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By Megan Cooley

Megan CooleyRecently there has been significant attention cast on Tim Hunt, a Nobel scientist from the United Kingdom who commented on the need for segregated labs on the basis of gender. This was based on his perception that female scientists cause issues for males by doing at least one of the following three things: 1) falling in love with males, 2) males falling in love with them, and 3) crying when criticized. In a more recent article in the New York Times in which women responded to the comments by the Nobel scientist, a little clarity was shed on the situation that sparked such significant backlash. In the article, Hunt was quoted from a recent interview with the BBC as saying his comments were “interpreted deadly seriously by his audience.” So maybe there was some sarcasm in his comments, but as a female scientist, my response is, nice try.

When I first saw this headline break on my Facebook feed, I had to read it twice. Segregated labs based on sex? Are we, as highly educated people, incapable of maintaining professionalism in the work place? I would like to think this would not even be an issue in our present day and time. With that being said, when I sat down to write this post, I had the complete intention to write it from the “I am woman hear me roar” perspective. After all, women have been constantly struggling with equality in the workplace, which a recent article from the Huffington Post confirmed is still an issue. And recently in the Boston Globe, a female university president opines on the progress made and yet to be made.

When I discussed the initial report with several of my female colleagues, the general consensus was not so much disgust with the emotional put downs (we more or less just mocked him for that), but there was a general resentment toward wanting to segregate women and men in the workplace. That is really what is offensive. Back in the early to mid-1990s, elementary and junior high schools toyed with the idea of segregating classrooms based on sex. The idea was that girls and boys are distracted by one another and if separated they would be able to focus better on the lecture and subsequently test scores would improve and kittens and rainbows would magically appear and the world would be wonderful. Forgive the sarcasm. Maybe there was some rational thought to this. After all, the adolescent years are fraught with a rollercoaster of emotions and hormones. But those are teenagers; we are supposed to be adults! Grow up, learn to communicate in a professional manner, and leave your hormones outside the lab! Segregating women and men into different labs might actually hurt the flow of knowledge or thoughts that come when lab mates are working on the bench together.

For all of my fellow female scientists out there, I have thoroughly enjoyed all of the #distractinglysexy tweets! We have come a long way in the scientific community and things are continually improving. There are a few people who may share Hunt’s views, but they are becoming fewer. We continue to be impactful and professional in our fields of study. Now forgive me while I go cozy up to the mass spectrometer down the hall!

Megan Cooley, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Kansas Medical Center. Her research is focused on understanding the effects of the tumor microenvironment on acquired chemoresistance and metastasis.