Princeton professor analyzes women in science, obstacles they face

Virginia Zakian spoke to the College about the choices women make in academia. (Brittany Oldewurtel / Staff Photographer)

By Kofi Poku
Correspondent

Virginia Zakian, professor of life sciences at Princeton University, spoke about gender equity in academia and making the right career choices during her presentation, “A Career in Science: Making the Right Choices” in Loser Hall room 106 on Thursday Oct. 7.

“It’s not a bed of roses. Plenty of obstacles remain that hinder women from getting a full level of success in the academia,” Zakian said.

The professor expressed her opinion on women who felt as though they couldn’t have a normal family life and be successful in academia.

“No one should think that women need to choose between success and children,” Zakian said.

The TCNJ Tap Symposium (TAP), which was co-sponsored by the politics forum, was held because the College received a grant from the National Science Foundation for advancement of women in science. Zakian was the keynote speaker. She was introduced by Provost Carol Bresnahan.

Dr. Zakian has been a long-standing activist in gender equity issues faced by women in academia, especially in the sciences. She is the chair of Princeton’s Task Force on the Status of Women Faculty in the Natural Sciences and Engineering department.

Zakian spoke to the audience about the choices she made during her career that allowed her to be both a successful mother and college professor. She focused on her professors and their ability to accept women in the lab.

“I had so few role models,” Zakian said in regards to other female professors of science during her stay at Cornell University.

Zakian worked in the lab with Antonie Blackler, a professor of developmental biology, for the rest of her time in Cornell. Zakian graduated in 1970 and moved on to Yale University for her doctorate. She told the audience about the rampant sexism and sexual harassment at Yale.

“Yale was just typical of the times.” Zakian said.

During her time at Yale, Zakian was able to work in the lab with Joseph Gall who was known for having mentored a lot of women in the sciences.

The next major topic the professor discussed was family life. She mentioned that women had to choose a partner who believed that they had a right to follow any career that they wanted. She then moved on to children.

“There’s no good time to have kids. No time is impossible.” said Zakian. She spoke of one female professor who didn’t receive tenure because she had children.

As the presentation continued, Zakian brought up the current numbers minority undergraduates in the science department at Princeton. These numbers had increased within the past few years due to the aggressive handling of the situation.

“The scientific community has bought into the idea of making the workforce more diverse,” Zakian said. “We are better educators when we are diverse.”