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More pioneering women of science

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

Two women entered science in the 1940s and both won the Nobel Prize.

How’d they do it? For one thing, their backgrounds were similar. Both came from Jewish immigrant families, grew up in the Bronx and attended the same high school during the golden age of public education in New York. Both graduated from Hunter College. Neither experienced flagrant sexism until entering science.

For Rosalyn Sussman, it was a solitary experience starting her doctorate in nuclear physics at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana.

“I was the first woman to have a graduate assistantship in physics there since 1917,” she said. As the only woman among 400 faculty members, she had no women’s bathroom.

Gertrude Elion worked for a pharmaceutical firm and developed many new drugs, including the precursor to the first anti-AIDS drug. But she was denied a laboratory job because she was “too pretty” and would be “a distracting ­influence.”

If her story sounds familiar, that’s because it still is. Just last year, a Nobel-winning biochemist said he has “trouble with girls” in labs because they’re either too attractive or cry when criticized. His remark ignited a firestorm on Twitter under the hashtag #DistractinglySexy.

—Adapted from “The Female Pioneers Who Changed STEM Forever,” Alexandra Ossola, The Atlantic.

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