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Laura L Mays Hoopes Laura L Mays Hoopes

Opening Doors

Opening Doors

Joan Steitz and Jennifer Doudna, Two Women of the RNA World

Opening Doors, Joan Steitz and Jennifer Doudna, Two Women of the RNA World, a dual biography of Joan Steitz and Jennifer Doudna, two important molecular biologists, unfolds the changing rules for women of science in the twenty years between Steitz's and Doudna's graduate training and the twenty plus years that followed, a pivotal period for women in science in the US. The book opens with an overview chapter, then alternating chapters in which each of the two women first identify an interest in science, attend graduate school, decide to get married, delve into their research subjects, have problems and thrills with children, experience teaching, deal with scientific competition, and receive awards. Throughout the chapters, historical comparisons show how the situation changed greatly between their two debuts in science in the 1960s and the 1980s. Then Opening Doors provides predictions and prescriptions for increasing the number and well-being of women in science.

This book grew out of a course for first year students that I taught at Pomona College, "Biographies of Biologists." The women in the course, almost all prospective scientists, didn't like to think of becoming workaholic loners similar to Barbara McClintock, Nobel laureate for jumping genes, or Rita Levi-Montalcini, Nobel laureate for discovering nerve growth factor. They wanted to read about women who "had it all"—put together the desire for scientific breakthroughs and the desire for family companionship. The students suggested that I write my own biography. I've published a memoir, but this new dual biography addresses my students' desire more directly. Steitz and Doudna are top scientists who juggled family and career. I hope it will inspire the future women scientists and provide insight into life choices by women destined for the highest forms of scientific discovery.

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"Clearly based on extensive interviews with both of her subjects, their mentors, and Hoopes's own research into the relevant literature of time period (as evidenced by her extensive references at the end of the book), Hoopes ultimately presents an evolution of how women in science were received in the 1960 s compared to the 1980 s through the eyes of Steitz and Doudna. Throughout the chapters, each dedicated to a time period in the life of one scientist, Hoopes carefully weaves daily life and scientific discovery together into one story.
At several points in the compelling narrative, I could envision myself in each scientist's shoes, feeling the delights and challenges of the academic paths as they unfolded—this story that is so familiar to those who have chosen it as a career. If we measure the success of these two women against the myths Hoopes sets out to dispel—those that say one cannot have a family and maintain a successful academic career—then, yes, it is clear that both have broken through barriers and done just that."
   —BioScience (Kristen Johnson, assistant professor of biotechnology at the University of New Hampshire at Manchester) (full review here)

"These highly original explorations of the lives and evolution of two eminent scientists constitute a unique documentation of what it means to be a female researcher and scholar and remind us how often it is that success is won against the odds. Dr. Hoopes melds the professional and personal stories of these two amazing women in a way that makes us appreciate their contributions to science and society."
   —Janet Bandows Koster, Executive Director & CEO, Association for Women in Science

"Joan Steitz and Jennifer Doudna are world-renowned pioneers in RNA biology. This behind-the-scenes peek at their lives will captivate not only rising women scientists, but anyone interested in paths to scientific greatness."
   —Tom Cech, Nobel laureate, University of Colorado