Suzanne Cory on Women in Science: Balancing a Family and a Career
  Suzanne Cory     Biography    
Recorded: 15 Jan 2003

Well, of course it is difficult. But it’s possible and I think that's really important to say. I think you can have a very active family life and a very competitive scientific career. I think you have to be willing to give up some other things. If I think back I’ve given up a lot of things that I’ve actually really enjoyed very much. Cultural things. I don’t go to enough musical theater, not nearly enough. I don’t entertain as much as maybe I would if I didn’t have both of these strong passions. But I think we’ve had a very satisfying life and I wouldn’t change anything.

So what’s important to be able to have a career in science and also a very successful family life. I think as a woman in science, you need support. You need support of several kinds. First of all, you need excellent child care facilities. Without that I think it’s almost impossible. Second of all, I think I’m very struck always when I look around and look at those women who are successful in science, most of them are married to scientists and I don’t think that’s just because they happen to meet their partners in the work place. Of course, that happens. But I think if your partner is a scientist he knows what it takes and he can help really share the difficult times. He can excuse you going back to the lab at night for example cause he wants to do the same thing. And you can share the passion of the discovery times. So I think it’s no accident that many of us are married to scientists and that those scientists have been extremely supportive of our careers.

I think what’s important to encourage women into science is also to say though that you’ve got to be willing to work very hard and commit. And you can’t give yourself excuses. You’ve got to be competitive; you’ve got to be in there. So I think you have got to be very focused. You’ve go to chose your scientific program very carefully, not spread yourself too broadly, especially in the early phases of your career when your children are young. I think from the other side it’s very important for universities and research institutes and directors to realize that maybe often it will take a woman a few more years to reach full fulfillment, few scientific potential. It’s a little slower and I think that’s partly about confidence in women in science, but I think it’s more slow because of the difficulties of trying to juggle family life and have a career.

Suzanne Cory, is currently Director of The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI), joint head (with Professor Jerry Adams) of the Molecular Genetics of Cancer division at WEHI, and a professor of Medical Biology at the University of Melbourne.

Dr. Cory, a biochemist and molecular oncologist, has focused her research interests in immunology and cancer development. Her current research on the Bcl-2 gene family, and how cells decide to live or die (apoptosis), will lead to the knowledge to develop specific therapeutics for cancer and other diseases.

Dr. Cory earned her PhD in 1968 from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, working on RNA sequencing with Nobelists Fred Sanger and Francis Crick. While at Cambridge, she met and later married scientist Jerry Adams. Following their post-doctoral work and beginning research partnership at the University of Geneva, Cory and Adams moved to Australia and The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in 1971. Their work at WEHI helped introduce gene cloning technology in Australia. In the 1980s they discovered the genetic mutation that leads to Burkett’s Lymphoma.

Suzanne Cory was invited to speak at the 1970 Symposium, and has attended many meetings and Symposia at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory since then. Dr. Cory has received numerous awards and honors, including the Companion of the Order of Australia, Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, and Fellow of the Royal Society. She is Deputy Chairman of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, and a director of biotechnology company Bio21 Australia Limited.