Women in Science Share Their Expertise

This fall, several professional female scientists discussed their groundbreaking work and their fascinating career paths with Upper School students. Here are highlights from Dr. Suzanne Wolden and Dr. Maggie Bartlett’s engrossing presentations, which took place over Zoom:

Earlier in the school year, radiation oncologist Dr. Suzanne Wolden was a guest speaker in Science teacher Jill Hirsch’s virtual Molecular Genetics class, enhancing a unit on cancer with her impressive knowledge.

A Chapin parent, Dr. Wolden serves at the Director of Pediatric Radiation Oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, where she treats both children and teens. She received her M.D. from the University of California San Francisco and completed a residency in radiation oncology at Stanford University Medical Center.

“If you like biology and physics, radiology oncologist is a great job for you,” Dr. Wolden noted. Before launching into an overview of the role of radiation, she told the class that the majority of pediatric patients she treats go on “to live long lives.”

Next, after the speaker shared her screen, the students viewed an informative slideshow that illustrated the fundamentals of radiation. She discussed standard therapy as well as “fractionization,” which is the practice of giving a small dose every day for a set period of time.

To demonstrate these key concepts, Dr. Wolden focused on breast cancer, which has received “lots of well-deserved press” in recent years. She outlined risk factors including gender, age, environmental factors and family history, while emphasizing that pediatric patients who received radiation were at higher risk for developing breast and other cancers.

Dr. Wolden also introduced Ms. Hirsch’s students to a state-of-the-art treatment option, known as proton therapy, explaining that the brand-new New York Proton Center on East 126th Street is the only center of its kind in the state.

“It’s a very big deal,” she remarked, adding that proton therapy is a more targeted approach with fewer complications.

After her interesting and compassionate presentation, Dr. Wolden invited the students to tour the Proton Center with her when it’s safe to do so. “I hope I can see you all in person this year!” she said.

On October 8, infectious disease expert Dr. Maggie Bartlett, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Johns Hopkins University, joined a virtual meeting of Disease Detectives, a new FOCUS course taught by Science Teacher Dr. Iris Hood.

“I’m so excited to be here and to meet all of you,” remarked Dr. Bartlett during the especially timely talk. Smiling warmly from her digital box, she highlighted her specialty areas, which center on viruses and pathogens that affect humans.

Currently, Dr. Bartlett works in the laboratory of Dr. M. Diane E. Griffin at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where she is investigating alphaviruses and RNA viruses, including SARS-CoV2, which causes COVID-19.

In particular, Dr. Bartlett researches the immune systems of bats and sharks to further her understanding of Ebola, Marburg and Lloviu viruses as well as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). She earned her Ph.D. in Infectious Disease and Immunology from the University of Nebraska Medical Center, which was the site of the first national Ebola Center, established during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Dr. Bartlett kept her remarks brief, allowing plenty of time for the students to ask questions. “Raise your hands and unmute yourselves,” Dr. Hood reminded them as a sea of hands shot up.

“When did you know you wanted to study science?” one student wondered.

“As a kid, I had OCD [obsessive-compulsive disorder]. I washed my hands a lot,” Dr. Bartlett explained. “I came to science from a place of fear. I needed to learn how things worked so I wasn’t afraid anymore.”

“What is your favorite topic to study and why?” another asked.

“The bat immune system,” Dr. Bartlett answered enthusiastically, adding that bat immunology represents “an evolving field.” She told the class that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta maintains a secure bat colony for the purposes of research.

A third student inquired about the status of the Coronavirus vaccine: “What’s the timeline and how long will it take to distribute?” she asked.

“There are five vaccine candidates running trials at the moment,” Dr. Bartlett said, noting that front-line workers will be among the first to receive the vaccine. “This is a tremendous moment for science. We’ve never had a vaccine so fast.”

Dr. Bartlett concluded her engaging presentation by stressing the importance of community responsibility during the pandemic. “Protect yourself and other people by wearing a mask!”