Jerry Adams on Women in Science
  Jerry Adams     Biography    
Recorded: 15 Jan 2003

I think women probably are slightly disadvantaged still overall. The great problem is that the very time that you put into the greatest scientific strain, which is basically when you are trying to set up a lab yourself. And you’re suddenly almost totally independent because before that you’ve always been in the context of a bigger lab where a lot of things were done such as grants. Somebody else had got the grants and so forth. And suddenly you got to get your own grant funding, you’ve go to make the lab work. You got to find your own niche in usually a highly competitive field. So that’s the very time that most women are getting ready for child bearing. And so there’s a great tension there between those two things both requiring almost full time. So I think that’s the big problem that women have.

There may also be still a tendency for people to invite more men than women to conferences, things like that. I think conference organizers do need to be very aware [and] have a look at their list of speakers and make sure that they have got some kind of approach to a balance. That they make some attempt to get a reasonable component of women onto the speaker list.

I think if any prejudice does come in meetings organizers it might be just because men often are maybe a little more flamboyant or aggressive in their approach to presentation of material than women on average. Of course, it’s ridiculous to lump everybody together as male or female in that sort of way. But there probably is a tendency that way and therefore there maybe a tendency for organizers to end up selecting more males than they should. And it tends to be self perpetuating too because once you’ve heard a person at a few meetings, he would be the first person that springs to mind when you’re organizing the next meeting. And you may not realize that there’s an equally competent, maybe even better, woman scientist to fulfill the similar role.

Jerry Adams, currently Professor and Joint Head of Molecular Genetics of Cancer Division of The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, is noted for his achievements in molecular biology, immunology and the molecular genetics of cancer. After completing his BSc in Chemistry at Emory University in 1962, he completed his Ph.D. at Harvard under James Watson. During this time, Adams and Mario Capecchi discovered the initiation mechanism for polypeptides. Adams earned his degree in 1967 and went on to do post-doctoral work at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England, where he met his wife, Suzanne Cory. They did further research in Geneva, and in 1972 joined The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Australia.

Adams and his research team have made many major contributions to medical science. They were the first to clone mammalian genes in Australia and discovered: (i) that antibody genes encode to recombine in a myriad of ways to fight infection; (ii) the genetic mutation that leads to Burkitt’s lymphoma and (iii) the connection between apoptosis and cancer, while studying bcl-2 gene in follicular lymphoma (with David Vaux).

Adams is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science (1986), a Fellow of the Royal Society of London (1992), a Fellow of the Royal Society of Victoria (1997) and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.