ALD22: Professor Danielle N Lee, Behavioural Ecologist

Danielle N Lee

Professor Danielle N Lee

Danielle N Lee is a biologist whose research focuses on the connections between ecology, evolution and animal behaviour. From South Memphis, Tennessee, she earnt her bachelor’s from Tennessee Technological University in 1996, her master’s from the University of Memphis, and her PhD in biology from the University of Missouri-St Louis.

Lee’s research focuses on the extent to which the African giant pouched rat, Cricetomys ansorgei, exhibits behavioural syndromes, and the potential role of genetics in these behaviours. She has worked in Tanzania, collecting data on female rat biology, which is currently understudied. She also studies the behavioural differences between small rodents in urban and rural settings in the St Louis Metropolitan region.

Lee is also well known as a science communicator who specialises in outreach to the African American community and increasing the participation of under-served communities in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). She co-founded the National Science & Technology News Service, a “media literacy initiative to bring more science news to African-American audiences and promote science news source diversity in mainstream media”.

In 2009, she was honoured as a Diversity Scholar by the American Institute of Biological Sciences. In 2013 she was given the STEM Leader Award by the Kansas City Black Family Technology Awareness Association. She was one of EBONY Magazine’s Power 100 in 2014, a 2015 TED Fellow, and a White House Champion of Change in STEM Diversity and Access.

Further Reading

ALD22 Books: Holding The Knife’s Edge, Dr Thato Motlhalamme and Dr Evodia Setati

Holding The Knife’s Edge: Journeys of Black Female Scientists, Dr Thato Motlhalamme and Dr Evodia Setati

To be born in a developing country is like competing in a race with your arms tied behind your back. To be born a female is to compete with your arms tied behind your back and blindfolded. An African child faces many barriers to education, health and social welfare. Yet, despite all these hurdles, some children grow up to become industry leaders in fields that seemed beyond reach in their childhood.

Authors Dr Thato Motlhalamme and Dr Evodia Setati follow the journeys of 14 award-winning and pioneering black women in Science, from their childhoods and education to their arrival in the upper echelons of various organisations, achieved through innovation, academic excellence, social intelligence, authentic leadership and tenacity. The humble rural beginnings of some of these women did not limit intellectual growth, but rather stimulated creative, out-of-the-box thinking, which has served them well in their respective industries and businesses.

The remarkable stories in Holding the Knife’s Edge: Journeys of Black Female Scientists tell of a deep hunger for knowledge, a determination and commitment to succeed, and a work ethic that ensures success. 

About the Authors

Dr Thato Motlhalamme is a wine biotechnologist and passionate medical bioscientist. She obtained a degree in Complimentary Medicine and a master’s degree in Medical Biosciences from University of the Western Cape and a PhD in Wine Biotechnology from Stellenbosch University. She is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Grape and Wine Sciences and has previously worked in academia as a tutor and junior lecturer and in the retail space as a health consultant. She has a passion for science and inspiring young women to choose careers in science.

Dr Evodia Setati is a microbiologist and professional coach. She is the recipient of the 2018 Distinguished Woman Scientist award (Engineering and Natural Sciences) from the Department of Science and Innovation. She obtained a BSc Hons degree from University of Limpopo, a PhD in Microbiology and a MPhil in Management Coaching from Stellenbosch University. She is a chief researcher in Grape and Wine Sciences. Evodia mentors early career academics and young scientists.  

You can follow their work here:

Twitter: @holdingtheknife
Instagram: @holdingtheknifesedge

ALD22: Mary Eliza Mahoney, Licensed Nurse

Mary Eliza Mahoney

Mary Eliza Mahoney

Mary Eliza Mahoney was the first African American woman to become a licensed nurse and to work professionally as a nurse in the USA.

Born in 1845 in Massachusetts, Mahoney’s interest in nursing began at school, where alongside traditional subjects she was taught about morality and humanity, and her interest was intensified by the increase in nurses during the American Civil War.

She began working as a maid, cook and nurse’s assistant at the New England Hospital for Women and Children, which employed only female doctors. After working there for 15 years, and at the age of 33, Mahoney enrolled in the hospital’s nursing course, which covered medical, obstetric, surgical and paediatric services.

The criteria for admittance was strict, and the course extremely rigorous, with lectures and lessons from doctors, bedside training, working in wards and placements at other sites such as private family homes. She was also working as a private-duty nurse to top up her meagre wages. Mahoney was one of only three women to successfully complete the training and graduate from her class of 42 women and the only African American woman to do so.

She began her career after graduation as a private care nurse working for rich white families, particularly new mothers and their children. Initially, many families treated her as akin to a household servant, but as she gained a reputation for efficiency and professionalism, she began to receive requests from patients in a number of states.

Mahoney wanted to improve nursing for other women of colour like herself and change how patients thought of nurses from her background. Mahoney joined the Nurses Associated Alumnae of the United States and Canada (NAAUSC), but discovered that they weren’t welcoming to African American women. This prompted her to start a new organisation, and in 1908, she co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN). Although the organisation launched with only 26 nurses, she felt it was important to challenge the inequality of nursing education.

In her later career, Mahoney became the director of the Howard Colored Orphan Asylum, which was one of the few institutions run by African Americans. After she retired, she maintained her activist spirit, supporting women’s equality and suffrage, and demonstrating in the civil rights protests.

She died in 1926, aged 81.

The NACGN honoured her legacy by creating the Mary Mahoney Award in 1936, which continues today under the American Nurses Association, and is awarded to nurses who strive for equality in nursing. Mahoney was also the influence of the Mary Mahoney Professional Nurses Organization, started in 1949 by Anne Foy Baker for African heritage nurses.

Further Reading

ALD22: Professor Rita Levi Montalcini, Neurobiologist

Professor Rita Levi-Montalcini

Rita Levi-Montalcini was a neurobiologist who discovered nerve growth factor in collaboration with her colleague, Stanley Cohen. They were both awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1986, and Levi-Montalcini became only the fourth woman to be awarded the prize.

Levi-Montalcini was born in Turin in 1909. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Turin Medical School in 1936, staying there to investigate the development of the nervous system. But she lost her job just two years later when Mussolini banned Jews from academic and professional careers.

Unable to officially work, she began buying fertilised eggs and studying chicken embryos in a laboratory that she set up in her bedroom, working in “primitive conditions”. She focused on understanding how nerve fibres grow in the embryos’ wings using microsurgical instruments she made herself from tools such as sewing needles and watchmakers’ tweezers. As the Guardian reported in her obituary, “many of the experiments could be eaten when they were finished.”

In 1943, she and her family fled to Florence, where they were protected from the Nazis by non-Jewish friends. After the war, they returned to Turin and in 1946, she moved to the US to take up a short term position at Washington University in St Louis, in Missouri. She successfully duplicated the experiments she’d done in her bedroom, and was offered a research associate position. She stayed at the university for 30 years.

In 1952, Levi-Montalcini grafted mouse tumour tissue onto chick embryos, and discovered that the cancerous tissues caused the rapid growth of nerve fibres. Somehow the tumour was encouraging nerve fibres to grow. She isolated a protein that she called nerve growth factor (NGF) from these cancerous tissues. This was painstaking and difficult work, but its importance to embryology and oncology was clear.

She became a professor in 1958 and four years later established a second lab in Rome, splitting her time between Italy and the USA. She became the director of the Research Centre of Neurobiology of the CNR (Rome), and then became director at the Laboratory of Cellular Biology of the Italian National Council of Research. In 2001 she became an Italian senatore a vita, or senator for life, able to sit in the Italian upper house of parliament. In 2002, she founded and later became president of the European Brain Research Institute.

She died in 2012, aged 103.

Further Reading

ALD22 Books: Sway, Professor Pragya Agarwal

Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias, Professor Pragya Agarwal

For the first time, behavioural and data scientist, activist and writer Professor Pragya Agarwal unravels the way our implicit or ‘unintentional’ biases affect the way we communicate and perceive the world, how they affect our decision-making, and how they reinforce and perpetuate systemic and structural inequalities.

Sway is a thoroughly researched and comprehensive look at unconscious bias and how it impacts day-to-day life, from job interviews to romantic relationships to saving for retirement. It covers a huge number of sensitive topics – sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, colourism – with tact, and combines statistics with stories to paint a fuller picture and enhance understanding. Throughout, Agarwal clearly delineates theories with a solid grounding in science, answering questions such as: do our roots for prejudice lie in our evolutionary past? What happens in our brains when we are biased? How has bias affected technology? If we don’t know about it, are we really responsible for it?

At a time when partisan political ideologies are taking centre stage, and we struggle to make sense of who we are and who we want to be, it is crucial that we understand why we act the way we do. This book will enables us to open our eyes to our own biases in a scientific and non-judgmental way.

Order the book on here and your purchase will support a local independent bookshop of your choice!

About the Author

Professor Pragya Agarwal is a behavioural scientist, with expertise in cognition, HCI and User-centred Design, focused especially on diversity and inclusivity. She was a senior academic for over 12 years at universities in the UK and USA, and held the prestigious Leverhulme Fellowship, following a PhD from the University of Nottingham. Agarwal has published numerous scientific articles and books, some of which are on the reading list for leading courses around the world.

As a freelance writer, she regularly writes thought pieces on racial and gender bias for The Guardian, Times Higher Education, The Independent, and various other publications. Agarwal is a two-time TEDx speaker, and has been invited to give keynote talks and workshops around the world, appearing on several international podcasts, radio and television channels, such as BBC Woman’s Hour, BBC Breakfast, and Radio 5 Live. Her next book Hysterical: Exploding the Myth of Gendered Emotions is out later this year.

You can follow her work here:

Twitter: @DrPragyaAgarwal
Instagram: @drpragyaagarwal