WinRS 2022 – filling in the gaps!

Arunika Das

As the incoming Co-Chair of WinRS, I am excited to introduce myself to the SSR membership. My name is Arunika (Runi) and I received my Ph.D. from Rutgers University under the mentorship of Kim McKim, and I am currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania with Michael Lampson and Ben Black where I am investigating the mechanisms of epigenome inheritance through the germline and consequences of maternal aging in oocytes. During the two years that WinRS was made a full-standing ad hoc committee, I served both on the Nominations Sub-committee and the Steering Committee and witnessed the enthusiastic efforts of our members in being the voice for all women in SSR. I am happy to support the women that work behind the scenes to advance and support women in STEM, as the incoming co-Chair. I would like to take the opportunity to thank the past Co-Chair Heather Fice, and current Chair Karen Schindler for their tireless hard work in getting us to where we are today- a thriving committee with clear mission goals that have already made headway in increasing women’s (cis and trans) representation in all areas!
Gender disparities persist in hiring, pay, funding, publishing, recognition, and retention in the scientific workforce. For the past two years, WinRS has tried to bridge the gender gap that exists in recognizing female scientists, by nominating deserving candidates for SSR awards and Executive Board positions. Indeed, our inspiring nominees were appointed as part of the inaugural cohort of SSR Distinguished Fellows in recognition of their scientific achievements, and represent nearly 50% of all fellows! As March is Women’s History Month, our fantastic social media team (Kathryn Grive, Niamh Forde, and Heather Fice) sought to highlight last year’s female Distinguished Fellows, who have contributed not only to science but also to the SSR community (Read more about it on the WinRS Twitter page @WinRS_SSR!). In addition, a fruitful and satisfying close to this month comes with the announcement of this year’s Distinguished Fellows, where women nominated by WinRS, constitute 80% of the cohort! We would like to congratulate the Distinguished Fellows and all other SSR awardees of 2022. Notably, we find that when the nominee pool is gender-balanced, women are as likely to win awards as men.

While we are making progress in overcoming challenges in some areas of the gender divide, others like patenting, commercialization of research, and intellectual property rights are less discussed. Although women receive 53% of Ph.D.’s, only 13% of patent holders are women.
1. Historically, patenting has been predominantly a male endeavor, underscored by the fact that even in 2020, only 12.8% of patent recipients were women.
2. These numbers suggest that fewer women have the chance to invent and/or women are less likely to patent their inventions. In addition, inventions from male-dominated research teams are more likely to focus on male rather than female needs, leaving a gap or “loss” in medical innovation in women’s health1-3. Conversely, women-led research teams are more likely to address issues related to women’s health but these medical innovations are greatly underrepresented in the overall patent applications. Simply increasing the number of female scientists is not enough as women are also 40% less likely to commercialize their research than men.
3. To help increase women patent holders in reproductive biology, WinRS is hosting a panel for understanding and overcoming the challenges of patent applications and intellectual property at the Annual meeting (July 27, 12 pm PDT) with the following scientific and legal experts:

• Sarah Robertson (University of Adelaide) – Scientist and holder of three patents who will provide an international perspective on patent applications.
• Linda Griffith (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) – Frequent patentor and commentary on patents was published in “The Conversation”2.
• Indira Mysorekar (Baylor College of Medicine)- Scientist and patentor
• Lynn Janulis- Former SSR trainee member who is now a patent lawyer
• Harl Tolbert – Associate Vice President of the Technology transfer office at the University of Rochester and former SSR trainee member.

Come join us for this exciting panel discussion and learn how to translate discoveries in reproductive biology to products and devices that benefit women’s health. If you would like your favorite woman scientist to be nominated for next year’s awards, please get in touch with us!

References:
1. “There are serious gender and diversity gaps in patenting” – Association of Women in Science (AWIS, 2021)
2. “Too few women get to invent – that’s a problem for women’s health” – The Conversation, 2021
3. “Gender gaps lead to few US patents that help women” – Nature, Vol. 597, 2021

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