Community//

Author Andrea Rothman: Why and How We Must Solve The ‘Leaky Pipeline’

Most women want to have children, and unfortunately the child-bearing years in a woman’s life usually coincide with a peak in career expectations and academic pressure to publish. Women are at a clear disadvantage here and that is why so many women end up leaving STEM jobs in the early stages of their career. This […]

Most women want to have children, and unfortunately the child-bearing years in a woman’s life usually coincide with a peak in career expectations and academic pressure to publish. Women are at a clear disadvantage here and that is why so many women end up leaving STEM jobs in the early stages of their career. This is called The Leaky Pipeline. The solution to this problem is a more generous maternity leave package and more reasonable expectations for women returning to work in STEM — particularly science research — after having children. Men don’t face this problem, or they face it to a lesser degree than women do.


As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrea Rothman.

Andrea Rothman was born in New York and raised in Caracas, Venezuela. Her debut novel THE DNA OF YOU AND ME was published by HarperCollins in March of 2019 and is coming soon to paperback. The novel has received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal, and was shortlisted for the 21st International Latino Book Awards in the category of most popular fiction in English. Prior to becoming a fiction writer, Rothman was a research scientist at the Rockefeller University in New York. She holds an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and was a fiction editor for the VCFA journal of the arts-Hunger Mountain. To learn more about Andrea Rothman visit her at www.andrearothman.com.


Thank you for joining us Andrea! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path in STEM?

I’ve always been curious about how things work, nature in particular, and aspects of nature that are not observable to the human eye. Take microbes for example, chromosomes, genes, the wiring systems in our brain that are responsible for thought and speech and emotions. These are all fascinating topics that drew me to biology from an early age.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you during your career in science?

One early morning I was headed to the lab where I was a student and there was an octopus crawling on the hallway floor. Yes, an octopus! He (or she) had escaped from a tank in the behavioral studies lab. Octopuses can’t survive for long outside of water. I knew its life was in danger, so I ran to the lab and got gloves and filled a bucket with water and gently lifted the octopus into the bucket and returned it to its tank. It lived there for many years and learned to perform many tricks. Octopuses are highly intelligent.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first started working with mice I was terrified. Literally. Specially the younger more daring mice. I had no idea that they could actually jump out of a cage, and they did. I left the lid open and several mice escaped from the cage and we had to set peanut butter traps on the floor. In retrospect this is funny, but at the time it felt like a tragedy. I said to myself: This can’t happen again….It did!

Are you working on any exciting new projects now?

My debut novel, which is a love story based on my experiences in science, was published last year in 2019, and will be out in paperback this year. It’s called The DNA of You and Me. There are two other novels I’m working on that I’m really excited about. One has to do with geology, and the other one with space travel.

Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

In the early stages of a career in STEM — especially a career in science research — there are usually as many women as men, but with time the ratio of women to men tends to decrease. This has to do with an number of factors, among which the child bearing years in a woman’s life are crucial. Today, fifteen years after I left science, most tenured heads of labs are still men, as opposed to women. In order to keep more women in science two things need to change: the policies for maternity leave and women in the lab with children, and the culture of science itself.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

Most women want to have children, and unfortunately the child-bearing years in a woman’s life usually coincide with a peak in career expectations and academic pressure to publish. Women are at a clear disadvantage here and that is why so many women end up leaving STEM jobs in the early stages of their career. This is called The Leaky Pipeline. The solution to this problem is a more generous maternity leave package and more reasonable expectations for women returning to work in STEM — particularly science research — after having children. Men don’t face this problem, or they face it to a lesser degree than women do.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM. Can you explain what you mean?

When it comes to pursuing a career in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math, women are just as capable as men. The idea that males have a biological edge in STEM disciplines has simply not been scientifically proven. On the contrary. It’s being disproven!

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

-Don’t be intimidated by seniority: experience does not equal creativity.

-Never take for granted what you know: the non-STEM person knows and understands very little about STEM. Your ability to communicate clearly and effectively with others will take you a long way.

-Be generous in sharing your findings: especially if you’re working in a research lab, collaboration is key.

-Be optimistic: just because an experiment doesn’t work like you thought it would, doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong track. Rather than give up on a problem, change your way of thinking about it.

-Be flexible: sometimes results will lead to new and unexpected conclusions about a problem and it’s important to have the willingness to redefine your path.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

We all need mentors in our lives, I know I did when I worked in science. Doing research in a lab can be particularly difficult and often discouraging. I had the good fortune of working alongside a person who was both smart and generous with his time, and also an amazing teacher. His name is Paul Feinstein, and he is a professor at Hunter College in New York.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Our planet is in chaos, quite literally. It’s not just global warming. It has to do also with the vast amounts of waste we generate, the plastics that will sit in the landfills for thousands of years and clog the breathing passages of marine animals and destroy our environment. The closest habitable planet outside of our solar system is light years away, so we better take care of this one. If I could inspire a movement that would benefit humanity, I would start by educating people — in particular children — about our environment and creating a sense of awareness and accountability for our actions.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

-C.S. Lewis

There’s a lot of wisdom in these words, when you think about it. Basically, it means don’t dwell on the past. Focus your energy on the present moment. For me, there came a point in my life, after I had children, in which I stopped regretting my decision to science and began to think of what science had given me and what I could do with it. That’s how I became a writer. Life is really about transformation.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

Yes, that person is Linda Buck, an American scientist who in 2004 shared the Nobel Prize with Richard Axel for the discovery of an immense family of odorant receptor genes. I would love to talk to her about her work in smell research (past and present) and what inspired her to become a scientist. I would also love to chat with her about my novel, The DNA of You and Me, where the main characters are scientists.

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

“Know your “why” and share it.” With Penny Bauder & Katica Roy

by Penny Bauder, Founder of Green Kid Crafts
Community//

“Learn every part of the business you can”, With Penny Bauder & Andrea Siudara

by Penny Bauder, Founder of Green Kid Crafts
Community//

“Let’s strive to inspire a ‘new normal’ for education where schools become hubs of innovation, incubators for entrepreneurism” with Penny Bauder & Kellie Lauth

by Penny Bauder, Founder of Green Kid Crafts

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.