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[Interview] Jill Weimer on the Joys and Challenges of Being a Woman in Research

Mar 27, 2019 09:00AM ● By Alyssa McGinnis

Jill Weimer, PhD, Sanford’s Senior Director of Therapeutic Development, was the first person hired when the organization began building its pediatric research program in 2009. Today, the Weimer Lab, which focuses on rare pediatric diseases, is one of about a dozen Sanford labs being run by women. Dr. Weimer spoke with MED about the joys and unique challenges of being a female researcher.

MED: How did you first get involved in research?

JW: I had an absolutely phenomenal high school science teacher in the little Missouri town where I grew up. He was a certified scuba instructor who trained us and drove us to the Gulf of Mexico. My senior project was focused on how deep sea diving could affect eye development, using a frog model. We built hyperbaric chambers in our classroom. So I was passionate about basic biomedical research very early on.

MED: What do you think attracts women to research and what special qualities do they bring?

JW: Women are naturally inquisitive and many of us like the idea of using our passions and interests to answer questions that can help people. Our natural compassion can be a real motivator. But it can also make it difficult. You have to be able to rein in your emotions enough to focus and make critical, scientifically-based decisions. I have to make sure I take time to process and channel my emotions and not be dismissive. I don’t want to become outwardly aggressive with colleagues. As females, this is something we have to guard against.

MED: What message do you have for younger female researchers?

JW: Two things. First, there are a lot of support programs and resources out there. At Sanford, we started an organization called Graduate Women in Science in 2010. There is also a Medical Women in Science. NIH even has programs. These are great tools for women at all stages of their careers. Second, there is no one right path. You have to decide what is right for you, whether that means having kids right after postdoc or waiting until mid-career. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re doing it wrong.