SEATTLE, WA - The United Nations General Assembly declared February 11th the day to emphasize that gender equality plays a vital role in science. Today, AAHI recognizes and celebrates women's contributions in research and innovation and who serve as role models to girls that represent the next generation of scientists, engineers, and mathmeticians solving some of the world's most complex issues. AAHI encourages women to lean into their curiousity about how the world works and why.
Won the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine
We explored the journey of six women in every level of our organization. You can read their advice and experience being a woman in STEM:
- Anna Marie Beckmann, PhD, Executive VP, Product Development
- Emily Voigt, PhD, Director, RNA Vaccine Platform
- Jeralyn Roco, Manager, Quality Control
- Elise Echefu, Project Manager, Adjuvant Formulations
- Pauline Fusco, Research Associate I
- Gabi Ramer-Denisoff, Research Associate III
Listen to some of their unique stories:
- A Man Accompanies His Wife at a Scientific Meeting in Japan in 1982.
- Women are Not Men - Our Paths Can be Different. Paving that Path Can be Challenging.
- A Well Meaning Safety Assessment for Engineering Field Work Underpinned by Gender Bias.
Anna Marie Beckmann, PhD
Executive Vice President, Product Development
Advice: In a role like this, your curiousity is the best thing. Something new everyday. It's never boring.
My name is Anna Marie Beckmann, I work here at AAHI as an Executive Vice President of Product Development. I came to science starting out as an English literature major at the University of Washington in 1971, that's how old I am.
I took biology class and found it very interesting and switched to biology. In a big university like UW was at the time, there was no real way to do indpendent research so when I was a senior. I switched to the fairly new at the time, Evergreen State College, where I was able to do a complete pretty much a graduate project in the lab as a senior, looking at the genetics of bacteriophage T4 and that led me to go to graduate school in Baltimore, Maryland. I lived there for four years and came back to Seattle.
I love science research because it is something new everyday. You are always learning. Always learning, you are never bored.
Science here, and most of my career at Fred Hutch and at a small biotech and then at IDRI and AAHI, has been focused on using those capabilities that I have to do good for the world.
So, I am doing good for myself because I am always curious, I am always interested, always learning, and I am doing good for the world because of the work I do. Double goods.
Emily Voigt, PhD
Director, RNA Vaccine Platform
Advice: Do whatever you can to find a mentor who is further in the field than you are and is a person that you not only respect, but is a person that you can see yourself being.
Experience at AAHI: I really appreciate the fact that we have good respresentation of women in our senior scientific and leadership teams here, and that there's general supportiveness of your work-life balance. I also really appreciated the support in my career development and getting me to where I am now.
My name is Emily Voigt, I am a Principal Scientist at AAHI in charge of the RNA Vaccine Platform. I lead a team developing new vaccines using our RNA Platform against a whole host of different pathogens - viral, bacterial. And its a very exciting, very stimulating, very busy job.
What got me into science to begin with is I was always a very vurious, very curious human. I grew up in the middle of nowhere. There was nothing else to do but dig in the dirt and chase butterflies. I was very serious about collecting butterflies when I was younger. If you want to see my butterfly collection, ask me! Collecting butterflies, growing plants, digging in the dirt, finding ants. Figuring out what you could do to ants to make them behave different ways.
Biology has always been absolutely fasnicating to me. I mean, if you talk about a system that there is never a point where you have learned it all, it's biology.
So I went into science, and my bachelor's degree is actually engineering because someone wise pointed out to me that if you can do math and you can do the physics part of things, you can do anything with an engineering degree, including biology. But if you stick just with a biology degree then that limits where you can branch out to. So that is the direction I went. I got a chemical engineering degree but really focusing on as much biology as I could put into it.
So I took genetics classes, I took biology classes, whatever I could cram into that program. And then, I like many other people who do well at school decided to just jump right inot a graduate program, not entirely sure what was coming out of the other side.
You know, I grew up in the middle of now hwere. Research scientist was not a job description there. You could be a teacher. If you were really good, you could be a doctor, you could be an accountant.
But scientist wasn't really part of the list. So, I went into grad school. I wanted to continue doing some combination of biology but with a practical bend because I have always been a practical person.
I went into a PhD program also trying to now mix a little bit more thoroughly the engineering and the biology.I got introudced to viruses and kind of fell in love with viruses and immunology and the complex interactions that go on there.
My PhD grew into studying those interactions on the innate immune system leve, the initial interactions of the body and viruses right after a virus would land in a cell.
Your body has all these defenses against viruses because we have this happen all the time in our lungs and we don't always get sick and we certainly don't always die, so what's going on in those early stages? We can look at that both from a biological point of view in a single cell but then, you know, it spreads. In tissues you have the signaling that spreads through tissues and you have the virus that spreads through tissues. And so there's this whole dynamic and that brings some of the math and engineering into it as well.
So from there, I again, tried to figure out what I was doing next, what kind of jobs are out there. I didn't really want to become a research professor because their lives are crazy. And I wanted someting more balanced and applied, and wasn't quite sure where that was. So I went and did a post doc. Maybe not the straightest path to something more balanced and applied, but I then went and dove further into the virus immunology world and did a post doc on vaccine research at the Mayo Clinic.
And vaccines are applied. Not necessarily all the work done studying them is applied but if you can think of a technology that has a huge impact on people world wide, vaccines really are that. So that was getting closer to what I wanted to do with my life.
So after that, I landed in Seattle trying to figure out what happened next and here I am at AAHI and it's a great spot for me - making new vaccines and getting them into people, hopefully to make some positive impacts.
Manager, Quality Control
Advice: I think for women, and for little girls - the world is different. Science is not just a man's subject. It's for everybody. If you find a good place to work that is accepting, you can accomplish whatever you put your mind to.
Experience at AAHI: I have been at AAHI for 16 years now and it's just been good. I work with a great team, we get things done, and it's fun to see that. There's never a dull moment here, there is always something new. There is always learning, which is good.
I am Jeralyn Roco and I am the Quality Control Manager, a recent promotion. I have been here for so long. All my life I have been in QC and I think it has been a good fit for me because I just enjoy doing that. I guess it has something to do with my private school background, which is weird to bring up but I think it connects because private school has a lot of rules and all that. And when you are in GMP, you are regulated by that so it is something that I am used to.
It's not anything shocking. And that also ties into science because there are a lot of rules but at the same time, there's a lot of discovery, which is very exciting and that's what I like most about science.
I knew that I always liked science because I can remember exactly in high school, going to my first biology class. And I think it had to do with the teacher because she was really good at what she did. We walked into class and she had all this writing all over the board and everybody walked in and it was kind of daunting.
But she just started talking about what was on the board in her own order, she made sense of the chaos. For me, it just clicked and I just kept doing it. That's when I knew that's what I wanted to do. I went to college, I did biology, and it was the same kind of thing too, and then I just kept going.
I mean, you know, you have other aspirations but you tend to realize when you grow up, what's more attainable and more a reality and that's what you just keep doing.
Project Manager, Adjuvant Formulations
Advice: Ask for help. It doesn't make you stupid, it's only going to make everything around you better. And be okay with failing. A lot of major scientific discoveries were packaged as failures at first and then useful things were obtained from them after discussion.
Experience at AAHI: I have never felt like my gender limited me or really affected any of the work I did, especially with some of the managers I work with too. It's incredibly collaborative, everyone is here to do science.
My name is Elise Larson and I am a project manager here at AAHI.
So, my journey to science started pretty early on, eventually made my way to get a chemistry degree at University of Washington, which led me into formulations here at AAHI. And eventually going from the benchtop into more of an administrative role as a project manager, so having that science background was really helpful in advancing my career and finding a pathway that works with not only for my personality but things I am good at.
Seems kind of cheesy, but I started getting interested in science because of my love of food. I love to cook and science was basically just using recipes but you can't eat the end result.
So, if anyone has seen on TV Good Eats with Alton Brown, he was my first intro to science.
Research Associate I
Advice: Encourage science gossip. Science gossip is a term used to describe how scientists collaborate in and out of the lab on topics that aren't specifically related to the work product they have to put out that day. It makes you a better public speaker when you finally have to present your paper and speaking to a third party with a different perspective helps troubleshoot problems. Engage with other scientists.
Experience at AAHI: We are pretty equal in numbers, if not exceeding men numercial wase at the base of the pyramid, but as you go up, the inequality gets greater and greater across pretty much every discipline. Unless it's a gender steriotyped discipline, and even then there's a strange number of men compared to the base. So AAHI really bucks that trend.
My name is Pauline Fusco and I actually came to AAHI in particular but biotech in general from a background in environmental and civil engineering from the University of Alaska. I was going to the University of Alaska because that's my state school because I was born and raised in Fairbanks, Alaska on a homestead.
So the mandate of AAHI providing access to people from low and middle income countries and low and middle income people here in the United States is pretty important to me. To be honest, my engineering background was something along the approach of - I am smart, I have scholarships, I should do something sciency so I can tell the boys to go XXX.
I didn't truly know what I wanted to do until after quite a bit of life experience, a fair amount of adventures and some traveling, and finally moving to Washington. And then I laterally transferred to biotechnology by going to Shoreline Community College and getting a certificate in biotechnology. A lot of lab skills, a lot of techniques, and now I am a Research Associate here at AAHI.
I knew for sure that I wanted to do something biotech related, especially RNA work probably the first time I DNA barcoded something. I did a little project on dual bar coding of fungi because I think that is a pretty good bioengineering area of research fo anybody who is listening who might want to think about that!
And the first time I realized I could actually pull it off, it wasn't actually that hard and then I could see it on a gel. And then I could see the actual transcript of the DNA and correlate that to other things using NCBI blast. It opened up an entirely new world that I was not exposed to in Alaska, not exposed to as an engineer, where we could use the tools that engineers develop, to probe further into the mysteries of life -
And it's kind of a character flaw and an asset but I am insatiably curious and I can't stop and I won't stop and I want to keep going.
Research Associate III
Advice: Keep trying, even if an equation doesn't look right, if a sicence concept doesn't make sense at first, just take a step back and try again.
Experience at AAHI: I amfortunate to have role models to look up to and incredible mentors that have encouraged me any time I feel discouraged, which is pivotal.
My name is Gabi Ramer, I am a research associate on the formulations team. I have been here for about a year now and my day-to-day duties include doing stability testing of other formulations as well as our adjuvants and assisting with our animal studies as well as our bioassays related to those.
I have been very grateful to be a part of AAHI and actually found out about IDRI when I was in college. I was originally a pre-med major and then I took a global health class and learned about how intricate all kind of disciplines are and how related science is with public health as well as just with socioeconomic status and the world around us.
I was fortunate enough to go with my global health class to IDRI and take a tour and I was able to meet Chris Fox and he became a resource for me and talked me through what it looks like to be involved in science in more of a biotech aspect and being involved in more of the therapeutic delivery side instead of maybe the health performance side, which I always wanted to go into.
And then once meeting Chris Fox, seeing IDRI now AAHI's mission, I was really committed to being involved in the sciences in more of a therapeutic and deliverable side.
I just remember when I was in the second grade, I was determined to be involved in the health sciences. I either wanted to be a doctor or a veterinarian and I was very determined. I remember my second grade teacher, her husband was a veterinarian. She pulled me aside and was like "you don't have what it takes. I have seen what it takes to be a veterinarian, I have seen what it takes to be involved in science, you're just not good at math."
And so I started as a second grader, to get into this narrative that "you know what, I am not good at math, I don't want to do something I am bad at. I am just going to switch to other things. I enjoy reading, I enjoy other thing, I will just get involved in that."
And then when I was in third grade, we had a program that was getting young kids, especially girls, invovled in math and science. So I was fortunate enough to participate and find that though I had been told that I was bad at math, I actually was not and it was something that I really enjoyed.
And even though at first, certain standardized tests I didn't do too well on, being able to sit down with my teachers and being able to work through it, I was actually put in the advanced math group, and from there, my love for math and science just really took off.