WIB-Capital Region: Member Spotlight with Julie (Wu) Rosen, Ph.D.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Tell us about your background (both educational and professional).

I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM), and I serve as one of two Executive Directors for UMSOM Dean E. Albert Reece. In this role, I support all of Dean Reece’s projects relating to science and medicine and have co-led two large scientific meetings on behalf of the Dean. From 2013-2018, I co-directed the University of Maryland School of Medicine science communications internship program. In 2019 I accepted a position as the program administrator for the University of Maryland Medical Center’s Diabetes in Pregnancy Clinical Program, and this year I was appointed to the editorial board of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology as its inaugural Assistant Editor. 
I began my career at a biotechnology start-up company where I initiated a project to eradicate methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus biofilms from medical implants. I went on to earn my Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology, with a specific focus in the field of reproductive immunology. Prior to joining the UMSOM, I worked in the communications office at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. 

What are your top three tips for women who are just starting their careers?

Don’t be afraid to go after something that you might not feel 100% qualified for. I essentially had no science writing experience but got a job as a technical writer within six months of earning my Ph.D. because I wasn’t afraid to apply for those jobs. I had very little administrative experience but am now part of the administrative leadership team in my current role because I wasn’t afraid to jump into that role. 

Concurrently, don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself. I’ve successfully negotiated for two major promotions because I didn’t hesitate to ask. Know your value. Feel confident that you play an integral role within your organization. And then ask to be compensated accordingly. This doesn’t necessarily mean a pay raise or organizational promotion. When I was pregnant, I asked for extended maternity leave and received it. That was huge. 

Finally, identify good mentors. If that turns out to be your direct supervisor, even better. But recognize that a mentor can be anyone, even someone whose position might be lateral to your own, or who might be completely outside your field or organization. And recognize that a good mentor isn’t just going to be there to tell you that you’re doing a good job. A good mentor is going to reveal your weaknesses and help you find ways to overcome those. 

What are some of the biggest challenges women still face in the life sciences?

Despite increased diversity, the life sciences are still dominated by men at the highest levels in organizations—be they industry, academia, or government. The business of science, such as the tenure clock, the grant funding cycle, the promotion considerations, are all built around this perspective. The tenure clock doesn’t stop because you have a baby but as a mother, you need to have a little recovery time after birthing a human. 

Parallel to that, I have observed that some women leaders are not as magnanimous as they could be when it comes to supporting the advancement of their junior female colleagues. Perhaps it’s because of the struggles of achieving as a woman in a (traditionally) man’s world. Or, perhaps it’s because there’s an unspoken sense that there are only a few available positions for women at the top. I don’t have specific studies to cite to support these hypotheses, but I’ve certainly observed successful women who, somewhat passive-aggressively, block opportunities for junior female colleagues out of (maybe) a sense of tenuousness of their own positions of prestige. 

Tell us how you got involved with Women In Bio, what you do for the organization, and what being a part of WIB means to you. 

I started attending the WIB meet-up groups in Baltimore just after I began working at the School of Medicine. After about a year or so of attending, I was asked to lead some of the discussions during the time Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In book was popular. Also, I have been invited to serve on a panel discussion about the push-pull of having a family and working full-time. 

WIB is a fantastic resource, and I’m always telling a new colleague or friend about the group and encouraging them to join. I’ve invited a number of people to the Baltimore WIB meet-up groups, and I’m delighted that there are events in Baltimore, as driving down to Montgomery County or DC on a weekday is a non-starter for me at this point in time. 

I’ve met some amazing women through my involvement with WIB, and it feels great to be part of an organization focused on the unique needs of women professionals in the life sciences. Sometimes, I think society’s focus on equality for women and men in the workplace is a bit misplaced. We really need to focus on equity for women professionals, and I believe that WIB raises awareness of this distinction and need. And I love the fact that WIB encourages the support of other women and the celebration of women’s successes. Again, I think we can easily fall into the trap of viewing a successful woman as our competitor, rather than as a collaborator or even a mentor. WIB shows that there’s plenty of “room at the table” for all, and we should help each other get there. 

What is the most exciting and personally fulfilling part of your work right now?
One of the initiatives I proposed after joining the School of Medicine was starting an internship in science communications for graduate students and postdocs. I co-directed the program from 2013-2018 and, in this last year, decided to turn the internship into a for-credit course. I’m working on developing a syllabus for it now and plan to launch in Fall 2020. 

What is the best leadership advice you ever received and from whom?

The best leadership advice I’ve received is to not be afraid to ask for help. There are many things I don’t know, and there are many things I don’t even know that I don’t know. But, when you work in a rich environment, there will be people who do have strengths in those areas. Don’t be afraid to tap into that expertise. If someone can teach you (and if you have time to learn), then great. You’re not going to be an expert in everything, nor should you think you could be. Identify your go-to colleagues and build that collaboration because someday you might be the expert they turn to. 

What does success mean to you?

Career-wise, success is sort of a moving target for me and is really tied to the projects I’m working on right now. Success would be to get those done without feeling overly stressed or pulling a bunch of 18-hour days to do so. I’d like the course I’m going to launch to be well-received by the students, but I also really can’t wait to learn from them. Success for that will be that everyone gets something out of the process and has a lot of fun along the way.

On the personal side, success is leaving work on time, making a hot dinner from scratch for everyone, getting my kids to go to bed by 9:00 p.m., and staying awake long enough to have one substantive conversation with my husband. 

How did you find the career path that you are on right now?

Happy accident and serendipity. I started out thinking I’d be a creative writer. Then I thought I’d be a research scientist. Then I thought I’d be a science writer. Now, I’m kind of a science/academic administrator, science/medical editor, meeting planner, and, soon, teacher. None of those things were what I’d envisioned for myself when I entered college. But I’ve paused along the way, used challenges and setbacks as opportunities to take an inventory on what I wanted to do, and then done my homework to figure out what steps I needed to take to achieve those goals. I’ve taken risks but haven’t made rash decisions—these have always been calculated risks with pros and cons weighed and debated. And, I’ve also always taken the perspective that, even if I’m told a “no,” I’d be okay with that too…at least for a little while. 

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