Podcast: Persistence and success in science

Dr. Jean King, who is the dean of arts and sciences at WPI-Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts, talks about what Nobel Laureate Dr. Katalin Karikó means to her and about persistence and success in science.
Published in Neuroscience
Podcast: Persistence and success in science

Persistence is needed in science, at any career stage. For some scientists, many years of persistence leads to a very special moment of success.

Dr. Katalin Karikó received the Nobel Prize in 2023 along with Dr. Drew Weissman for the science made it possible to develop vaccines against COVID-19. She talks about her path in her book Breaking through - My life in science

Book cover Breaking through my life in science by Katalin Karikó

When she received the Nobel Prize in 2023, she spoke openly about the experiences that she also describes in her book. I noticed how many scientists found her openness empowering about how she navigated the hurdles and setbacks she faced. And these words gave them the courage to talk about their own hurdles and successes. I did a story on this in Nature Methods, which is here.

And I also did a podcast with one of the interviewees in that story, Dr. Jean King, who is the dean of arts and sciences at WPI-Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts. She  shared with me what Nobel Laureate Dr. Katalin Karikó means to her and her thoughts about persistence and success in science.

A smiling photo of Dr Jean King (middle) with Nobel laureates Dr. Phil Sharpe and Dr. Katalin Kariko

At the Nature conference “Cracking the Code: The Dawn of Nucleic Acid Medicines” held at WPI, Dr. Jean King (right) with Nobel Laureates Dr. Phil Sharp and Dr. Katalin Karikó. (Credit:WPI)

Here are a few excerpts from the podcast and the full podcast, too. You can also find the podcast on streaming platforms such as Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify,  Gaana, and wherever else you get your podcasts. 

What I see in her and I think our students have and we want to nurture is this relentless persistence. It's not just persistence, but why do you get to that place and I feel for me are the two things I talk about all the time to our students, their passion for science.

Nobody does this because you're not passionate about it. It's not a thing you wake up one morning and go: oops passionate about science. It's not like that, right? It takes a lot of time, as you know.

It's that you have to have a purpose that's so clear to you. And that's what she had her passion and her purpose came together.

It took years, in some cases, no exaggeration, years to do it. And you get there and somebody goes: Wow.

And that's all you're looking for is somebody to look at you and say, Yeah, that makes sense. Now, sometimes you don't get it. And I don't want people to stop because they didn't.

Sometimes you're in the wrong environment, for your potential to be realized. You're just in the wrong environment or in a toxic environment and all sorts of combinations. I'm grateful to have gotten it, but I know others who didn't. And I want to recognize that that's a possibility. And also say, don't stop because somebody didn't see your value, or your creativity or your brilliance. You can't stop because they didn't see it.

I'm grateful when they do see it because it makes it easier. But when they don't see it. And I think that's what Katalin had. Dr. Karikó. They didn't see it, but she knew it. And you have to trust yourself. If you know it, you know it. 

Transcript of the podcast

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Jean King

What I see in her and I think our students have and we want to nurture is this relentless persistence. 


That’s Dr. Jean King, who is the dean of arts and sciences at WPI-Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts. Hi and welcome to conversations with scientists, I’m Vivien Marx. Today’s episode is about having relentless persistence in science and in life. Dr. King is talking here about one important model for this persistence who is Dr. Katalin Karikó, who received the Nobel Prize in 2023 along with Dr. Drew Weissman for the science that made it possible to develop vaccines against COVID-19. Dr. King spent a day with Dr. Karikó and she will talk about this and other subjects in a moment.

 If you haven’t had a chance yet to read Dr. Karikó’s book ” Breaking Through, My Life in science’ let me recommend it to you. She talks about a childhood in Hungary, growing up in loving family but in a house without running water, about teachers who encouraged her fascination with science and some who manufactured obstacles, about her path in school and university, about her time at several universities and encountering cruelty but also kindness and her relentless pursuit in science. As she points out at in the book: “You must trust what’s inside you. Nurture what you find there, even—especially—when no  one else does. “

 After she received the Nobel Prize Kati Karikó’s biography became more widely known than before and she talks openly about her path. I noticed how her openness about  the persistence she needed in her life and her science was inspiring many. I contacted a few scientists to ask them about this and did a story for Nature Methods, called If at first you don’t succeed. A link to the piece is in the show notes to this podcast. And Dr. Karikó and Dr. King are both in that story.

 Jean King spent a day with Dr. Karikó for an event, a Nature conference called Cracking the Code: The Dawn of Nucleic Acid Medicines that was held at WPI.  It was fun to speak with Dr King about that day and about her own journey in science, which strikes me as being all about persistence too.

We will get to her path in a bit in today’s episode. First to her interactions with Nobel Laureate Katalin Karikó.

 Jean King [2:30]

She spent maybe 12 hours with us. She came in. Nobel Prize winners in my other job prior to come to WPI as the vice provost of research for UMass Medical School, which is a huge organization in terms of research. So I know Nobel prize winners I have been lucky enough to be in their presence. They generally come in and do whatever it is you ask them, and you're so grateful and they leave. So I was ready for that.

 And I came in I'm like, Okay, let's quickly do this, like get this and I'm like that anyway. So I'm like, let's get this done. And then she was still sitting there at lunch and I'm like You okay, and she goes, Yeah, I'm like, Okay. And then I said, I managed to say it thinking oh my god, she's gonna say no to this. Are you going to be at the reception this afternoon? She goes, absolutely. She took pictures with students.

 She talked to the press. She sat with me, transformed my life. And I've been in science all my life. I've never done anything else because I can't do anything else. That's like she literally blew my mind. I'm, and I've been in spaces with people like that. That's why I keep saying now that I've not, this was not my first rodeo. But she was my first as it turns out, my son figured this out my first female Nobel laureate that I got to be with. And he said, Mom, is it the difference because she's female.


Another Nobel Laureate at the event was MIT researcher Dr. Phil Sharp who received the Nobel Prize in 1993.

 Jean King

And he's gracious and wonderful. And he's very much like everybody else I'd met. And he was actually more gracious, also. He stayed around with her, I don't know if it's because she was there. But he stayed. The reception. Also, I don't know, she was modeling it. But he's a nice person. I mean, I've known him before that he is nice. And they were both there. And in their capacities the access they gave our students particularly, maybe in an administration it's great, I get to have access because of, you know, my hierarchy, here and everywhere else. But students, how you treat my students is, for me, the best indication of success.

 I'm really about how we treat others in terms of especially when they're not in a particular ladder. And they are seen as insignificant by others. If you're able to give those people time, valuable time to listen, and to share your ideas and your successes, you're success to me, I'm not. So I'm all over it. I was all over it.

And they talk to students, and I met one of them yesterday, she came to me for something else. And she goes,’Oh my God, my life has changed. And I go, Yeah, and she goes, I could win a Nobel Prize, I said, yeah.


When you see and experience someone you admire up close it’s quite powerful. Sure, not everyone can become a Nobel Laureate but for some just the idea of becoming a scientist is quite a distant dream. Which is why meeting a Nobel Laureate has an impact on people. Here’s Jean King

 Jean King [5:30]

I truly believe and I know, it's something that we talk about this a lot. But I truly believe you see it, you could be it.

 There's something about and probably being a neuroscientist, I'm a little wacky about these things. But there is something about putting a visual representation onto something in your mind, that might be a perception. So having a perception, like someplace here, conceptual, and then you have in the reality of your perception, and somebody who's real, fitting together, I think for you is basically bringing in, in this case, you're talking about the left and the right brain, all of those pieces of who we are together: our academic self, and our emotional self that exists. We're all emotional beings. And then we try to do this thing for work, whatever that thing is. But when they come together someplace in our heart, that's where I think purpose begins.

Because it fuses someplace in our hearts, we go, oh, so that is what I'm thinking. And here is the reality of what I'm thinking. And I can't begin to say how much I feel, especially because of women and people of color in science, that doesn't come together often. And I see our students just light up about a possibility. And I think that's what I've seen. It is been it means to me, it's the possibility and the probability comes together.


One morning in 2013, Katalin Karikó arrived at work at the University of Pennsylvania and found her belongings piled in the hallway. In the lab some of her belongings were being thrown into the trash. People were going through these things for objects they might take for their own use. As she writes about that day in her book, she recalls thinking “I cannot be here any longer.”

 Kati Karikó left the university and landed a position at the biotech company BioNTech. She said she would only accept the position if she could continue her work on mRNA. And that was ok with BioNTech. The rest, I suppose, one could say, is history.

 I spoke with Jean King about her day with Kati Karikó but also about the work she herself does to inspire others, especially those who do not have an easy path.

 Jean King

Honestly, I am so in awe of our young people. All of us honestly because it hasn't been easy. I was so in awe of her. She said to me, I remember her quote she said: Jean at 58 I was living out of a suitcase and I'm like, how is that even possible? Right but as she thinks about it, and I think about it, and I think in science, maybe in every field.


Katalin Karikó talked with Jean King about being 58 and about being unsettled in many ways.

Jean King [8:00]

She said 58, I remember the number. And I think she meant she was not, what would I say, she was not settled. And I think that was what she said she was not settled. She had probably just lost the one of the positions. She didn't get tenure. On and on. She wasn't settled. She was like, not a settled person. And you think by 58, we all are settled somehow, I hope. But that that idea of being settled, and I think when our students look at this, in terms of what's going to happen in this life, if they become a scientist, what's that going to look like? And what are the things that they have to do? What I see in her and I think our students have and we want to nurture is this relentless persistence.  Like it's like, it's not just persistence, but why do you get to that place and I feel for me are the two things I talk about all the time to our students, their passion for science, nobody does this because you're not passionate about it.

It's not a thing you wake up one morning and go: oops passionate about science. It's not like that, right? It takes a lot of time, as you know. And it takes a lot of, my God, it's relentess. It's just work. It's not easy. It doesn't finish at five o'clock, you're in the lab, I used to bring the kids in the lab and just sit them up next to the microscope and say, hey, look, as it turns out, now my son is a cinematographer. And he laughs and he goes, I've looked in the microscope all my life now I'm still in a microscope, right? But the thing is, I used to have to figure out what to do with that. So it's, it's that you have to have a purpose that's so clear to you.

And that's what she had her passion and her purpose came together, she had a passion for science, we all do. This stuff is like, honestly, discovery. And you ask what I think leader students, when you have discovered something that nobody else has discovered before, I cannot begin to say and I know, you know it, like that feeling. I don't understand, is there a better feeling If there is. Because discovery is just this really wonderful place for any human being to find themselves and we do it daily, I think, but we don't stop and think Oh, my God, this is a discovery. We're like, oh, we because what we do well, we do well, and we don't stop and go, wow.


It sounded to me as we spoke that Jean King is always working to inspire others, especially students.

 Jean King [10:10]

Every day, every single day, I try to do that. Because I say my job is I aspire to inspire. If I did that, I'm good. I'm done for the day. Any student, I could inspire. And that's my aspiration. I mean, I work at it, it doesn't just come, I think you have to work at it. Because for what you just said, I recognize that somebody stopped long enough to say, gene that is amazing. That's all it took is like one statement and you're like, Okay, I could do something that a scientist, that's senior to me think is really good. I must be on the right path.


I wondered, given her wise words, what had shaped Jean King so deeply.  

 Jean King [10:55]

It's age. Or with life experiences you're like, Ah, so maybe I need to do this differently. So I don't want to sound like I ’m smarter than others. I've just lived and done this for a while. So you know, wisdom comes and I'm from the Caribbean and I have a different perspective on wisdom and aging. I think. For me, it's something good. You get wiser as you age, if you do it, right. And here, it's like, Oh, somebody's getting old. I'm like, no, they finally understand and stuff. I'm grateful. Tell me everything.


Next I felt it was time to ask Jean King more about her roles. She is dean of arts and sciences at WPI-Worcester Polytechnic Institute and wears many hats. She is a neuroscientist, she also co-leads an organization devoted to women in neuroscience

Jean King [11:45]

I'm a co-chair of an organization called World Women in Neuroscience. And we love to push out things, especially because I'm particularly interested in women and under resourced countries. I know that's not what we're talking about. I love to push out stuff and they love podcast, they just eat it up.


Great, am always happy about people who love podcasts so thank you, podcast listeners. Back to more of her biography. She was vice-provost at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. And she keeps an affiliation there.

 Jean King [12:20]

I am affiliate professor in psychiatry, neurology and radiology at UMass. I'm also on the board of the UMass Medical Center. So I am still highly affiliated with that organization and do things with them, do a lot with them, we have a major grant we just got with them. So we do a lot of research still.

So I am doing a major research project with their head of medicine. And, honestly, we're not a medical school. So WPI is not competing with that space at all. So I feel those are the two parts of myself that comes together. So I continue to do my research continue to my my scholarship, which I'm really grateful to do as an administrator. Most administrators don't continue to do their scholarship. And we just were awarded by NINDS, National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and $8.8 million grant that I'm the PI with two other PIs who are clinicians, to bring together the kinds of research I do.

 So all to say, I feel UMass is still part of who I am, because that's where I do my research. And because I'm a neuroscientist, doing stuff on diseases, that's where we recruit from, and all of that. So that piece of me exists. And here at WPI, I'm in an administrative role as the Peterson family Dean of Arts and Sciences. And that's a little different. But I also started a neuroscience program here at WPI. WPI did not have one before I got here, and we have one now. And because of that I'm building the neuroscience ecosystem here also. So it's a good fusion of who I am.


In her neuroscience research, she studies stress and resilience to stress.

 Jean King [14:00]

My research looks at the impact of stress on the brain. Been always interested in two things: vulnerability to stress, because of who I am, I guess, I resilience, how you manage and how you cope. So coping has been a big thing for me. We've done a lot of different things in the stress arena, have done different kinds of stressors, including addiction as a stressor. In the resilience piece, we're doing a lot on mindfulness. And looking at meditation. I always say, to work out the body, you need to exercise to work out the brain, you need to stop for a minute and think. So the reflection pieces, like you got to slow down to make your brain healthy, and you got to speed up to make your body healthy.


Keeping body and brain healthy for a path in science also takes finding people along the way who support and nurture you and your work. And quite importantly who see you. You might present results to your supervisor. These results might have taken days, weeks or even years. How that person reacts to you shapes so much about your trajectory.

 Jean King [15:10]

It took years, in some cases, no exaggeration, years to do it. And you get there and somebody goes, Wow. And that's all you're looking for is somebody to look at you and say, Yeah, that makes sense. Now, sometimes you don't get it.

And I don't want people to stop because they didn't. Sometimes you're in the wrong environment, for your potential to be realized. You're just in the wrong environment, or in a toxic environment and all sorts of combinations. I'm grateful to have gotten it, but I know others who didn't. And I want to recognize that that's a possibility. And also say, don't stop because somebody didn't see your value, or your creativity or your brilliance, you can't stop because they didn't see it. I'm grateful when they do see it because it makes it easier. But when they don't see it, and I think that's what Katalin had. Dr. Karikó

They didn't see it, but she knew it. And you have to trust yourself. If you know it. You know it. I mean, I would love for somebody to tell you, Vivien, you're right. But if they don't, don't give up because you haven't gotten somebody to look at it and see what you see. Because you may be the only one who sees it.

You may be the only one who have eyes to really see it and understand it. And that's why I love her. She was able to say, you know, they didn't see it. She's not blaming them, because they haven't seen it. I probably would. I don't know if I'm that good. I was raised to be I'm not sure I am. But she was able to say Jean, they probably they didn't understand it.


Being gracious when faced with detractors is so hard. And these hurdles might take place quite early in one’s life not just when one is at university. At WPI, not every student comes from a family where everyone went to college.

Jean King [17:00]

First in their family to college. We have several minority students, who of course, that's still a space that we don't occupy as much, minority women even less. We only make up 4.5% of the tenured faculty, people of color. And I don't mean women of color is even less. So it's not like they see us everywhere I just say see it you could be they're not seen us. So they still plotting in their own journeys. And in a lot of ways, they're in isolation because they can't see themselves.

Resources are not as available for many reasons, including poverty. And I feel they also don't know the rules of engagement, because they haven't been taught that by anybody. How would they know the rules of engagement? It's like dropping you on a field and say, ‘you know, I think you could play this game.’ Well, if nobody gave me the rules, it doesn't mean I don't have capacity to play the game. But I haven't had the opportunity. So I don't know it.


When you don’t know the rules of engagement, interactions can become quite opaque. As you navigate academia this gets quite challenging, especially for people who are not familiar with the effect informal interactions can have.

 Jean King [18:05]

I feel a lot of things in academia, maybe in industry, I don't know, are informal, there's lots of informal ways of getting knowledge. I say all the time, I think women ways of knowing and men ways of knowing are different. Just because we culture differently. And in informal setting, you may have for the lab meeting, two people may have met and talked about something, they had coffee, they sat down, they talked about it, they come into the lab meeting, and they say okay, so we're doing XY and Z.

And you're sitting there going, well, when was this decision made? You embarrassed to ask. And if you ask they go, we just made it and you realize because it takes more thinking than that moment, and you're just as bright as they are, that something must have happened that you weren't part of. I don't say it's deliberate. But I'm saying this happens every single day.


These moments when something has happened, a decision was made that you were not of, can be quite frustrating. It seemed to me as I listened to Jean King, ultimately these are moments of exclusion.

 Jean King [19:10]

It is exclusion and I don't know if it's purposeful exclusion, but they may be friends, they may drive in together. They may, their kids may play together, on and on and on. They all have these opportunities. For men, they do a lot of stuff. And finally, the golf informally. They do things informally. My department heads golf all the time.

They just told me that yesterday, nobody has ever invited me to golf, thank God because I can't golf. But all I'm saying is in those spaces. Literally yesterday, I just spoke to one of them who said I spoke to the other one while we were golfing. He literally told me that sentence. I'm not making that sentence up. Right. And this happened yesterday. I'm sure. You know, if I think more deeply, I could tell you several of these examples. But in that moment, it dawned on me.

And he actually told me what they decided that if I came into a meeting after that golf game that happened on Friday, and they said, ‘Oh my God, I think Vivien should be promoted or not.’ And I'd be like, Oh, okay, great. I'm thinking they're making the decision in the moment, I wasn't a part of the decision-making. What happens to people, especially people of color, and women and marginalized groups, we start feeling more isolated, because we know enough to know, something happened.


Something happened and one was not a part of a decision that matters. That kind of thing happens all the time. But privilege can be something that people with privilege are not so aware of.

 Jean King [20:30]

The piece  for me there is that privilege is often not seen by the people with privilege. It's not recognized by them. They don't and when I have this conversation with them, because now, I'm their boss, they're like, really, I'm like, okay, and I know they're not like, by the way, I know it's for them. I point out privilege and they are fascinated. They are like, did that just happen? I said, You just did that. Like you just did that. And I know you as a person. So I'm telling you, this is what just happened. They're stunned because I think in privilege is the absence of seeing privilege.


T hat's why you can't perhaps really empathize with the person who says, Okay, I have a part time job. I'm working on this project. It's not working. But now after six weeks, I can finally get the cells to grow. That feels like success to me, but nobody cares. Because they're not seeing me.

 Jean King

Correct. They're not and I it's hard to even and I think that's why she doesn't probably blame people for not seeing what she saw. There's so many reasons why we cannot empathize and be in the same situation with people because we're not walking in their shoes, so we have no idea that it hurts. They've been walking in it for days, or it's tight or all of those things we don't know we have no idea. They look like they standing in shoes to you and You're not paying any attention to the shoes, right? Because why? Your shoes are fine. So you assume everybody is in the same shoes and they're not. And having an understanding of asking people,. A s scientists, we don't do that enough. We ask questions of our science, we don't ask question of the people around us.

We have to ask questions. I can't understand it, unless I have a sense of it, unless I ask the questions. And if I ask the questions, and don't listen, that's worse than not asking the question. Right. So I have to ask the question, and I have to be willing to listen.

If you're not willing to listen, Please, God, do not ask the question.


Jean King arrived in the US from the Caribbean and she was in for some culture lessons that were quite hard.

 Jean King [22:40]

When I came to the US, I came at 16. And I came to college. And then people said: how old are you? In the Caribbean, that's an introduction for a half an hour conversation. So like, Oh, I'm fine, I'm done. And they will be halfway down the hall. They just asked me how I might and they didn't listen, I got used to it. But it's, there's a thing there that sort of sets you aback, when you're not having the conversation, you think you have it. And we need to be better at understanding others around us making sure the team is as successful, every member of the team is as successful as every other member of the team. And in some cases, we have to ask, how are you doing? And we have to stop long enough to listen.


With her ability to listen, with her experience in academia and as a woman and a person of color I wondered how all of these qualities are shaping her activities as she develops the neuroscience program at WPI.

 Jean King [23:40]

 I mean, what we do here, I think, at WPI, that's different from UMass. That is the difference of why I wanted a neuroscience program here. We have a lot of AI researchers, we have a lot of machine learning researchers, we have a lot of data sciences. So we have a lot in the computational space, we have a lot of math biologists. So we do a lot of the computations. And UMass do a lot of the disease approaches, right, because it's a medical school.

So the combination between all of the amazing, brilliant data scientists and AI scientists, my grant is like it's a grant that combines our AI scientists and our clinicians looking across the divide. So it's a way of having computational science, really be part of the healthcare understanding of how we're going to really. Health is going to change and it's changing as we speak. And they're going to be a lot more hybrid combinations of people in science at the bench, of clinicians who are not on the bench, but seeing our patients bringing them together, and then the third leg to that stool, that's really important, now that's coming out. I mean, we did bench to bedside for a while, but I think is bed to computation to bedside. And that trio is really what's going to change the world. Because with more data, more understanding, AI  giving us patterns and tools to be able to see more into the data. That's the place that I think is  revolutionizing what we're doing. I'm really excited about this era. I can't tell you I'm like, This is it. Like, you know, I've been in the  all my life, the components have come together beautifully. It's going to be a brilliant time.


As a co-leader of World Women in Neuroscience she is taking her approach to science to a level of global networking. 

Jean King [25:30]

The one I was talking to you about before is World Women, so women of the world, World Women in Neuroscience, so it's WWN. It's an organization that came out from IBRO which is the International Brain research Organization years ago, they started a group and it was disbanded.

And we picked it up, a colleague and friend of mine as co chairs, and reinvigorated it. And what we've been doing in the last, I would say decade, is going across the world, especially to under-resourced  areas. So we have gone to Africa, we have gone to South America, we've gone to Central America, Brazil, Puerto Rico, all of that, looking at women and trying to give them opportunities

Because in the end, I feel it takes a village for all of us. It takes a village and the reason we need a village is one for mentoring so that they could see what it is they want to become for networking which I feel is how you get supported, we all need to be supported. There is no scientist that hasn't had a support system, there are different and men take them for granted because they just walk into them, we have to build them. Our support systems are not ready. They're not there. They're not ready. They're not mature. So what we wanted to do is try to find in network, and we have a platform now for mentoring that we could do online mentoring with people all over the world. We just built on that platform last year is really exciting for me.


In this organization World Women in Neuroscience, mentoring and support go hand in hand. https://worldwomenneuro.org

 Jean King [27:00]

If we mentor, we support, then we have to provide opportunities, because a lot of women yesterday, one of the women that was on a call with us, is from Ukraine, and she says I can't do my science anymore, I need help.

 And sometimes they need basic help, like basic, like a microscope, like something that we no longer use. So that's what they're looking for, tight? They're looking for opportunities or opportunities to come to the US to do a postdoc here. So those are the three things it's and it's all volunteers, we all volunteer to do this, we finally got a little bit of funding now we use  to get an administrator because we are doing this all ourselves in major roles, though, like we all in leadership roles. My co chair Emmeline Edwards is at the NIH as a deputy directo. I t's not like we have time on our hands. But we're both from the Caribbean, we both understand what it is to be under-resourced. We both know how to do a lot with little or nothing.


Perhaps you are listening and think you might want to join World Women in Neuroscience. It’s free to join.

Jean King [28:05]

It's free, anybody could sign up and come to any of our meetings, we just had one on Zoom yesterday, which is why I'm talking about that people from all over the world.

We have people from everywhere, like everywhere talking about here is   what's happening to me, and in that what we call a micro community, people support each other. Oh, so I have this here, I'll send it to you.

And it's really a support network, so that we could help each other Because a lot of us have things that we don't we take for granted to where like we don't know, we have it until somebody asks for it. And we're like, oh, my goodness, when we had you know, we  had the hurricane in Puerto Rico, we talked about how are we going to help those faculty members there. And we have people on our board from Puerto Rico. So all to say, I think many people could do that you could lead wherever you are, you could take an opportunity to help others. You don't have to have a lot to do that. Because sometimes all they need is somebody to listen.


Right? And they might need some supplies. But maybe they got wiped out from the hurricane. So or basic reagents are missing or cell culture labs

 Jean King

An opportunity you have a friend and another place that they could go to visit to learn a technique. We now have a speaker's bureau. So people say I can't find a woman, I can't find a minority. Well, where are you looking? Exactly.

So we've got to start us we have a speaker's bureau that's just getting started, where we list women in different fields. So you want somebody on stress, you could call Jean if you want somebody.

And so we're trying to do that highlight women, because we're not used to being highlighted. We think our work will speak for ourselves. Our work doesn't speak for themselves. We speak for ourselves. So I hate when they say the work will speak for itself actually are you kidding me ? Ask Dr. Karikó. Does the work speak for yourself? No, somebody has to speak for you. And we want to speak for each other, we want to be there for each other. So that's the idea.


As I heard about Jean King’s experience and her activities, I felt I understood much better why Katalin Karikó’s path resonates with her.

 Jean King [30:10]

My particular passion is women and minorities and science. That is my passion. I could talk about it all day every day.

Because I still feel the void there is literally it's not closing fast enough. I thought by this time in my career, that this will not be a problem. And daily, I'm running into women who and it's the imposter phenomenon. I know who would tell me I don't know how to do this and they do know how to do it. And I really want women to gain that confidence in this area and I think all of us have to step out and tell them they could do it. And that's why Dr. Karikó is so important to me, it's like step out and letting people know you can do it. Because I meet so many brilliant women who don't know, they're brilliant, and it's really still bothering me because I'm scared that my career is gonna end. And that thing that I thought would have been the impact I wanted to have. It's still not realized, it really is not realized. And it's, it's, it's yeah, it's stressful. It's really stressful.


My impression is that women in academia are often overburdened with many tasks. I don’t have numbers on this and it’s just my experience and highly unrepresentative. But when I query scientists to ask about an interview, women are less likely to say yes. And I get the impression they run a lab and are also on many committees at their university, which seems like a good thing. But I guess it can also be a burden. Here’s Jean King.

Jean King [31:35]

They spend a lot of time in service that nobody sees, nobody recognizes, and it's not going to get them anywhere. The work has to get done. Yes. But that's not a metric of success for academic life. It's not a metric of success. It's BS when we tell people it is we need the work done. We always give it to a woman, we've got to stop doing it. I mean, I'm like, no, stop doing that. If you want them to succeed, they have to have time. And then you say they didn't do, they don't have as much papers. They don't have as many grants. Well, absolutely not because they do that. And by the way, generally that is in the child growth years. And they do that too. So they go home to something else, and they keep going. And we're not giving them the support they need. And honestly, we just keep saying, Why is it taking so long? It's taking so long, because we're killing them. For no reason. But it's just so hard. I get how hard it is. And I want them to not quit because it's just so hard.


That was Conversations with Scientists. Today’s episode was with Dr. Jean King, who is the dean of arts and sciences at WPI-Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts.  The music used in the podcast is Towers by sero, licensed from artlist.io.

 And I just wanted to say because there’s confusion about these things sometimes. Nobody paid to be in this podcast. This is independent journalism that I produce in my living-room. I’m Vivien Marx, thanks of listening.

 A hand holding up a trophy into a blue sky

(Getty Images Wittayayut)

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