Female to Head Marine Lab

Harvard Crimson
November 13, 2012
By Jessica Barzilay

Harvard Medical School Professor and Radcliffe Institute fellow Joan V. Ruderman will pioneer the next era of the Marine Biological Laboratory as its first female president.

After over 30 years of involvement with the MBL, first as a student and subsequently as a teacher and lab director, Ruderman will leave HMS to "continue to strengthen and build the three different arms of MBL: research, summer courses, and the visiting researcher program," she said.

The international, non-profit lab, founded with the partial mission of educating women in biology, will celebrate its 125th anniversary next year. Ruderman has already begun planning the anniversary gala, which will also celebrate the success of the MBL's recent capital campaign. Accoring to Ruderman, part of her excitement about leading the institute derives from the opportunity to continue expanding the opportunities MBL affords to students.

"I'm hoping to make it better and continue to work for better sources of funding to sustain all of the great projects," she said.

Since women have traditionally comprised a small minority of scientific and research communities, Ruderman's appointment serves as a milestone for women in science. However, she said she has not felt personally inhibited by her gender in her studies, especially in the 21st century.

"We're in an era where there are women presidents at Harvard, Princeton, MIT," Ruderman said. "That glory goes to the women in the generation that preceded me. Women were already in the conversation when I arrived on the scene.

Despite Ruderman's positive experience as a woman in science, the gender disparity in STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—persists in quantifiable ways.

While women made up 48 percent of the work force in 2009, they accounted for only 24 percent of the jobs in STEM fields, according to a U.S. Dept. of Commerce study published last August.

Ruderman welcomes discussion of the role of gender in academia, but her advice to aspiring women scientists applies equally to both sexes, she said.

"Build on things that you feel confident about," Ruderman said. "Bounce back and move on. Don't be shy or hesitant about making connections."

Ruderman enrolled in MBL's summer embryology course the summer after she completed graduate school. While working as a cellular biology professor at HMS, Ruderman spent her summers at the MBL, teaching courses and leading research on cell division cycles.

The MBL maintains many ongoing relationships with academic institutions around the world, including Harvard and the University of Cambridge, from its base in Massachusetts.

"Joan has excellent insights, leadership skills and a long history with the MBL in many capacities, giving her a broad knowledge of the institution," wrote MBL Chief Academic and Scientific Officer Joshua W. Hamilton in an emailed statement to The Crimson.

"I am delighted she is coming on board as MBL President and Director and look forward to working closely with her to advance our institution." 

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