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Archive for April, 2011

Some people may wonder why I am discussing this topic. Perhaps feminists or gay activists or just people surfing the net. Some may wonder why I am even raising this issue when there is a more accepting, equal, anti-discriminatory climate in 2011. Some feminists and gay activists may question why I am distinguishing lesbians in the scientific field when gender and sexuality shouldn’t matter.

I am an empowered woman, a feminist, a lesbian and scientist. While studying science both as an undergrad and postgrad, I didn’t face any prejudices or discrimination (that I was aware of) because I was a female. I only came out in the later years of my masters, but even then I didn’t experience any negative issues. If anything, the people I told (friends, colleagues, my supervisor) were positive about it and didn’t make much of a fuss at all.

I’m not solely protesting the lack of women in science, or the lack of visibility of female scientists or the lack of visibility of lesbian scientists. I believe these are important issues and I strongly believe in encouraging greater visibility of female scientists and greater encouragement for young women to pursue careers in science. 

I am simply addressing a topic that is interesting to me. I am intrigued as to how many women in science identify as lesbian or bisexual (or queer for that matter too). And I want to know more about their experiences, their stories, their contributions and achievements in their chosen fields. I’m curious to see how many women have had positive experiences and have found that their gender and their sexuality hasn’t been an issue. We hear about scientists (that are women) and their achievements. But I have the opinion that there should be more promotion and positive images of female scientists in the media.

As a young woman I was inspired by stong female scientists (on TV and in books) to pursue a career in science. Positive representation of women in science is a great thing. And I wonder how many young lesbian / bi / queer / trans women out there who have an interest in science would be encouraged to pursue their dreams if they see other queer women that have done this. Maybe there is a need for lesbian scientist role models? I think there is! And discussing these issues is an initial step.

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The Playboy Mansion - West

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What a fascinating piece of pop culture and microbiological news! Talk about weird and rather cool.

Legionella, the bacterium that causes Legionnaires Disease, was found to be the causative agent of an illness contracted by guests attending a fund raising party at the Playboy Mansion in February. A hot tub was the predicted source of outbreak. About 120 people fell ill.

Interesting images come to mind. Playboy bunnies, celebrities, billionaire businessmen and a hot tub harbouring a nice culture of legionella. What an interesting amalgam of sex pop culture and epidemiology.

Check out some of these blogs and articles.

http://epihealth.wordpress.com/2011/03/05/legionellosis-cluster-in-la-county/

http://www.medpagetoday.com/Blogs/24901

http://barfblog.foodsafety.ksu.edu/barfblog/category/other-microorganisms

http://www.cdc.gov/legionella/patient_facts.htm

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I was doing some research via google and I found another blog discussing lesbians in science.

Naked Under My Lab Coat – http://joolya.blogspot.com/2006_10_01_archive.html

There are other people out there wondering about lesbians in science. Interesting!

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Although I may be slightly biased in my opinion (as I have worked in the health research field) about the proposed funding cuts to medical research by the Australian Government, this is a very important issue which may affect not only Australians but the people of the world.

Medical research in Australia has contributed to many important breakthroughs in medicine, microbiology, cancer treatment, development of new drugs etc. For example an Australian cancer researcher developed the cervical cancer vaccine and an Australian chemist developed the drug Rulenza that is used to treat influenza. Australian doctors discovered the gastrointestinal bacterium Helicobacter pylori and demonstrated that this was the causative agent of gastritis, ulcers and gastric cancer. And to follow on from this microbiological breakthrough, Australian veterinary pathologists and microbiologists identified the Henda virus that emerged in Brisbane in the 1990’s and has proved fatal for humans and horses.

These are only a few of the amazing achievements of scientists and medical researchers in Australia. Where would we be without the important work they have conducted? Where would their research projects be without funding from government, industry and research foundations.

As a whole science and medical science has had a huge impact on the health and well being of the world’s population. Scientific and medical research is at the forefront of developing vaccines, drugs, treatment options, prevention methods and expanding general knowledge.

Funding is an essential tool in conducting medical (and scientific) research. Without funding researchers would be without a salary (or would be underpaid), could not hire staff to work on their research projects and couldn’t afford to buy the necessary reagents, consumables and equipment to conduct their experiments and work. Researchers may also miss out on recruiting new postgrad students to undertake research which would mean less research being conducted.

I myself don’t have direct experience in applying for grants for research projects or to provide a position for a postdoc, but I was a postgrad research student and I did receive scholarships etc to undertake my research. Without these I wouldn’t have been able to afford to do postgrad studies.

I heard a speech by a cancer survivor who was also a medical researcher and she had a poignant message. Her life, her health and her career centered around medical research and she advocated the continued funding for this field of research. 

I was pleased that there was widespread coverage of the cuts and that the general public were made aware of the importance of medical research and how these funding cuts could affect this important work.

I’m not sure if the funding cuts are still going to go ahead, but I hope the government will listen to the protests and petitions from medical researchers to not carry out these cuts.

There is an ipetition against cuts in health and medical research hosted by Research Australia. Check out this link – http://www.openforum.com.au/content/health-and-medical-research-funding-cuts

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I just found this page about science in the news published by the Australian Academy of Science. I think this is great! More information about science for the general public the better.

NOVA – Science in the News – http://www.science.org.au/nova/

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Rainbow flag flapping in the wind with blue sk...

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I have been reading the website of the National Organisation for Gay & Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals (NOGLSTP) and found this article very interesting.

I have a passion for history and the stories of people from different eras (especially the 1940’s & 50’s and the 18th & early 19th century) and along with my interest in the lives and careers of queer scientists I was enthralled.

If you are interested in the lives, stories and accomplishments of queer scientists, check out this page by NOGLSTP – http://www.noglstp.org/?page_id=13

With advances in gay rights, anti-discrimination and acceptance of individuals of all sexual persuasions, and the opportunities to tell your story over the web, in years to the stories of queer scientists of the 21st century will surely be well-known!

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Rosalind Franklin, co-creator of the single X-...

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When I was undertaking postgrad studies in a microbiology and molecular biology lab I remember discussing Rosalind Franklin – a X-Ray Crystallographer who along with Watson & Crick determined the structure of DNA. We also discussed how she missed out on winning the Nobel Prize for this scientific break through. I was interested in her story! And given that she had conducted most of her work in the 1940’s & 50’s when there weren’t too many women in science this fascinated me even more!!

For a good biography of Rosalind Franklin have a look at Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosalind_Franklin.

This article also focuses on the controversy surrounding her role in the discovery of the structure of DNA, the lack of recognition of her role, prejudices she faced as a woman and the most saddest part of all – her death from complications from ovarian cancer before her role in this ground breaking discovery was recognised. And due to her death, according to Nobel Prize rules regarding nominating posthumously, she missed out on being awarded the Nobel Prize along with Crick, Watson, and Wilkins in 1962 (although as referenced in this article, the prize was for work on nucleic acids as well as the structure of DNA).

And as a woman and a scientist that has worked with DNA I think Rosalind Franklin is a true inspiration, and although the controversies surrounding her role in discovering the structure of DNA and the sexism and prejudices she faced can overshadow her contributions, I think more people should be made aware of her significant work.

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