WIMIN IG Article: Mid-Career Women- by Helen McBride


This is the second article in a short series profiling women at different career stages in imaging science. This article focuses on mid-career women, and I was fortunate to have a diverse group of women from academia, government and industry volunteer to be interviewed. Although their experiences in different sectors varied as one might expect, there were some common themes across their answers to questions about leadership, career advancement and mentoring.

The most common theme among mid-career women was the concept of the confidence gap, that has been discussed a lot this year  in popular media. The confidence gap represents a dissonance between what women have achieved versus how they talk about their success.  Many women don’t believe they are good enough to get to the next level or take on a difficult project or new area of research, and as a result they hold themselves back. Perhaps they are quieter than their male counterparts when arguing their scientific points or don’t apply for funding because they don’t exactly meet every criteria.  The confidence gap can rear its ugly head by women not asking for help just when they need the boost to apply for that key position or receive feedback on their latest grant.  It can also show itself in many women being unable to say “no” to some opportunities that are more a burden than a growth experience. Although everyone has to pay their dues with service work on less than impactful committees, the general thought amongst the women I interviewed was that there has to be a limit to that commitment. Women have to make sure that they protect their ability to perform at the high level expected of them, and the only way to do that is to be very particular about one’s commitments.

The confidence gap is often intertwined with the Imposter Syndrome which has many women feeling isolated and that they are the only ones to have doubts about whether they belong in their current position. Feeling like they are about to be “found out” at any moment  impedes women from taking advantage of networking opportunities or putting themselves into roles where their performance is highly visible to others. Yet those are exactly the qualities that can propel women into senior roles.

Stereotype threat was also mentioned as something that many of the women had observed with their students and colleagues. Stereotype threat is insidious as even the mention of a stereotype such as “women generally don’t make it to the top ranks,”, can decrease the performance of women yet has no effect on men’s performance. The good news is that being aware how stereotype threat works can diffuse most of its power. And everyone can be alert for instances where stereotypes are being promulgated and can counter them effectively.

On the topic of mentors and sponsors, mid-career women had similar experiences as thei r senior counterpart. Their mentors were diverse and sometimes were role models for success and in other cases traits from multiple individuals were combined into a “virtual role model” . Sponsors were called out as those individuals willing to nominate them for a new opportunity or position. And not too surprisingly  all the mid-career women had more than one of these through their careers, and indeed were accumulating them as they moved into higher levels of responsibility.

Unconscious bias and how it presents itself in myriad ways was another common narrative these women have observed through their careers. Whether bias comes across in how we describe our colleagues “she was brave/lucky, he was smart/talented” or in how the expectations change as we move up in our careers, bias can have a powerful impact on how we view ourselves and thus on our confidence. Think you aren’t subject to it? Take the Implicit Bias gender test through Harvard’s Project Implicit to find out. The good news is that women can counteract bias once they understand how it looks and feels within organizations. Supporting one another through episodes of bias is also key to advancing a critical mass of women into senior positions.  Many companies and universities are realizing the potential of having more women succeed in the workplace and move into senior leadership positions, and how they do that is becoming a template for success that can be translated across industries.

Finally, all the women interviewed wanted to convey how important it was to keep enjoying what you do. Although there is negativity regarding the progress of women in the workplace, there are also many successes as the women participating in this interview and in WMIS demonstrate.  Having passion for your research and the impact it can have is key to maintaining the energy to be resilient through all the challenges that present themselves.  Sharing enjoyment of one’s science and supporting one another is ultimately the best way to ensure that junior women see a career they want to strive for and all women enjoy the benefits of a healthy work culture.



Brief background on our contributors:

Smita Sampath, Ph.D. is an Associate Principal Scientist in the Imaging Department of Merck Sharp ad Dohme at the Translational Medicine Research Center in Singapore. 

Kim Kelley is an Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Virginia.  Her laboratory’s primary focus is on the identification of novel targets and development of molecularly targeted agents for the detection and treatment of disease.

Kyle J. Myers, Ph.D., is the Director of the Division of Imaging, Diagnostics, and Software Reliability in the Office of Science and Engineering Laboratories, located in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health.  In this capacity she serves as the director for CDRH research programs in medical imaging systems, medical display devices, computer-aided diagnostics, software verification methods, and statistical methodologies for imaging clinical trials.  She holds adjunct faculty positions at the University of Arizona and Georgetown University.  Dr. Myers is a Fellow of the OSA, SPIE, and AIMBE.    

Pushpa Tandon, Ph.D., is a Program Director in the Cancer Imaging Program (CIP), Division of Cancer Treatment and Diagnosis, at the National Cancer Institute. She manages a grant portfolio in the areas of Image Guided Intervention and Nanotechnology. As a member of the group managing the Quantitative Imaging Network within CIP, she is  focused on expanding the network internationally. Her interests in Global Health has resulted in her involvement with the Center for Global Health at NCI in developing and managing the “Technologies for global health” program.

Andrea Perrone, M.D., is Executive Director of Imaging Oncology at Merck where she has contributed to the clinical trials that have resulted in breakthrough approval of the immunotherapy, Keytruda ,for melanoma indication.    She was previously the Global Head of  Imaging at GE Healthcare supporting efforts to gain approval of imaging contrast agents.  Prior to that position, she was the VP of Clinical Operations at an imaging core lab, BioClinica.  She completed her radiology residency at the University of Pittsburgh and medical school and internship at Georgetown University. 

Angelique Y. Louie, Ph.D. is a Professor and Vice Chair in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of California, Davis. She currently serves as Faculty Director for the Undergraduate Research Center.  Her research focuses on the development of multimodal probes for molecular imaging. Dr. Louie is a member of Tau Beta Pi, the Society of Women Engineers, WMIS, and ISMRM.  She is a elected Fellow of AIMBE and past elected member of the Board of Directors for the BMES.