Emily Monosson

Book Author and Environmental Toxicologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst

Emily Monosson is an independent toxicologist, writer, consultant, and college instructor with an M.S. and Ph.D. in biochemical toxicology from Cornell University. For over twenty years she has worked with a diversity of scientists on a range of toxicants from polychlorinated biphenyls to endocrine disrupting chemicals, contaminants in consumer products and nanomaterials. Her current interest is in the evolution of the toxic response and questions about how life’s evolutionary history has prepared humans, wildlife and other species to handle exposures to naturally occurring and synthetic chemicals.

Monosson has worked as an independent toxicologist, consulting for government, nonprofit and private industry. She also holds an adjunct faculty positions in the Department of Natural Resource and Conservation at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and as a visiting professor at Mount Holyoke College she has introduced students to toxicology through courses such as Toxic Water: life, literature and art; and Introduction to contaminants: writing for the environment. Much of her work involves reviewing and explaining current toxicological research to diverse audiences.

In 2008, Cornell University Press published Motherhood the Elephant in the Laboratory: women scientists speak out, a book project initiated and edited by Monosson as a result of her own experiences combining parenthood and science. Motherhood has continued to generate discussion and panels which have including contributors to the book and in 2010 was released in paperback. Monosson’s most recent book Evolution in a Toxic World: how life responds to chemical hazards, was published by Island Press in 2012, and reflects her most recent scientific passion – combining evolution and toxicology. Occasionally, she blogs at Evolution in a Toxic World (toxicevolution.wordpress.com).

She is also active in her local community, serving as a member of the district school board, and as a working board-member for the non-profit community newspaper, the Montague Reporter.

Motherhood and science: envisioning a different kind of pipeline?

Women in sciences are well aware of the papers and articles lamenting the “leaky academic pipeline”. However, while many of us who could be represented as “droplets” slipping through cracks of that pipeline may be lost from traditional academic careers, we are not lost from the sciences. There are many ways in which nontraditional track scientists continue to make meaningful contributions. And so this talk is not about which option is best – traditional or nontraditional career paths – because I believe both are necessary for a robust scientific community. It is about how we might support and recognize the contributions of who seek non-traditional paths. Some of us bring science to elementary and secondary school classrooms either directly through teaching, or by designing curriculum. Others translate complex science findings or ideas for the public through writing. Still others choose part time or shared positions in academia, or keep one foot in the door – working outside of the academy while maintaining a relationship. Comparing the importance of such diverse contributions to the broader scientific community is like comparing apples and oranges. Rather than pitting one career choice against another we ought to recognize the contributions of those who choose to pursue nontraditional routes in search of a suitable work-life balance while at the same time working to change the system from within, retaining greater numbers of those who seek balance within academia. Together we can build a more science-literate society.

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