By Tao Wang, MD, PhD, DABT and Sharmilee P. Sawant, PhD, DABT, RAC
Three outstanding female toxicologists were recognized with Society of Toxicology (SOT) awards this year. The recipients were Linda Birnbaum, for the Distinguished Toxicology Scholar Award, Meryl Karol, the Founders Award, and Debra Laskin, the Education Award. The SOT Women in Toxicology (WIT) Special Interest Group is not only proud of these deserving female toxicologists for winning these prestigious awards, but also takes great pride in the part we played in supporting their nominations! For more information about these SOT Award recipients, please visit the SOT website.
These successes did not come about by chance, but can be traced back to efforts initiated three years ago, when we just started serving in our then new roles on the WIT Executive Board (Tao Wang just became the President-Elect and Sharmilee Sawant the Vice President). At that 2014 SOT Annual Meeting, Ofelia Olivero approached Dr. Wang to brainstorm about what WIT could do to increase the recognition of accomplished female toxicologists within the Society. At the same meeting, Janis Hulla also reached out to Dr. Wang on a similar topic—how to increase the number of female awardees. Dr. Wang brought these discussions to the WIT Executive Board. Soon we learned that very few award applications came from our female toxicologists. In summer 2014, we initiated a WIT Awards Nomination Committee to help nominate female toxicologists for the prestigious SOT Awards.
2014: Drs. Sawant and Wang chaired this new committee. Once the “call for candidates” announcement was made, we received five outstanding recommendations from the WIT membership. The committee assisted these individuals by putting their application packages together (updating CVs, obtaining references, preparing WIT supporting letters, etc.), and nominated them for the 2015 SOT awards. Although none of the candidates we put forth were selected for 2015 SOT awards, we continued our efforts.
2015: We improved our candidate selection process by involving more senior toxicologists on the committee. Leigh Ann Burns Naas served as an advisor, and senior toxicologists, such as Dr. Hulla, also volunteered to serve on the committee. We received a list of 30 potential nominees, and our experienced colleagues provided important guidance on ranking and selecting the candidates. The committee then worked with six top candidates to prepare their application packages. Although none of the nominees were 2016 SOT award recipients, the WIT Executive Board was undaunted in our goal to get more female applicants into the candidate pool each year. Since each award application remains effective for three years, our continued efforts would ensure that a large pool of female candidates is in line for various national SOT awards. In summer 2015, we also published a Communiqué article entitled “Beyond the Glass Ceiling: Unconscious Bias within the SOT?” to encourage increased nomination of qualified female toxicologists for these awards moving forward.
2016: WIT continued this activity with further improvement. At the 2016 SOT Annual Meeting, members of the WIT Executive Board, Dr. Olivero, Dr. Burns Naas, and SOT Executive Director Clarissa Russell met with a past chair of the SOT Awards Committee, Barbara Beck, to get feedback on improving the nomination of female candidates. Based on her helpful feedback, Laurie Haws (WIT President-Elect) and Betina Lew (Vice President) assembled a group of senior leaders (Ken Wallace, Dr. Burns Naas, Dr. Beck, and Lorrene Buckley) to develop a list of potential candidates. The Committee then prepared the award applications for these select candidates for the 2017 SOT awards.
The sustained efforts by WIT over the past three years were driven by the belief that WIT could help gain recognition for our deserving female colleagues. In the last three years, we have substantially increased the number of female nominees in the candidate pool and increased the visibility of our colleagues. This year, three candidates WIT put forward were honored with awards each truly deserved. One of the awardees was nominated by WIT in 2014, the second awardee was nominated in 2015, and the third awardee was nominated in 2016.
Dr. Birnbaum is the first woman who received the Distinguished Toxicology Scholar Award since its inception in 2003. When she received her award at the SOT Awards Ceremony, she thanked WIT’s persistent efforts. In her video message to the WIT membership, she expressed her appreciation for the support WIT provided as well as her pride in being a founding member of WIT. Dr. Laskin also thanked WIT for their assistance and initiative during the WIT reception, and she encouraged all women toxicologist to speak up and self-nominate themselves for awards. WIT looks forward to continuing its mission of advocating for the well-deserved recognition of the many outstanding women in toxicology.