Nothing put a bigger smile on my face last week than Science’s profile of Olivera Finn, the founding chair of Immunology at Pitt and recent president of AAI. She is a remarkable scientist (cancer immunology), superb mentor, and delightful woman. Her colleagues and trainees are quick and eager to recognize her professional accomplishments in the course of maintaining a rich family life. I like the way Mitch Leslie starts the article:
Take a look at Olivera “Olja” Finn’s life, and you can tick off the actions women are supposed to avoid if they want to advance in science. Get married fresh out of high school. Check. Interrupt your education for your husband’s sake. Check. Allow his career to take precedence over yours. Check. Have children before you have a job and give birth at what seem like inopportune times, such as shortly before you start graduate school. Check.
Yet Finn has, with great success, pursued career and family goals simultaneously. She celebrated her 40th wedding anniversary last month, has raised a daughter and a son, and, at the age of 59, already has grandchildren. Professionally, Finn has prospered. Nearly 20 years ago, she discovered the first cancer antigen, a tumor molecule that elicits a reaction from immune cells. And despite spending her youth in Communist-run Yugoslavia, Finn has climbed the academic ladder in the United States–she is chair of immunology at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania and has served as president of the American Association of Immunologists. She argues that interweaving career and family is essential. “I don’t think we live long enough to do things sequentially.”
Indeed, programs promoting women in science at the NIH, the AAMC, and FASEB need look no further than Olja for their role model, both in terms of her incredible career and how she manages her own productive yet family-friendly labs.
Of note is the current NIH RFA for “Research on Causal Factors and Interventions that Promote and Support the Careers of Women in Biomedical and Behavioral Science and Engineering.” I know of several applications going in and am not sure “research” will uncover anything more novel than the need for institutions to pony up resources and reward supportive department practices – but we’ll see. Perhaps just having hard rather than anecdotal data will make the difference in justifying policy change and budgeting priorities, especially in terms of enhancing recruitment and retention.
(Those not familiar with allowable grant costs in this regard can check this FAQ on NIH policy on child care and parental leave and should also check with their usual IC for special policies, such as the Primary Caregiver Technical Assistance Supplements for postdocs available through, who else, NIAID … Olja, did you have a hand in this?)
Now if only FASEB would recognize her with an Excellence in Science award….