Bonnie Bassler is a professor of molecular biology at Princeton University. She has made important discoveries about quorum sensing, or the process by which single-cell bacteria communicate with one another. She hopes to use quorum sensing to create anti-microbial drugs to counteract bacteria. For her work, she received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2002 and the National Academy of Sciences elected her one of its members in 2006. She wakes up prior to 6 a.m. everyday to teach an aerobics class.. because otherwise she would just be lazy.
Question: Have you ever felt that being a woman is a disadvantage in science?
Bonnie Bassler: I am sure it is so I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about that for myself, and I think at some level I am the wrong person to ask that question to, because here I am, right, you are interviewing me. So for whatever reason, the path that I took, which was by chance, was a path that was open for women, right, and so I had mentors that were gender neutral, my colleagues at Princeton, it is an intellectual bottom line there, women are incredibly successful in our department, our graduate class, our undergraduate class are fifty percent women, right, and so by no sophistication on my part, right, I have been in this field and I feel doublely lucky because I was working on this project that there was no evidence was gaining any traction, and I was a woman, there could have been a very different outcome in an environment that was not as pro science as my department was. And, so, I think that the truth is that women scientists, I don’t know, I don’t want this to come-- when you edit this, I do not want this to be negative, right, like I spent a lot of time thinking that the next generation of women can have it all, but my generation felt that you are choosing between being a good scientist and being a mother. And there are statistics that women have to, however this symmetric is measured, that women scientists have to achieve two-and-a-half times what their male counterparts have to achieve to have the same credibility. And so all of those things are a part of my life, but as we talked, I don’t know how to do anything else, right, so I just muddle through.
Recorded on: 6/17/08