Women in Immunology

CSOW: Focusing on the Careers of Women in Immunology

by John S. Emrich and Courtney Pinard
March 2017

While women have been members of AAI since its founding (Amelia Gates, M.D., and Myrtle Smith, M.D., were charter members in 1913), they represented less than 10 percent of membership until 1958. There wasn’t an official group that focused on supporting women immunologists, and addressing career issues unique to them, in the association’s first 57 years. In 1970, the AAI Council approved the formation of a five-member Committee on Women’s Status. The first committee was chaired by Helene C. Rauch, M.D., Stanford University (AAI ’67), and included two other women, Justine S. Garvey, Ph.D., California Institute of Technology (AAI ’56) and G. Jeanette Thorbecke, M.D., Ph.D., New York University School of Medicine (AAI ’61, president 1989–90).

In 1974, the committee grew to eight members to become the Committee on the Status of Women and Minority Groups. In 1976, the committee was comprised entirely of women. In 1978, this committee split in two, becoming the Minority Affairs Committee (MAC) and CSOW. The mission of the CSOW was to enhance career opportunities and advance the involvement and recognition of women immunologists within the scientific community.

In 1992, the CSOW created a forum for discussion about the challenges of being a woman in science by sponsoring its first symposium at the AAI annual meeting held in Anaheim, CA. This “How Far Can Women Succeed in Science?” symposium featured three scientists:

  • Susan Leeman, Ph.D., professor, Boston University School of Medicine, Thoughts Concerning Women in Science
  • Florence P. Haseltine, M.D., Ph.D., director of population research, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, NIH, Paying Attention to the Unwritten Rules
  • Phyllis Moen, Ph.D., professor of human development/ family studies and sociology, Cornell University, Women as a Human Resource in Science

In addition to the committee’s interest in career development for women in science, the CSOW has promoted scientific discussion about diseases affecting women. At the 1993 annual meeting in Denver, CO, the CSOW hosted United States Surgeon General M. Jocelyn Elders, M.D, for a keynote lecture on women’s health issues. Elders’ keynote was followed by a symposium entitled “Modern Women, Modern Plagues: Looking Towards the 21st Century,” which featured scientific talks of “three diseases of particular importance to women,” identified as systemic lupus erythematosus, heterosexual AIDS, and breast cancer.

The CSOW also highlighted these issues, as well as accomplishments of women immunologists, through a semi-regular feature in the AAI Newsletter, “XX-IMMUNONOTES- XX.” This feature, which premiered in the September 1993 issue and continued until 2003, sought to “inform all scientists in our organization about the contributions and activities of female Immunologists.”

In 2001, the CSOW conducted a survey examining the percentage of women faculty members within immunology departments or women in immunology graduate programs across 27 institutions in the United States, comparing it to the percentage of women receiving a Ph.D. The committee found that, although 48.1% of immunology graduate students in 2001 were women, they accounted for just 21.4% of immunology faculty members. The CSOW published these findings in the August 2001 AAI Newsletter. A follow-up survey (reprinted on pages 30–33) was conducted in 2016 by the current committee to examine changes in gender equity over the last 15 years across these same 27 immunology departments and programs. In brief, in 2016, the percentage of women in immunology faculty positions at these institutions had risen to 29.1% while the representation of women among immunology graduate students held relatively steady at 50.5%.

At IMMUNOLOGY 2003™ in Denver, CO, the CSOW hosted a “Careers Lunch,” to “provide an opportunity for aspiring scientists to meet in small groups with leading scientists from academia, industry, and government, to discuss career-related topics.” The “Careers Lunch” evolved into a co-hosted (with the AAI Education Committee) “Careers in Science Roundtable”, and has been a popular activity at the meeting ever since. This unique career session features a “table leader” expert in a certain topic who answers questions and discusses their topic with up to 8 table participants. Open to graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and junior faculty, this annual event draws many early-career scientists who are interested in speaking with more experienced scientists on topics related to the work environment (academic research, biotech industry, governmental agencies, non-profits), the transitions from specific career stages, issues in balancing career and family in any career path, and more.

Among its most recent career-development services, in 2013, the CSOW established the Career Advisory Board, which provides early-career scientists and senior postdoctoral fellows an opportunity to obtain guidance from more senior PIs having insight and experience with specific issues. An online matching process will link the requester with an experienced scientist. Topics include recruiting, grant writing, building networks, balancing family and work, and more. The committee also works to enhance opportunities for women to be selected as speakers and/or chairs at professional meetings and seminar series, or to serve as reviewers, editors, board members, consultants, or in other professional capacities. The CSOW has compiled a Women AAI Member Speaker list of AAI women members who work in immunological research or fulfill leadership roles in non-research careers related to the field.

These CSOW activities have helped to enhance the recognition of women scientists through symposia and presentations, career advice, and surveys assessing the status of women in the field.



  • AAI Committee on the Status of Women, “XX-IMMUNO-NOTES-XX: Women in Graduate School vs. the Faculty Ranks,” AAI Newsletter. August 2001.
  • Hosken, Nancy. “XX-IMMUNO-NOTES-XX,” AAI Newsletter, October-November 2002.
  • Shapiro, Virginia Smith et al. “Update on Gender Equity in Immunology, 2001 to 2016,” The Journal of Immunology 197, no. 10 (2016).
  • “Highlights of the 1992 AAI Special Symposium: How Far Can Women Succeed in Science?” AAI Newsletter. Summer 1992.
  • “XX-IMMUNO-NOTES-XX: Introduction.” AAI Newsletter. September 1993.

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