transformations. By working with some of the heaviest and most reactive metals, including uranium, new fundamental knowledge that can help with the treatment of nuclear wastes is also gained.
Growing up, I wanted to be an explorer, a spy, or a detective. My parents raised me gender-blind and I selected aspects of role-model from many people, including Amelia Earhart, Sherlock Holmes, and James Bond. In the exploratory synthetic chemistry we focus on, I feel like I have found that challenging, exciting job that I wasn’t able to define as a child. But I have also realised that the world isn’t gender-blind and so, supported by the Royal Society’s 2012 Rosalind Franklin award, we made ‘A Chemical Imbalance’. The film and book celebrate women in science, and explore the issues that contribute to their continuing under-representation. We also call for simple changes to our workplaces that will enable the best and most diverse population to produce the best science.
Suzanne Alonzo – Yale University Editor, Proceedings B
I am a Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Yale University. I am most interested in understanding the amazing diversity of reproductive traits that we see in nature, particularly reproductive behaviors. My own research is a mix of general mathematical theory and empirical work on a species of marine fish with a particularly complex and fascinating mating system (the ocellated wrasse). Over the years, I have studied a variety of topics, including sperm competition, parental care, alternative reproductive behaviors, female mate choice and sexual conflict. This may explain why my research is currently focused on understanding how male/female coevolution and social interactions simultaneously affect mating, fertilization and parental investment.
I first became interested in the study of animal behavior and marine organisms during an undergraduate field studies course to French Polynesia and have been studying the striking diversity of fish reproductive behavior ever since. My field research takes me to Corsica each year to SCUBA dive in the Mediterranean to watch fish behavior. While I do spend more time in front of my computer than underwater these days, I still find it amazing that I can get paid for something that I enjoy this much (and takes my each summer to Corsica).
Hope Klug – University of Tennessee Associate Editor, Proceedings B
Mating systems, social behavior, and parental effort are intimately linked to patterns of sexual selection, life history, and the ways in which the environment shapes the evolution of different sexes. This is the focus of my research: I study the selective pressures that give rise to different mating systems, patterns of sexual selection, and behavior such as parental care. I use a combination of field and laboratory observation, manipulative experiments, and mathematical modeling to advance and test theory. In my lab, we are driven by curiosity, embrace diversity, and foster critical and independent thinking.
Growing up in Florida, much of my childhood was spent in, on, or near water, and I’ve always been intrigued by nature and inquisitive about the world around me. I first realized that a career in science was possible when I attended a marine biology camp for girls at the age of 14. I did both my B.S. and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Florida. After completing my Ph.D., I did an NSF-funded post-doc at the University of Helsinki and a second post-doc at Yale University. In 2011, I joined the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga as an Assistant Professor of Evolutionary Biology.
Genevieve Almouzni – Institut Curie Associate Editor, Open Biology
I received my PhD from the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, France, and after completing my postdoctoral training at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, USA, in the laboratory of Alan P. Wolffe, I was made CNRS junior group leader at the Institut Curie, Paris (with shared supervision of Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS)). In 1999, I became head of the unit and since 2009, I have directed the advanced training for the Research Division at the institute. My colleagues and I conduct research on chromatin dynamics, histone variants, histone chaperones and nuclear organisation with a particular interest on heterochromatin. Our aim is to strengthen understanding of cellular defects underlying transformation in cancer cells with a particular interest for epigenetic parameters. Last year I received the FEBS-EMBO Women in Science Award [awarded for the exceptional achievements of a female researcher in molecular biology over the previous five years]. It is a great honor for all scientists who work in the field of chromatin and epigenetics, particularly for all women in science and I hope honors such as these continue to inspire future generations of women in science.
Andrea Graham – Princeton University Associate Editor, Proceedings B
I am from Colorado, USA, where I spent my summers in the mountains, admiring lichens above all. I earned an A.B. in Biology and Sculpture from Mount Holyoke College, and then a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Cornell University. After a postdoc in immunology at University of Edinburgh, I obtained independent research fellowships to establish my own research group in Edinburgh. I moved to Princeton in 2011. My group study how natural selection has shaped strategies for both host defense and parasite transmission. Particular areas of interest are immunological conflicts posed by co-infection, the effects of strong immune responses upon both host and parasite fitness, and selection pressures that shape the speed and specificity of immune responses. This area of science enables me to jointly pursue my interests in symbiosis, parasite ecology and medicine.
Rita Mehta – University of California, Santa Cruz Associate Editor, Proceedings B
My research interests span the fields of morphology, behavior, development, and evolutionary biology. A central focus of my research program is to understand the interaction between body shape and feeding behavior. I am especially interested in large predatory organisms that have evolved extreme body plans such as eels and snakes. As an undergraduate, I was strongly influenced by my mentors at UC Berkeley. While I was uncertain about my career goals in college, my exposure to morphology across a wide range of disciplines- anthropology, environmental studies, and integrative biology emphasized the importance of understanding the form –function relationship of organisms as well as the beauty and complexity of organismal systems. An undergraduate summer research experience in Costa Rica opened my eyes to the possibility of a career in the biological sciences. I fell in love with the animal and plant diversity in the rain forests. I learned that asking questions could not only lead to discoveries of all different magnitudes but that there was so much about the natural world that was unknown. One of the roles that I appreciate the most as an academic is my mentorship role to undergraduate and graduate students. At UC Santa Cruz, I strive to provide laboratory and field research opportunities for students to enhance their undergraduate experience. It is extremely gratifying to observe my students learning about themselves through the scientific process as well as contribute to the scientific community. Undergraduates have wonderful enthusiasm and the energy in the lab and the field can be both powerful and inspirational to the scientific process.
Sue Healy – University of St Andrews Associate Editor, Proceedings B
During my undergraduate degree at the University of Otago, New Zealand, I discovered a love of zoology and of scientific research. Before beginning a PhD in New Zealand, I set off for two years of ‘overseas experience’ of which I achieved one month before I began a job as research assistant to Professor John Krebs FRS at Oxford. There I worked on food-storing behavior in birds and its relationship to the hippocampus, one of the parts of the brain involved in spatial memory. This is where my abiding passion to understand how evolution has shaped cognitive abilities in animals in the ‘real’ world began. I completed a DPhil with John, followed by a Junior Research Fellowship at St John’s College, Oxford, before journeying gradually north to Newcastle, Edinburgh and now St Andrews where I am a Reader. Over the course of this journey I have investigated cognitive abilities in a number of species. Alongside fieldwork on cognition in hummingbirds (mostly in the Canadian Rockies), my group is currently interested in determining how birds know what nest to build. This project allows me to travel to beautiful places for fieldwork to watch animals behaving, to design fun experiments in the lab and work alongside a team of smart, motivated, and stimulating students and colleagues, many of whom are women.
Giovanna Tinetti – University College London Associate Editor, Proceedings A
I am a Professor of astrophysics at University College London and a Royal Society URF. I coordinate at UCL the research program “ExoLights” funded by the European Research Council, aimed at observing and understanding planets in our Galaxy. My background is theoretical physics, but I started to work on planets outside our Solar System (exoplanets) when I moved to Caltech after my PhD in Italy. As a child, I loved maths and I started to be obsessed about particle physics reading some public science books on the subject. I decided I wanted to be a physicist when I was ten. In the US I had the opportunity of being involved in the planning of new space telescopes to detect and characterise exoplanets and to work in a very interdisciplinary environment, interacting with space engineers, planetary scientists and biologists. My research there was supported by the NASA Astrobiology Institute. I arrived in the UK in 2007, after a couple of years in Paris, working as a European Space Agency external fellow. The turning point in my career was the pioneering effort in planning and interpreting the observations that have, for the first time, given us real insights into the molecular composition of exoplanets. Together with my international collaborators, we were able to detect water wapour, methane and other species in the atmospheres of worlds distant tens of light-years from us. I was awarded the Institute of Physics Moseley medal in 2011 for this work.
In the past years I have coordinated the planning of the EChO (Exoplanet Characterisation Observatory) mission concept, a dedicated space mission to observe the chemistry of hundreds of exoplanets, including the ones with potential habitable conditions. EChO has been considered by the European Space Agency as M3 mission candidate. My goal is to see EChO flying soon.
Magdalena Sauvage – Ruhr University Bochum Associate Editor, Proceedings B
Our laboratory aims at identifying the neural support of memory function by studying the memory for time, space and objects. Damage to the medial temporal lobe areas of the brain results in severe memory deficits as it is the case in aging and amnesia. We focus on determining the specific role of these different areas which have been recently suggested to contribute to distinct aspects of memory function. To do so, we detect in these areas and interacting ones (e.g. prefrontal cortex and amygdala) the brain activity that is elicited during memory tasks in healthy rodents as well as in animal models of amnesia and aging, The originality of our approach is to use translational memory paradigms (standard human memory tasks adapted to rodents) which allow for major controversies in human memory research to be addressed using invasive approaches. In addition, we use cutting-edge neuroanatomical imaging techniques, involving the detection of immediate-early-genes by in-situ hybridization and immunocytochemistry used as markers of cells activation, to precisely identify the location of the neurons activated during the tasks. Concurrently, we are developing cognitive fMRI paradigms for awake rodents and optogenetic techniques. We also conduct human behavioral testing with the aim of bridging further human and animal memory function and gaining a more integrated understanding of memory function across disciplines and species. I got into a career in science “most naturally” by joining early on (right after obtaining my Bsc. Degree) and outside of my curriculum, the laboratory of a very enthusiastic and passionate Professor in Neurosciences.
Rosemary Knapp – University of Oklahoma Associate Editor, Proceedings B
As a child growing up in New York City, I was drawn to the various nature shows on television, perhaps because the places depicted were so different from where I was growing up. I studied animal behavior for my B.S. at Rutgers University and spent a couple of summers as in intern at the Bronx Zoo, with the intent of pursuing a career related to helping improve breeding of captive species. However, while working on a M.S. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I became more and more interested in the endocrine processes underlying reproduction, especially of species that seemed to be doing something unusual and where there was interesting variation across individuals. It was also important for me to try to study this in free-living animals. Although I found that these interests did not require me to travel to distant parts of the world, they did lead me around the United States! I completed my Ph.D. at Arizona State University, where I studied the alternative reproductive morphs of male tree lizards in both the field and the lab. Following that, I studied the male morphs of the plainfin midshipman fish as a postdoc at Cornell University. Here at the University of Oklahoma, I’ve been focused on the three male types of bluegill sunfish. The common main theme of my work on all these species has been trying to understand the physiological bases of variation in aggressive and reproductive behavior. The fish species have also allowed me to study paternal care, a type of care relatively uncommon across vertebrates generally, but quite common among fishes.
Susanne Renner – University of Munich Associate Editor, Proceedings B
I am an evolutionary biologist, interested in plant sexual systems, plant/pollinator interactions, and in the occupation of space by different lineages. My approaches combine comparative biology and molecular phylogenetics. Right now my lab is working on the evolution of huge Y chromosomes in certain cucurbits, and the gain and loss of specialized interactions between flowers and hummingbirds, and flowers and certain bees. Another project is on changing leaf-out phenology in woody plants, where we are gathering historic data on hundreds of species from many lineages to figure out how they react to chilling, light, and temperature. This also involves a bit of experimental work. I got into biology because as at teenager I was fascinated with animal behavior, having read books by Lorenz and Tinbergen. A professor of systematic botany in Hamburg then got me to work on old herbarium specimens he had on loan, promising this would be my ticket to working in tropical forests. I eventually did get to the tropics, in Brazil, where I studied bee pollination for my dissertation. Next steps were a 2-year postdoctoral fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution, followed by professorships in systematic botany in Aarhus, Mainz, and Saint Louis. I’ve been at the University of Munich for the past 10 years.
Claire Spottiswoode – University of Cambridge Associate Editor, Biology Letters
I’m interested in how evolutionary arms races between different species generate biodiversity. I work in the field in Zambia on brood parasitic birds such as cuckoos, cuckoo finches and honeyguides, which are cheats that lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, and give us some of the most beautiful examples of adaptation seen in nature. Cuckoo eggs look exactly like those of their hosts, to trick hosts into accepting the foreign egg as one of their own. I am interested in how hosts might defend themselves by evolving spots and squiggles on their eggs that act like signatures that are hard for the cuckoo to forge. At the moment my colleagues and I are trying to solve the mystery of how, in turn, a single species of cuckoo is genetically able to lay different eggs that forge the signatures each of its several host species. I come from South Africa, a place where there is still wild nature all around, and first fell in love with biology – and birdwatching in particular – aged seven. I’ve yet to shake it off, and my research still feels like a slightly grown-up version of that early obsession, wading through long grass from nest to nest. I feel strongly about the value of natural history and field experiments to inspire and test ideas – even though in practice this means I spend a lot of time fixing ancient Toyota trucks.