Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer Has It All. Can You?

Yahoo wants to have it all. The company's board has tasked new CEO Marissa Mayer with the mandate to compete with her former company, the cash register that is known as Google, as well as to take on her former Google colleague Sheryl Sandberg's new company, Facebook. 


Mayer certainly has her work cut out for her, in more ways than one. 

What's the Big Idea?

Mayer is Yahoo's third CEO in twelve months and her every move will be scrutinized by Wall Street. Oh yeah, and she has a baby on the way. While Mayer's situation is a rare for the head of a large public corporation, the balance she will need to maintain between her public and private responsibilities is nothing new to women. In fact, the timing of Yahoo's announcement came on the heels of Anne-Marie Slaughter's controversial Atlantic article that argued women cannot "have it all."

As Google's first female programmer, Mayer has played the role of trailblazer. 

In recent months, Big Think has interviewed women in a variety of fields who have grappled with this issue, and the different choices they have made are illuminating.

When Fortune magazine's assistant managing editor Leigh Gallagher turned 38 she made the decision to freeze her eggs, an experience she recently wrote about on the women's website The Hairpin

In her Big Think interview, Gallagher discussed her decision as well as the bioethics and social implications involved in delaying parenthood. "Three or four or five years ago, this really wouldn’t have been as viable an option for people in my situation, but now it is," says Gallagher. 

Watch the video here:

What's the Significance?

According to Gallagher, the ability to hold off the biological clock has "long-term implications for the workplace." In her experience, Gallagher says she sees a lot of women "leave the workplace for a few years, women on very high-track careers, to have children." And at what cost?

Gallagher edits Fortune's 40 Under 40 list and says "we consistently have a problem finding women in their 30s who match the achievement of the men on the list, and it’s a constant struggle for us." Gallagher says the childcare burden "unevens the playing field for men and women." While delaying pregnancy may not solve that problem for everyone, Gallagher says it is a good option for people under certain circumstances who "either haven’t met someone yet and want to have children with a partner." On the other hand, it's also an option for people "who just aren’t ready just yet but want to keep their options open."

Balancing the demands of parenting and careers is not unique to women in business. It is arguably a greater issue in science, as tenure track positions become available to women during peak years of fertility. Columbia University Neuroscientist Dr. Joy Hirsch explains the enormous challenges faced by women in science, and how she dealt with these challenges.

Watch the video here:

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Follow Daniel Honan on Twitter @Daniel Honan

3D printing might save your life one day. It's transforming medicine and health care.

What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.

Northwell Health
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
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An organism found in dirt may lead to an anxiety vaccine, say scientists

Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.

University of Colorado Boulder
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  • New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
  • Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
  • The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.

Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.

For most of history, humans got smarter. That's now reversing.

We were gaining three IQ points per decade for many, many years. Now, that's going backward. Could this explain some of our choices lately?

The Flynn effect appears to be in retrograde. (Credit: Shutterstock/Big Think)
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There's a new study out of Norway that indicates our—well, technically, their—IQs are shrinking, to the tune of about seven IQ points per generation.

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Lama Rod Owens – the price of the ticket to freedom

An ordained Lama in a Tibetan Buddhist lineage, Lama Rod grew up a queer, black male within the black Christian church in the American south. Navigating all of these intersecting, evolving identities has led him to a life's work based on compassion for self and others.

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  • "What I'm interested in is deep, systematic change. What I understand now is that real change doesn't happen until change on the inside begins to happen."
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