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NIEHS Marks International Women’s Day

By Robin Arnette
April 2008

The International Women’s Day panel: (L-R) Yang, Kadiiska, Li and Kinyamu
The International Women’s Day panel: (L-R) Yang, Kadiiska, Li and Kinyamu (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Hrynkow was excited to host NIEHS’s first celebration of International Women’s Day.
Hrynkow was excited to host NIEHS’s first celebration of International Women’s Day. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Dixon was instrumental in organizing the panel discussion.
Dixon was instrumental in organizing the panel discussion. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Lily Hong, a biologist in the NTP.
Lily Hong, a biologist in the NTP. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

On March 10 in Rodbell Auditorium NIEHS celebrated women scientists and their contributions by marking International Women’s Day. The event highlighted the scientific and personal achievements of foreign-born women scientists working in NIEHS labs with a program of talks and panel discussion.

"International Women’s Day has been recognized globally as a time to reflect on progress, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination of ordinary women who have made extraordinary achievements," said Sharon Hrynkow, Ph.D., associate director of NIEHS. Hrynkow welcomed what she called the "small but mighty" audience to the event.

The scientists gave 20 minute talks that were followed by a panel discussion moderated by Darlene Dixon, head of Comparative Pathobiology at NIEHS, and Molly Vallant, a biologist in the NTP. A networking reception, sponsored by the Office of the Director at NIEHS, the NIH Foundation, the Society for Women’s Health Research and the United Nations Foundation, immediately followed the program. The scientists' stories combined their love of science with the challenges they’ve overcome to succeed in their fields.

Maria Kadiiska, M.D., Ph.D., is a staff scientist in the Free Radical Metabolism Group with Principal Investigator Ron Mason, Ph.D., but she started her career as a physician in her native Bulgaria. Since then she has co-authored more than 100 publications, been invited to speak at more than 65 conferences and co-chaired many scientific sessions at national and international meetings. She is also the leader of the NIEHS international BOSS project for validating biomarkers of oxidative stress. She said she’s been lucky to have worked with so many talented scientists, and she pointed out all of the good ones had one thing in common — a passion for science. "It is not how much you do, but how much love you put into doing it," she said.

Harriet Kinyamu, Ph.D., is a staff scientist in the Chromatin & Gene Expression Group with Principal Investigator Trevor Archer, Ph.D. A native of Kenya, Kinyamu is interested in understanding the role of the 26S proteasome in gene expression, but her career in science was almost derailed during her graduate school years. "I was in the process of being deported when a colleague alerted me to an open position in a lab in London, Ontario," she remarked. That lab turned out to be Archer’s group, and a year and a half later, Archer and Kinyamu made the move to NIEHS.

Xiaoling Li, Ph.D., is head of the Mammalian Aging Group and studies the environmental cues involved in age-related diseases. She was born in China and majored in biochemistry at Beijing University. Like the other women of this panel, Li wasn’t afraid to study abroad, even though the language barrier made things difficult. Nevertheless, Li’s doctoral advisor at Johns Hopkins encouraged her to continue working. Li said, "He told me the only thing that really matters is the science. If I excel in that, the language will come later." It seems her advisor was right; her improved English skills and her outstanding science landed her a position at NIEHS.

Ivana Yang, Ph.D., is a National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute staff scientist, but she started at NIEHS as a member of the Environmental Lung Disease Group formerly headed by David Schwartz, M.D. For the past three years, she’s tried to identify novel innate immune genes, but that struggle was nothing compared to her college days. Yang grew up in Sarajevo, which is now capitol of Bosnia-Herzegovina (formerly Yugoslavia), but she was an undergraduate at the College of William and Mary when the Bosnian war began in 1992. "Those were the hardest four years of my life because I didn’t know if my family was doing okay or not," she said. After the conflict, her family moved to Montreal, so seeing them whenever she wanted became a reality.

The panelists, like many other foreign-born scientists, had to overcome a whole host of roadblocks on the path to success, but their hard work, strength and optimism — traits common to many women trailblazers — carried them through.

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