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Women in Science, Up Close and Personal: Series Kickoff

Sunday, February 11 is the United Nations’ International Day of Women and Girls in Science. To celebrate, archived stories about women and their cutting-edge work are taking over Get Science’s homepage. Join us all week for a series of new articles about Pfizer’s women scientists, featuring their personal stories, advice and inspiration. 

Back in 1988, when Megan Robinson was a freshman in college, she got appendicitis and missed a week of class. When she went to talk to her male science professor about making up her work, she wasn’t worried: After all, she had a 102 average. “He told me I should drop his class because ‘women don’t belong in science anyway.’” 

As if that weren’t enough discouragement, when Robinson worked in a lab a few years later, another male professor told her she would never make it as a scientist, because she didn’t understand the time commitment it would take. Little did he know she was on her way out the door to start her shift as a nighttime waitress, a job that paid for her tuition. 

Megan Robinson (above) had a high school biology teacher who encouraged her to design her own experiments. “That helped me see the power of creating your own questions," she says.

You’d think that by the time Robinson made it to grad school, she’d be lifted up by her superiors as she moved toward a career in biochemistry. But no. “I failed my written qualifying exam because one male professor gave me a ‘0’ on a question where I got most of the answer correct, but not all of it. I had to wait a year to retake it.” 

Robinson pushed through headwinds to reach her career dreams. She’s now the Director of R&D Scientific Learning at Pfizer’s R&D site in Groton, Connecticut. That someone would meet such resistance, repeatedly, to work in a field that greatly contributes to society is a testament to sexism’s illogic. 

Robinson pushed through headwinds to reach her career dreams. She’s now the Director of R&D Scientific Learning at Pfizer’s R&D site in Groton, Connecticut.

Though great strides have been made in recent decades in the number of women pursuing careers in the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering and mathematics, there’s more work to be done. Each day this week, we’ll post a new article that gives an up-close and candid view of the struggles women scientists have faced, how they overcame them and what they think we should be doing to encourage the next generation to embrace scientific careers. 

We hope the series will motivate readers to reach out to the budding scientists in their lives, since one good mentor can overshadow a bunch of bad ones: “My high school biology teacher, Mrs. Comeaux, let us design our own experiments, rather than just doing the standard dissections,” says Robinson. “That helped me see the power of creating your own questions.” 

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