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How we're leading the way among women in science

Lankenau Medical Center February 10, 2022 Medical Research

From its earliest days, Lankenau Institute for Medical Research (LIMR) has benefited from the research breakthroughs of its female scientists. As just one example, in the 1960s embryologist Beatrice Mintz developed the first mammal composed of genetically different cell populations, a stunning achievement that led to the creation of the first transgenic species now used globally in research and agriculture.

LIMR continues to lead in its career-advancing opportunities for women. Of the institute's 81 researchers, 42 are women.

"LIMR's gender diversity is important because extensive research has shown that diverse groups consistently outperform homogenous teams," says George Prendergast, PhD, president and CEO of LIMR. "In any field, but most especially STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math), individuals from varied backgrounds often have personal experiences that can assist their conception of new and potentially groundbreaking solutions. That's why diversity in the ever-evolving culture of research has always been key to intellectual advancement."

"LIMR's gender diversity is important because extensive research has shown that diverse groups consistently outperform homogenous teams." - George Prendergast, PhD, president and CEO of LIMR

So, what do women bring to a research organization?

"Women generally approach problems differently than men," says Susan Gilmour, PhD, LIMR professor and deputy director, and world-renowned cancer researcher. "We offer a unique perspective."

Laura Mandik-Nayak, PhD, LIMR associate professor and expert on autoimmune disorders, concurs. "When I was a grad student, I would have said gender shouldn't matter. But now I recognize that women tend to interact differently than men. You see it in meetings, in how they approach questions. You need both approaches to have a healthy organization."

Having people who believe in you and good role models are important to developing self-confidence and succeeding in scientific fields.

"I was influenced by many people," Dr. Gilmour says. "During my postdoctoral training at the Wistar Institute, my advisor introduced me to the research field of polyamines, and I could see how broad its applications could be. That introduced me to a worldwide community with whom I've been interacting my whole career. It spans not just cancer research but every aspect of biomedical research."

Coming from families that value education and encourage exploration can jump-start a passion for science, with further encouragement coming from mentors.

"My father always encouraged me to be a scientist, and my mother taught me how to write, which is an important skill to have in any scientific field. You must communicate what you discover," says Gilmour. "I like the renaissance approach to life. My advisor at the Wistar Institute taught me to look at things differently, to veer off the mainstream, find some new angle. That's the fun part of research."

And what advice would LIMR scientists have for young women considering a STEM career?

"My thesis advisor, who was successful and smart, also was married and had a baby. Her advice to me was not to get discouraged. She showed me there are many ways to be a good scientist and that one could achieve a work-life balance," says Dr. Mandik-Nayak. "And don't be afraid to be smart and use your talents!"

"Challenge yourself," says Gilmour. "To me, it's important to feel as if I'm making a difference in the world."

Curious about our research?

Learn more about our female scientists and the research happening at Main Line Health.