M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
Cancer Newsline Audio Podcast Series
Date: October 13, 2008
Duration: 0 / 16:32
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Welcome to Cancer Newsline a weekly podcast series from The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. The aim of Cancer Newsline is to help you stay current with the news on cancer research, and the rapidly changing advances in cancer diagnosis, treatment and prevention. We also hope to provide you with the latest information on reducing your family’s risk of being diagnosed with cancer. I am your host Doctor Leonard Zwelling I am a professor of medicine and Pharmacology here at M. D. Anderson.
Today we have a very special session we’re speaking with Dr. Elizabeth Travis a professor in M. D. Anderson’s department Radiation Oncology and Pulmonary Medicine and today more importantly she is the associate vice president for Women Faculty Programs which is relatively new position here at M. D. Anderson. An in addition Dr. Joya Chandra who is assistant professor of Pediatrics is here as well. We will be today talking about the importance of women in science and academic medicine. We will explore the stereotypes, challenges, and the solutions to closing the gender gap that currently exists in American science. This is critical if American medicine is going to continue it’s leadership role in the world.
Hi to the both of you this is really a special day for us. Um…First off Dr. Travis is there really a gap between the number of men and women in science and medicine?
Ok do we have any idea why? Is it because there aren’t enough Ph.D students or are there other reasons?
There are certainly plenty of women coming out of the graduate schools and the medical schools. Fifty percent of the graduates are women both from medical school and with Ph.D in life sciences and this has been true least five years if not longer. So it was always a issue of pipeline, your talking about pipeline and the pipeline ahh… well there weren’t people in the pipeline. That’s not true anymore we have a very rich and full pipeline there should not be this differential between the numbers of women particularly in leadership and high ranking positions and professorial positions between women and men.
So first off this suggests we're not losing women to science and medicine in high school. They are proceeding through college and graduate school to get their degrees.
Yes, that’s correct.
That was a problem at one point.
But now that’s not the case. So the obvious question is if that’s not the problem anymore the pipeline is now full of both women and men candidates. Why is it that it seems women are not equally represented at the highest level of academic medicine and science either one of you Dr. Chandra or Dr. Travis can… what are your thoughts on that?
I think recruitment to academic positions is part of the problem and there is also personal choices that play a roll in this issue. Umm…I served as president of the Graduate School Alumni Association and president of the M. D. Anderson Alumni Association and I’ve noticed amongst my colleagues who graduated within a 5 year kind of radius of me. There have been many women who have opted to not use there degrees. There staying home, their raising families and they’re not using their Ph.D degrees that they spent six to eight years pursuing and I think this has a little to do with societal demands with expectations of what academic institutions want out of the people they recruit whether they be male or female. It’s not catered toward society expectations of females.
So there is a problem with the timeline between when women get married, when they start their families, and what are the expectations at those ages for people in academic medicine. Is that fair to say?
So the question is, obviously how do we address that issue other wise we are losing a lot of talent.
Were losing more talent then we can afford to lose particularly given the projected shortages in oncologists in this case, the year 2020 will be profound. It will have a profound affect given that populations longer lived so we have a lot of survivors, cancer survivors that we're going to be caring for older population, more cancer and more survivors of cancer that we will be caring for and we are going to have a great shortage of physicians, oncologists in particular take care of them. So it’s a bigger issue than only that there are not enough women. We are not utilizing a very important resource we’re training, so you asked a question, why is it personal choice for sure? Women come into the profession and then they start leaking out at every step of the pipeline and there have been studies that show frequently it’s been related to child bearing. That it’s difficult to have children, to have successful academic career and I think we need new models for academic medicine. I think this is true for men and women, it’s not just a women issue it’s a cultural issue.
It’s also a generational issue.
It’s a generational issue because the younger men coming in the field they don’t want to work 24/7. They want to have a life, they want to see there children. They want to have children and have time for their family. I think we have to broaden our definitions our models for academic medicine if not out right change them.
One thing you personally did I remember is to take the tenure clock and you lengthen that particular and that was not limited to women if I remember correctly.
That’s right, it's gender neutral.
So tell us how that worked and how that’s been utilized here at M. D. Anderson?
So…it worked fairly well…We did that a long time ago when you were on the task force. (Laughs). So it was one issue with it. You had to request it and so your were requesting after time there was stigma there was stigma and no one wanted to ask permission to either…and that was not only…they used it for military duty in fact if I remember correctly the first person to use this was one of our male faculty who went to the golf floor in the early 90’s. That’s how long we had this in place. So we call it tenure clock, tenure track clock freeze. So it was utilized but it’s amazing how many people didn’t know it was there. So since I took this position one of the things I do is examine policies. So this is one of the policies and procedure that we have examined. So now it’s going forward through the committee as we speak tomorrow thought one of the committees and were going to make it automatic for new child and family and that will be birth, adoption, or foster care. A child of five or less five years of age or less. Men or women can request or just can tell us they are going to take the automatic extension of the tenure clock. You can take it twice in any seven year period.
Has it been tried anywhere else?
Ah…yes other places are doing it. Everybody is moving to an automatic…
Well we don’t know yet. It’s relatively new. It’s relatively new.
One of the things that I wanted to touch upon before we get too far along is your personal stories of where you thought the way your career advanced was in any way affected by your gender. To the extent that you can talk about these things at this point since you both are pretty successful and moving up the academic ladder. What can you tell about Dr. Chandra? What did you find out?
Well I think being female your always questioned as to when your going to start a family and how that’s going to impact your productivity. As a post-doctorial fellow I was asked by my mentor, actually I was told by my mentor don’t you dare have a baby while you’re my post-doc because this is your time to get publications. To get yourself planted in the field. He said it in a joking manner but the message was still pretty clear (Laughs) and so I think as a female your automatically put under that additional scrutiny of ah…maybe not being taken seriously because you have this other duty that is surely calling you that surely going to distract from your productivity from your ability to function well in your job. I think that’s a common perception and being a minority female I think that there is also a lot of societal perceptions of your ability being questioned um… assumptions that your soft spoken or not aggressive, not a go getter so there is a double edged sword that you have to deal with and you also deal with the perceptions of male minorities who may perceive you in a way consistent with there culture that is not necessarily pervasive in American culture but still carries over from various culture backgrounds.
Where do I start? (laughs)
You have been in the business a little longer then Dr. Chandra. So ah…
Yes I have. Yes I have.
We go back about 30 years to the NIH.
I do remember. Ah…there being much more blatant comments about being a female. To me what was so striking I was trained in Radiation Biology. Radiation Physics and in graduate school a professor said something about there were two women in the class of ten or so. He didn’t think women belong there, he could not do that, not cause it’s against the law but the striking thing to me was that he was teaching a class that the only woman holder of two Nobel Prizes was Marie Curie, where women have excelled and yet there no transfer of information. There is no connection, it’s there it’s very subtle now for all the obvious reasons. Not very long ago in Dr. Chandra's case would question whether if she is having children or not but I think it’s much more subtle then that but it’s more pervasive which make it more difficult.
Do you think were behind academic medicine, compared to law, business or some of the other professions?
Um…they're not... No we are no better or worst then most other professions. But one profession that really is excelling in this whole issue of culture and generation differences, gender differences is the accounting business. They are doing incredibly well, they are light years ahead of us in terms of what they are doing for all there employees. Ah…there culture change initiatives went into place ten years ago. They are successful, they work. Ah…and were looking at them right now. Ha…ha as models for what we might do here.
Dr. Chandra you talk a little about this being a harder problem for minority women. Is this an American problem or has other parts of the world address this problem more successfully then we have after all Great Britain, India, Israel, host of countries, western countries have had women leaders. America…hasn’t, we came a little close this time but we didn’t. Is there something within the American culture that makes it harder for women then it is in other countries?
I think so um…I think that we haven’t had a woman leader does filter down to perceptions of questioning whether women are capable of leading. Well, um…just in thinking about amenities available to women in other countries. I think there is a stark difference between the American system and particularly European system where childcare is subsidized by the nation where maternity leave is on the order of many, many months. I was a post doc in Sweden at the Karolinska Institute. Maternity leave there is almost eighteen months with 80% of your pay and it’s routine for a graduate student, post doc., or a faculty member to take advantage of those policies so those sorts of amenities are built into the system and women are succeeding in those contacts.
In those countries, by the way, are a bit more socialist in there approach to things then we are which were about individualism. So I guess the last thing I want to touch up on this segment is what specifically is M. D. Anderson doing to address this issue and I guess this one is for you Dr. Travis since this is your job.
Yes, this is my job and I think first of all the fact that M. D. Anderson not only has a office devoted 100% of my time is on women faculty and the promotion, the recruitment, the retention I mean our bi-line is we are creating a culture where women physicians and scientists choose to be because I challenge us to be number one to set the model to set the bar very high for women in cancer medicine and cancer research. So that’s the first thing the’ve done. Not only that they support I have a staff! I’m staffed, I have three people that work in the office. That’s a huge commitment on the part of the institution and I think that speaks volumes. So that’s one thing were doing and in the office I work on recruitment on recruitment we changed some polices we changes leadership polices this last year. We're modifying the tenure… the tenure clock extension policy this year ah.. we showcase women faculty. I help recruit women ah…were just kind of all over the place.
Search committees have always been a big issue, now we have changed the way we do our searches now. Haven’t we?
Yes we have, all search committees have to have women on them as well as minorities and all for leadership positions all shortlist that goes to the president . The three end rank candidates must have a woman and or minority or the search will be questioned and I have to tell you I been in the process of reviewing town hall meeting at the women faculty programs. I’m in the process of reviewing data ad cetera…and I looked at the searches that I have been on and involved in and we have actually succeeded and had a lot of women get up to the…we interviewed them, we have them on the short list, ah… we had two that have been appointed to VP and APV position out of 7 and two are still ongoing. I think that’s being successful, what you want to have happen. Is that you want this to become apart of the culture you want this to be just how we do business so that don’t need a Dr. Travis sitting on that committee that everybody on the committee take responsibility and that’s also what were trying to do.
Well thank you both were going to continue this in a little bit. Listeners if you have any questions about anything you heard today please contact M. D. Anderson at 1-877-MDA-6789 or online www.mdanderson.org/ask. Thank you for listening this episode of Cancer Newsline. Please tune in next week when we will continue this discussion with Dr. Chandra and Dr. Travis.
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