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Women In Biomedical Careers

Women Scientist Profiles

Donna Vogel, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Donna Vogel

Dr. Donna L. Vogel dedicated 25 years of service to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) beginning with conducting research on reproductive medicine to becoming the first Director of the Fellowship Office at National Cancer Institute (NCI). Although she is currently retired, Dr. Vogel continues to volunteer for numerous organizations and mentor young, enthusiastic scientists.

Dr. Vogel is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College, and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. In 1980 she came to NIH as a clinical fellow and postdoctoral researcher, conducting clinical and basic research relating to infertility and reproductive medicine. Her research trajectory was quite diverse- from studying the differentiation of neurons in the Mexican axolotl to studying spermatogenesis in neonatal rats to combined basic research on pituitary gonadotropin biosynthesis and clinical research on male infertility. She moved to the NIH extramural program in 1987 to manage the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Reproductive Medicine grant portfolio. Dr. Vogel is also a four-day Jeopardy! winner and 2009 Tournament of Champions semifinalist.

How has mentorship (either as a mentor or mentee) shaped your career?

Over the last few decades, I have thought, spoken, and written a fair amount about mentoring; to me, it’s providing the mentee every opportunity to develop as an independent professional. After a while it stops being about you, and it becomes about helping other people launch their career. I used to think that switch came with maturity, but not anymore. Everyone at some point has used something he or she knows to help another person move forward. That can be a touchstone for every mentoring interaction that follows, and it’s a source of tremendous satisfaction.

What do you enjoy about being a scientist?

I love having cultivated a critical, analytical worldview. Healthy skepticism can serve you very well in many areas of life. I also love the collaborative culture that gives rise to the “aha” moment. Innovation comes from looking at a new-to-you question in a different way, and that a means a fresh set of eyes.

What are the barriers to women in science?

One of the biggest barriers to success for scientists of any gender is the cost and difficulty of finding reliable dependent care. This causes a slowdown that just snowballs into problems in authorship, hiring, promotion, and tenure. Support for childcare during travel to conferences is a beginning.

Name some of the highlights of your career.

I am very proud that programs I helped build are still making a difference. Some were career development grant programs, such as the NICHD Women’s Reproductive Health Research Program (WRHR) and the Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH) Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women’s Health (BIRCWH). At NCI, I started a fellowship for women postdocs, now a mentoring program, and the Outstanding Mentor Award. At Hopkins, we developed a number of courses and workshops that I feel really positive about, particularly our “Research Leadership” course for postdocs.

What do you do outside the lab/clinic?

Most of my career has been away from the bench, in management and education. I haven’t done an experiment or treated a patient since 1987, and like to represent as a model for the many ways one can be a success in science. Since retiring from full-time employment, everything I do is outside the traditional workplace; giving advice, talks and workshops. I volunteer with a number of organizations - some a lot like work, some nothing like work. I’m the DC-area Career Development Representative for my alma mater, Bryn Mawr College, participate in events with Association for Women in Science (AWIS), record digital textbooks at Learning Ally for students with visual and learning disabilities, and am involved in a number of projects at my synagogue. I’m getting more sleep and more exercise. And oh yes, there was the Jeopardy! thing. Some people still remember me for that.

How do you manage work/life integration? Do you have tips for young scientists about this?

It’s never easy. I am fortunate that my husband is a scientist and our sons, when they were little, went to the NIH infant care and preschool. My advice is, 1) choose your spouse or partner carefully - either another scientist, or someone who understands the lifestyle: the late nights, weekends, travel. Someone who will take at least his/her share of household and family responsibilities. 2) Even if you followed advice #1, if you have children, do whatever it takes to get quality childcare. Not having anxiety about who’s watching your kid allows you to be productive.

Why is it important to support and encourage the next generation of female scientists?

The federal government was actually way out ahead on this. Years ago, they said - and implemented - the dictum that if you do not have a diverse workforce, you are simply cutting yourself off from a big pool of top talent.

If you weren’t a scientist, what other job would you have? Why?

I would be a stage actor. I love an audience.

This page last updated: August 9, 2018

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