Panel Covers Careers of LGBTQ People in Science

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The UCSF Graduate Queer Alliance hosted a panel discussion near the Mission Bay campus on the careers of LGBTQ people in scientific careers, entitled OUT In Science. The May 8th event was put on in conjunction with the LGBT Resource Center and the Gladstone Institutes (a nonprofit biomedical research organization focusing on the role of basic and translational science in the treatment and understanding of chronic diseases).

The panel featured rich explorations of the influence of gender and sexual orientation on perceptions of scientific competence, both in the lay and professional communities. Recall that less than a decade ago, former Harvard University President Larry Summers suggested that the under-representation of women in science and engineering could be due to a “different availability of aptitude at the high end,” and less to patterns of discrimination and socialization. Needless to say, there are still relevant topics of discussion on the historically heteronormative, male-dominated atmosphere in the sciences.

Highlights from the panel included Dr. Saul Villeda describing his path in sciences as a dual minority in both sexual orientation and race. Dr. Joanne Engel, a clinician and laboratory scientist, described raising her son in a household with her wife as well as a gay male couple, yielding a 4:1 parent to child ratio that has allowed her to maintain a robust academic career. Dr. Ben Barres, who went through a gender transition during his scientific career, discussed the different responses he got to his research when he presented it as a man compared to when he was a woman. After delivering a seminar, a friend of his in the audience heard another scientist comment that Ben’s work was so much better than his sister’s, not realizing that Barbara and Ben Barres were actually the same person.

The panel was well attended and had a good mix of thought-provoking content and friendly community atmosphere. The Graduate Queer Alliance (GQA) was created last year specifically to work on improving the community feel for the LGBTQ students, staff, and faculty at the Mission Bay campus, whose daily lives can be somewhat more insular than those of students at the Parnassus campus. The GQA will hold its next meeting on June 3 at 4 p.m. at the pub on the Mission Bay campus, and any interested students or community members are invited to join their discussion on LGBTQ outreach and mentorship or just stop by for a friendly hello and a beer.