Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider, who are sharing this year’s Nobel Prize in Medicine with Jack Szostak, called for wider opportunities for women in the sciences in advance of receiving the prize last week. Blackburn, Greider, and Szostak, who are all American, are sharing the award “for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase” and therefore protect themselves from degradation.
Blackburn told the Associated Press, “The career structure [in the sciences] is very much a career structure that has worked for men…But many women, at the stage when they have done their training really want to think about family…and they just are very daunted by the career structure. Not by the science, in which they are doing really well.”
Greider also indicated a desire to see an increase in the number of women in decision-making positions and on committees. She told the Associated Press, “I think that something active needs to be done to [achieve parity in the highest positions] because there [have] been many, many years where there have been women coming in at a 50 percent level, and yet the levels at the upper echelons hasn’t really changed very much.”
Only 10 women have won the Nobel in Medicine and Blackburn and Greider are the first women to have shared a Nobel in science. This year’s awards are also notable because a record number of women (5 of 13 honorees) are receiving prizes. In addition to Blackburn and Greider’s honors, American Elinor Ostrom became the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics. Romanian-born author Herta Mueller won the Nobel Prize in Literature for her depictions of the “landscape of the dispossessed” behind the iron curtain. Israeli Ada Yonath is sharing the Nobel in Chemistry with Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas Steitz for their work studying “the structure and function of the ribosome.”