Blazing the Trail: Essays by Leading Women in Science


The gross under-representation of women in physics is well-known both inside and outside of the physics community. The reasons for the lack of participation by women are many, and recent efforts to reduce gender biases, improve work-life balance, and institute family-friendly policies have yielded positive results. These practices, however, tend to focus on women that have already chosen to pursue a career in physics – there is still much room for growth when it comes to inspiring a new generation of young women to consider a scientific career.

Successful physicists often cite the importance of role models – parents, teachers, mentors and others who provided inspiration and constant encouragement from an early age and throughout their career. This book looks to provide 50-80 new role models to future scientists whose stories will inspire young women to consider careers in the physical sciences, attacking the problem of under-representation at its root. This book will contain short pieces written by women who completed their education in physics in the United States and who subsequently pursued physics careers in academia, government, and industry (though there are a few unique cases). We have tried to assemble a diverse group of authors – women who come from a wide variety of backgrounds but share a passion for science and discovery. It is our hope that any young woman flipping through the pages of this book will be able to find someone she can identify with and look up to.

List of Contributors

  • Christine A. Aidala (Los Alamos National Lab/University of Michigan)
  • Susan Davis Allen (Arkansas State University)
  • Ani Aprahamian (Notre Dame)
  • Sheila Brown Bailey (NASA Glenn)
  • Olgica Bakajin (Lawrence Livermore National Lab)
  • Daniela Bortoletto (Purdue University)
  • Patricia Burchat (Stanford University)
  • Cathryn Carson (University of California, Berkeley)
  • Shirley Chiang (University of California, Davis)
  • Janet Conrad (MIT)
  • Esther Conwell (University of Rochester)
  • Jill P. Dahlburg (Naval Research Lab)
  • Arati Dasgupta (Naval Research Lab)
  • Sarah M. Demers (Yale University)
  • Mildred Dresselhaus (MIT)
  • Lucy Fortson (University of Minnesota)
  • Elsa Garmire (Dartmouth)
  • Jarita Holbrook (University of California, Los Angeles)
  • Carolina C. Ilie (State University of New York at Oswego)
  • Barbara A. Jones (IBM Almaden)
  • Noemie Benczer Koller (Rutgers University)
  • Lillian Christie McDermott (University of Washington)
  • Anne-Marie Novo-Gradac (NASA Headquarters)
  • Linda J. Olafsen (Baylor University)
  • Angela Olinto (University of Chicago)
  • Marjorie Olmstead (University of Washington)
  • Michelle L. Povinelli (University of Southern California)
  • Diane (Betsy) Pugel (NASA Goddard)
  • Juana Rudati (Xradia, Inc.)
  • Michelle Shinn (Jefferson Lab)
  • Elizabeth H. Simmons (Michigan State University)
  • Elma Beth Snipes (TEC-USA)
  • Meg Urry (Yale University)
  • Lakeisha Walker (Oak Ridge National Lab)
  • Alice White (Bell Labs)

 Thank you for your generous contributions!

Essay Content

  • Include information about your formative years, education, hobbies, and personal life, to whatever extent you are comfortable with
  • Share how you came to study science and what steered you to your current path
  • Strive to maintain a positive, uplifting tone, while describing your experience honestly. For example, if there has been a particularly trying period in your career, we encourage you to share that experience (as it may bring solace to someone who has or will experience something similar), but hope that you can focus on what you learned, or how you benefited, from overcoming adversity
  • Include any advice you may have for the next generation or reflections upon your career that you wish to share

Essay Formatting:

  • Short, 3rd-person biography (i.e. the “Bona Fides” section as in Meg Urry’s essay below)
  • Some sectioning, either chronologically or thematically
  • A reflection/recommendations section to conclude
  • Aim for 1500 words
  • Later: a headshot photo (we will send details about this later)

UPDATE (5 Mar 2013): We aim to publish Blazing the Trail: Essays by Leading Women in Science this month! It will have 35 contributions (from those women listed above), and we look forward to sharing this book with others. We will self-publish using Amazon’s CreateSpace platform.

Thank you to all those who have helped Rhiannon and me with this project: particularly Meg Urry and Sarah Demers, Carol Guess with final copy-editing, and Jane Long with book cover illustration!

Sample Essays

Meg Urry

Lilavati’s Daughters

Please direct any comments or questions to:

Emma Ideal:

Rhiannon Meharchand: