Recorded: 29 May 2003
I don’t necessarily think that there’s anything unique about women versus men who are working in science. I think that one part of it probably for the miniaturization that we have, you know, and though this shouldn’t be taken wrong. It shouldn’t be a broad generalization, but it is. And that is that people with smaller, finer hands can pipette micro liters better, right? People with big, fat hands hold wrenches very well, okay? But then there’s somebody like me who has sort of medium, skinny fingers. I can pipette well and I also change the oil in my car, so go figure, right? But I think that biology, per se, attracts more women than men because biology is really almost like a religion in a way because it’s understanding the basis for living systems. And I think that there’s a sort of a maternal instinct that goes along with trying to understand life processes, okay? And animal kingdom and plants and everything, okay? I think, not that’s it’s a feminine thing, but I think that it’s a more so looking at how organisms grow and develop and interact and how people grow and develop and interact is often times much more of interest to women than men, okay? I think that women are much more of a compassionate breed than men. So I often say when I’m being kind to somebody that I’m expressing my feminine side.
It’s really kind—I’ll get somebody in my lab that’s a guy, you know, or even a woman who is very much interested in science, alright? And they come in my lab and I pay them as a teaching assistant or a research assistant for a summer or a semester and whatever, and we get together at Christmas time and I say, what do you think, how’s it going? And they go, I just—this isn’t for me. And I go, if you’re interested in science, maybe you’re more interested in organic chemistry or physical chemistry or analytical chemistry. So you get them to the right person. But it turns out a lot of times that they just can’t manipulate the pipette. And they can’t think in terms of micro liter. A micro liter is like, you know, a hundredth of the size of a drop, you know. It’s really, really teeny-weeny. And just dealing with these small volumes.
I had one student who had very thick glasses. And he literally, this guy was brilliant, and he’s getting a degree in physical chemistry, studying biological systems so it’s really physical biochemistry but most of his time is spent writing computer programs. It turns out that he couldn’t sequence DNA to save his life because he could not see to hit the right hole with his pipette. I mean he could see it, but he just didn’t have the eye-hand coordination. And different things are for different people. But I really think that there are physical attributes that favor dealing with small volumes and stuff like that. So people with smaller skinnier hands do very well.
There is the exception. I’ve got one guy who is 6’4” and, you know, has huge hands and this man just does great stuff, so I mean there’s always an exception, but I think generally as a rule. Plus I do think that women are much more caring and compassionate in many instances than men. And dealing with how life works is much more it seems a feminine trait than a masculine trait.
Bruce Roe is a George Lynn Cross Research Professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Oklahoma. He graduated with a Ph.D in biochemistry from the University of Western Michigan and received a National Institutes of Health Postdoctoral Fellowship to research at SUNY Stony Brook. He spent his 1978-79 sabbatical at Fred Sanger’s lab, where he helped develop the renowned method of DNA sequencing currently used today.
Roe is founding director of the Advanced Center for Genomic Technology (ACGT) at the U. of Oklahoma, one of the first large-scale sequencing facilities in the US. At present, the ACGT innovates computational and robotic methods to analyze DNA sequence results and is currently determining the nucleotide sequence of five microbial genomes. In 1999, Roe’s research led to the elucidation and publication of the complete sequence of human chromosome 22. This was the first human chromosome to be sequenced in its entirely.
He has attended genome meetings and symposia at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory for over 20 years.