Gillian Small Honored As a Leading Woman of Science

ASRC Executive Director Gillian Small was recently honored by the Feminist Press for her achievements as one of the highest ranking women in American research science. Dr. Small, CUNY’s vice chancellor for research, was one of four New York women in a variety of fields presented with the publisher’s Inspiration, Empowerment, Insight and Leadership awards at its annual benefit dinner Nov. 11.

Dr. Small was designated the 2013 Insight honoree for her commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, both by her own example and in initiatives designed to help women succeed in a domain traditionally and still dominated by men, particularly in leadership positions.  The editors of the Feminist Press cited Dr. Small’s creation of the CUNY Women in Science program, an ongoing series of forums, workshops, networking and mentoring opportunities designed to help women build careers in science, technology and engineering disciplines.

The Feminist Press is a leading publisher of books on contemporary issues of gender equality and identity. Though an independent publisher, it became the Feminist Press at CUNY when it relocated to the CUNY Graduate Center in 2005. Besides Dr. Small, the other women honored were Michaela Angela Davis, a cultural critic and activist who spearheaded a national campaign challenging the hypersexual images of women of color in mainstream media; Debbie Storey, AT&T’s chief diversity officer known for advancing the company’s inclusiveness as an employer; and Kathleen Hanna, a musician and artist whose groups have included Le Tigre. The awards were presented by rock musician Joan Jett. “It’s really amazing how similar all our stories are, regardless of what walk of life we’re in,” she told the Wall Street Journal.

In accepting the award, Dr. Small said that as a young girl growing up in England she had been inspired toward a career in the sciences by her admiration for Marie Curie, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the only person to win in more than one field of science. Later, she was influenced by important mentors at two different stages of her education. “The first was my high school biology teacher, a very charismatic woman whom I wanted to emulate,” Dr. Small said. “The second was Christian deDuve, who was the head of the laboratory at Rockefeller University where I was a post-doc. He gave me opportunities and invaluable guidance.”

Mindful of the roles her own mentors played in shaping her career, Dr. Small initiated a mentorship program at CUNY that matches junior faculty with senior scientists who help them prepare manuscripts, write grants and provide other advice.  “It’s important that students and younger faculty have mentors who can guide them and open doors for them,” she said.

In the five years since she was named the first vice chancellor for research in CUNY’s history, Dr. Small has created initiatives aimed at improving the pipeline of young people entering the sciences, and women have been a particular focus. “Women need to be better represented in all science fields, especially the physical sciences,” she said. “The proportion of science degrees granted to women has increased, but there remains a disparity between the number of women receiving PhDs and those hired as junior faculty. So we’re cultivating an environment at CUNY that makes it easier for them to succeed.”

For the past few years, as CUNY has pursued a path of  becoming a more entrepreneurial university, Dr. Small has promoted programs to encourage women to bring their research into the marketplace. She announced that an entrepreneurial workshop will be part of her office’s annual Women In Science events next spring.  “We want to see more women starting their own companies—and employing even more women in science-related jobs,” she said.

Dr. Small explained that the CUNY Advanced Science Research Center, scheduled to open in Fall 2014, will have an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach that will foster those goals. As the  ASRC’s founding executive director, she  will play a prominent role both in encouraging young people to enter cutting-edge fields of science and technology and in helping women advance in those disciplines.