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Laura M Hoopes

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Breaking Through the Spiral Ceiling:American Woman Becomes DNA Scientist
by Laura M Hoopes   

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Publisher:  Lulu Publishing ISBN-10:  0557923204 Type: 


Copyright:  December, 2010 ISBN-13:  9780557923204

Laura L Mays Hoopes

Laura is enticed into science in Woods Hole, continues at Goucher College and Yale, postdocs, and finally is hired at Occidental College. There she raises her son while she learns to teach and do research on aging with her undergraduate students. She faces down bias encountered along the way, and chooses to emphasize opportunities that allow family-career balance.

 In Breaking Through the Spiral Ceiling, Laura first finds marine ecology in Woods Hole on Cape Cod to be enticing.  She is denied an opportunity to cruise on the Atlantis because of her gender, and meanwhile the lectures on DNA lure her into molecular biology.  She pursued that field at Goucher, then a women's college, and at Yale University.  She takes up a postdoctoral fellowship at Scripps Clinic in La Jolla, CA and there meets and marries Richard Mays.  When he moves to Denver, CO, Laura follows him and there her son Lyle is born.  Meanwhile, Laura looks for an academic position and Richard plans to go to law school.  They move to Los Angeles where Laura becomes Assistant Professor at Occidental College.

Laura enjoys early days of setting up her NIH-funded research laboratory and working with her students.  Before Richard completes law school, he dies suddenly of a heart attack in the middle of the night.  Laura and Lyle have a hard time, but struggle through.  After four years, Laura goes to Baltimore to the Gerontology Research Center for sabbatical leave and meets Mike Hoopes.  He builds a relationship with Lyle, and Laura and Mike marry and move to California.  Mike gives up a civil service position to move.  

Laura rises through the ranks at Occidental, discovering a role in the rising movement for undergraduate research, and facilitating Occidental's high school outreach program, TOPS.  Then she is hired as academic vice president and tenured biology professor at Pomona College, after 20 years at Occidental.  

Laura reflects on the role of chance and choice in making her career, and finds she is glad not to be a Harvard professor, although she once would have thought that was a worthy goal.  She reflects on the status and role of women as scientists in the US in the last chapter. 

Chapter 1. Closed Door, Opened Door in Woods Hole

In Woods Hole, Massachusetts, I made a commitment to science that carried me though the rest of my career. Recently I read Linda Lear’s biography of Rachel Carson, and was delighted to see Carson had been attracted to science by Woods Hole too. For the summer after my freshman year at Goucher College, I applied to study Marine Ecology at Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole. My Goucher “big sister” gave me the MBL brochure. The picture on the cover glowed with weather-beaten grey clapboard buildings against a dark blue sea. I had never seen water that color; it immediately appealed to me. The Goucher Biological Sciences department wanted to send junior and senior majors, not rising sophomores with no declared major. But I was the sole applicant that year, so they sent me. ... About a week before the cruise, I walked down to WHOI to ask my project supervisor what I should be doing to get ready for the trip. He said, “Oh, I’m sorry, you can’t go.” “Why?” “The working sailors know that women on ships are bad luck, so they refuse to sail if women are on board.” I flinched, then turned and ran out of WHOI. Bad luck? How unscientific. He had let down the honor of science, which claims that everything you believe must be proved. How could these scientists let the sailors get away with it? I ran back to my dorm, sat on my bed with my fists clenched and cried, grieving for my impossible future in biological oceanography. Then came anger, because I couldn’t see why he accepted the word of sailors about ‘luck,” unless he too thought it better to leave the women at home. Hadn’t I produced wonderful data from my project, data that he had found interesting? Why wasn’t I worthy to go?

Professional Reviews

A Life in Science
"...a book highlighting her remarkable path in science over the past 50 yr. In this fascinating memoir, you will find the story of a woman in science, drawn with wonder into the biosciences, specifically the study of DNA and aging. ...She tried to "have it all," refusing to choose career over a healthy personal life, and writes openly about the challenges associated with such a decision," from Cell Biology Education--Life Sciences Education (Jay Brewster) "A Life in Science," vol 10, pp237-8 (2011).

Women on the Verge of a Glass-Ceiling Breakdown
"The author reflects on how her early excitement about science was often quashed by arbitrary rules and outright discrimination... a selection in the book that resonates with the description of how Hoopes was torn by conflicting responsibilities--to a sick child and to the students in her class. In short, this book is... the telling of personal and professional struggles and successes that women readers, old and young, will find poignant." (BioScience (Anne Rosenwald), October, 2011 "Women on the Verge of a Glass-ceiling Breakdown.")

Breaking Through the Spiral Ceiling
"Hoopes sets out to determine how and why she did not become one of the "missing female science professors at Harvard," (p V) and instead finds that she has written a memoir of a woman coming of age in the late 1950s and experiencing the molecular biology revolution first-hand at all levels of her scientific career....Interwoven with the scientific and educational training is a narrative about marriage and family and her studies of gerontology and the larger scientific questions in that field," from Journal of the History of Biology (Kyle McLea) vol 45, pp 357-360 (2012).

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