The online launch of the LMB’s latest book Ahead of the Curve: Women Scientists at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology by Kathy Weston, took place recently, with presentations by LMB Alumnae from around the world. Over 200 people joined the event to hear about the idea behind the book, as well as some inspiring vignettes from some of the women scientists trained at the LMB.
Holding aloft a fresh-off-the-press copy of the book, Jan Löwe, LMB Director, explained how the book had developed over the last three years to include biopics from successful women from different decades, about their time at the LMB and their scientific work. He explained how the book is written without oversimplification or glorification, making the whole depiction of the scientific enterprise realistic, compelling and relevant to everyone.
Jan then introduced the author, Kathy Weston, herself an LMB Alumna. Kathy first spoke about why there was a need for such a book: she and her female contemporaries at the LMB had felt themselves to be the equals of the men there, but Kathy noticed that previous books about the history of the LMB mainly focused on the success of the men. Furthermore, the scientific lives of these women ought to be celebrated as an inspiration to today’s young researchers, who need to know that it is possible to be an awesome scientist whilst still having a normal life outside the lab.
Kathy said that she had made a few rules when she began the project: she hadn’t interviewed any men, and she’d had fun trying not to use any of the male-oriented similes that pervade science writing. The result was that she’d ended up interviewing a fascinating cross-section of women who’d worked on fundamental and important scientific problems: from the enduring rise of the nematode worm as a model organism, and the first demonstration of the allosteric mechanism that underpins how enzymes function, to the work that led to the LMB’s three EMBO Gold Medals awarded to women. The book is full of brave, determined, passionate women scientists. Their chosen career path has not always been a walk in the park, but there has been a step-change in how women in science are perceived, including by themselves. Although there is still work to be done, women beginning their scientific journeys today find themselves in a far better place than their predecessors.
Mariann Bienz, LMB Deputy Director, then opened up the meeting to some of the women featured in the book, who together covered nearly 60 years of LMB life. Each one spoke about their time at the LMB and its impact on their career, and offered advice to the next generation of women scientists. Some quotes from their vignettes include:
“Always follow your scientific dreams, train with the best, only tackle the big questions – life is too short for ‘postage stamp’ projects” Suzanne Cory.
“It was a wonderful time to learn protein chemistry – I just fell in love with proteins and never looked back – proteins became a part of my life” Susan Taylor.
“The LMB was superb and it pulled me right back into science – it changed my life, gave me courage and was a lot of fun” Maria Leptin.
“It is heartening to see how things have moved on in the 21st century – it is more normal and more acceptable for young woman to aspire to a science career” Mariann Bienz.
The full launch event is now available to watch on YouTube for those who missed the event and would like to find out more.
The book can be purchased both in hard copy and as an e-book via www.aheadofthecurve.org.uk and is raising funds to support the Max Perutz Fund charity for the promotion and advancement of education and research in molecular biology and allied biomedical sciences.