What I've Learned
Power and influence takes all forms in Madison, from politics and higher education to business and food. Nine inspiring women share their ups, downs and lessons learned—plus a few words that describe them best.
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Assistant professor, Department of Animal Sciences at UW–Madison; co-founder and chief scientific officer, Stemina Biomarker Discovery
I became interested in stem cells thirteen years ago during my graduate studies at Roslin Institute in Scotland.
I was born in Brazil and spent several years of my childhood in New Zealand while my father attended graduate school. He was my role model … he would always say, “Money, power, possessions are volatile; they can be lost or removed from you, but no one can take away your education.”
I face tough times in my job daily as a stem cell scientist, particularly, as it pertains to research funding. ... It is heartbreaking to not be able to retain brilliant, enthusiastic graduate students who are eager to dedicate their lives to this science because of the shortage of research funds to support their projects. However, persistence and determination have been critical to face these challenges and ... in 2008 our laboratory was awarded an NIH research grant to investigate the mechanisms of alcohol injury to the developing human brain.
Perhaps because of my upbringing and studies in different cultures and countries, I have always contemplated a diplomatic career. As a scientist, however, I find great fulfillment in interacting and collaborating with colleagues across the globe.
I want to be remembered for my integrity, dedication and for giving my best to every single endeavor that I pursue. I would like to contribute key scientific advancements that will improve an unmet medical need. I would like to be remembered by my students in particular as someone who truly and wholeheartedly served them, making a positive impact in their education and lives.
I have been nicknamed by a few people as the “Energizer Bunny.”
Whenever I am invited to speak at a stem cell research conference, I am largely outnumbered by men. Last year, I had the honor of being appointed by Forbes as one of Twelve Stem Cell Revolutionaries ... and I was the only woman among eleven men. ... I personally am very engaged in multiple initiatives aimed at promoting career development and opportunities for women in the sciences and entrepreneurship.
I remember clearly the first time I arrived in Chicago (on my way here to Madison), looking down from the plane, leaving my whole family behind in Brazil, to a new country. I knew that that moment would change my life forever.
R. Alta Charo
Professor of Law and Bioethics, UW–Madison; Obama transition team, 2008
I grew up fascinated by both science and social policy. I remember particularly the debates surrounding eugenics, and later those on sociobiology, recombinant DNA research and global warming. I was very lucky to find books and teachers all along the way who nurtured these twin interests.
There were many role models, some living, some not. My father escaped from Europe just before the Holocaust, and I grew up revering Golda Meir. When I was in high school, one of my brothers gave me a copy of The Feminine Mystique, so Betty Friedan became a heroine who opened up my eyes. ... Sinclair Lewis’ character, Martin Arrowsmith, was my first scientist-hero. And George Orwell’s books and essays taught me the power of the word.
I arrived at UW from a position in government, where one could not express a personal opinion in the work. I probably went too far in the opposite direction in my first semester of teaching. One of the student evaluations from a first-year medical school class read: “Why does the law school keep sending us these trousers-wearing, cigar-chomping bitch dyke feminists?”
Increasingly, there are fewer and fewer differences that represent universal truths about men and women. But to the extent such differences exist, I suspect it has something to do with the way girls are socialized to read the emotions of a group. In many meetings and group settings, it seems to me that women are the ones who notice the body language, the quirks of phrase and the other small signs of what the various individuals are thinking.
I confess that I think being a woman is an advantage in every aspect of life!
In 2005, I was part of the National Academies’ team that saved the HIVNET 012 trial, which compared the effectiveness of two regimens for preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV. The trial had been the subject of attacks, with claims it was flawed, unethical and illegal. ... We investigated the study in great depth ... and concluded that the attacks were unjustified and the trial results should be used to shape public health strategies. I like to think that there are children alive today, in Africa and Asia, who might have died from AIDS if not for our work.
This may surprise you, but if I weren’t doing this job, it might well be interior design. As a little girl, I would draw plans for houses and urban developments, and spend hours poring over home decoration books.
How I want to be remembered? I came, I cared, I contributed to making things better.
Marcia M. Anderson
Brigadier General, U.S. Army Reserve
As far as the law is concerned, when I reached high school age, there was a woman in my community (East St. Louis, Illinois), Wyvetter Younge, who was a legislator, lawyer and mother of four children. And Shirley Chisholm, although not a lawyer, was an outspoken member of Congress and she also ran for president in 1972. Both of these women inspired me to become a lawyer and to pursue government service because they were able to handle so many things at once and they were so committed to serving their fellow citizens. I could not imagine anything more fulfilling or honorable. Representative Younge, Congress-woman Chisholm, my great-grandmother (who had no formal education past second grade), my grandmother (who had to give up her dream of nursing school to support the family) and my mother (who struggled as a single parent to take care of my brother and me in a pretty hostile world)—none of them were born into a world that expected them to achieve. However, that did not deter them—they all were strong women with deep convictions, special spiritual connections and incredible work ethics. I would not be who I am today without their example and mentoring.
I never planned to join the military and really did not come from a family tradition of service. I signed up for the ROTC in college, quite frankly, because I needed a science credit and military science fit into my schedule. It also looked similar to gym class, so I was confident I could handle it. What I did not count on was the fact that being in a military organization teaches you so much about leadership, strategic planning and critical thinking. It was a good decision even if I did not put much thought into it!
I’ve experienced tough times in my first job as a waitress in high school, after college, and in every job I have had as a lawyer and throughout my military career. One situation that comes to mind is when I worked in a cereal factory right after college and had a male employee (he had children older than me) who was extremely insubordinate. We exchanged some pretty salty words (he was surprised that I stood my ground) and ended up in a meeting with his union representative. I told him we were going to have a one-way conversation: I was talking and he had better listen. When I was done, he ended up being one of my staunchest supporters. I was firm, I knew the work rules and I was not afraid to tell him he was out of line. He respected that and told me so. From that experience, I learned to trust my instincts and to be honest with people—you lose credibility if you do otherwise. It is something that has stayed with me in my civilian and military careers. I think it works in both worlds.
All I can say about whether women do things better than men is that I know that I personally listen well and try to draw out the best in people, but I do not think that is confined to men or women—many people have this skill. If I weren’t doing what I’m doing now I think I would be managing a large nonprofit organization or running a fast food restaurant. Why? Because both have lots of young people who are committed, energetic, innovative and doing a great job!
I want to be remembered as someone who never met a stranger and that in all things, personal or professional, I lived life courageously.
My proudest moment was when I gathered my courage and called Amos (who is now my husband) on the phone pretending I was just looking for Badger football tickets. I was terrified he would figure out that I was really trying to get him to invite me to go to a game!