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10 What Role (Positive and/or Negative) Did Being a Woman Play in Your Career?

10 What Role (Positive and/or Negative) Did Being a Woman Play in Your Career?

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N.R. Schooler

What Would You Do Differently if You Were

to Start Your Career Now?

I would get a medical degree. On-the-job learning is great, and we all require it

since the basic education is truly the starting point. However, being a psychologist

in psychiatry is a continuing challenge. Although I study medications, I have never

prescribed one and have never been able to take responsibility for a patient’s

treatment. I can only advise clinical colleagues based on my research, my reading of

others’ research, or the experiences of those I trust. A medical degree would have

been a sounder platform on which to build the career trajectory that I have followed.


What Advice Would You Give to a Young Woman

Starting Her Career Now?

Read this book! I have three adolescent granddaughters and I plan to give them all

copies. I suspect that the chapters will have valuable perspectives even though they

are not apparently interested in a career in psychiatry. A woman today has some

significant advantages in that there are more role models to follow. Young women I

meet are less timid and more self-confident than I was. There is a concern within the

field to insure that women have appropriate opportunities. For example, in earlier

times, there were nepotism rules at universities that limited opportunities of women

married to men in the same field. However, women still face the challenge of

balancing work and family responsibilities, and “time-outs” for childbearing and

rearing may be allowed but taking them has risks of losing currency in an

ever-faster-moving world. My best advice to a young woman today would be to

follow your heart and your head in choosing a path that will be rewarding. Recognize that there are chance elements and events that may be as or more significant

as your plans and choices in determining how life and work play out. My closing

words would be good luck.

Patricia Suppes

Trisha Suppes



Dr. Trisha Suppes

T. Suppes (&)

Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University,

3801 Miranda Ave. (ISI) T, Palo Alto, CA 94304, USA

e-mail: tsuppes@stanford.edu

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

S. Frangou (ed.), Women in Academic Psychiatry,

DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-32177-6_14



T. Suppes

Dr. Trisha Suppes is Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford

University School of Medicine and the Director of the Bipolar Disorders Research

Program at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System in California, USA. She had an

instrumental role in the development of guidelines for the treatment of bipolar

disorder through her contribution to the Work Group for the Practice Guidelines for

Bipolar Disorder of the American Psychiatric Association and the Texas Medication Algorithm Project. She also contributed to the formulation of current diagnostic

criteria for this disorder included in the 5th revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical

Manual for Mental Disorders.


What Was Your Earliest Ambition?

For me, it was always about “my vision.” I never actually thought about it in terms of

ambition. My first vision of my work was also my first ambition. Surprisingly, it

happened while I was an undergraduate student at Stanford. So while I seemed to

have a lot of drive because I stayed in school for extensive training after college, for

me it was always about my vision. What is perhaps even more surprising is that my

earliest idea of what I wanted to do is pretty much exactly what I’m doing now! This

early idea was in fact to study how the brain worked and apply it to human conditions

of illness, especially focused on brain or mental illnesses. While I did briefly consider

neurology at one point, my more fundamental interest has always been on consciousness and alterations of perceptions of reality. These are central questions in the

area I’ve ended up working in, which is research into bipolar and depressive disorders. I think I might quite justifiably be accused of having a single-minded focus.


What Attracted Me to Psychiatry?

Given my interest in understanding the brain as it relates to our experience as

human beings, I do not think there was anywhere else to go. Before attending

medical school, I did go to graduate school to obtain a Ph.D., doing research in

electrophysiology on single cells in tissue culture. I think my drive to do electrophysiology was based on wanting to understand how the brain works at a fundamental level. When I was about two years from finishing my degree, I came to the

conclusion that the pure neurosciences of the 1970s and early 1980s were not going

to get me into the human experience, which was the arena of research I was most

interested in.


Patricia Suppes



What Do You Enjoy Most in Your Job Now?

I feel very lucky to have the breadth of choice and opportunity to work in my

chosen area of research, which is the understanding of the neuroscience mood

disorders and identifying the best treatment approaches for patients suffering from

mood problems. What I particularly enjoy is collaborating on new ideas and the

give-and-take of working with others to pursue new research questions. I find that

progress in neuroscience is opening up a new era of understanding of the brain

relative to different states, such as mania or depression. The possibility of looking at

the neuroscientific basis of our patients’ experience is very exciting to me. Through

this process, I hope we may not only understand these conditions better, but also

more accurately diagnose and provide targeted treatment. Another major area of

interest that also gives me great enjoyment is supporting young people and informally mentoring women in academic research settings.


Who Do You Consider Your Mentors

to Be in Your Career?

I feel very lucky with the mentorship I’ve received throughout my career. It is very

important, I believe, to have good mentorship and support especially during the

early phases of one’s career. To begin with, however, it was each of my parents

who set the stage for my pursuit of an academic career. My father, a professor at

Stanford, infused me with the idea that “the sky was the limit” for what I could do.

My mother inspired and encouraged me with her strong support for women pursuing careers and competing at the same level as men.

During my undergraduate work at Stanford, Donald Kennedy, who was a

biology professor at the time, gave me the opportunity to work in his laboratory.

While I was not able to do the electrophysiology I was interested in, I received a lot

of support and had the opportunity to carry out a detailed project in anatomy

showing, for the first time, the addition of cells to the CNS of crayfish after birth.

The excitement of scientific discovery felt like finding a new continent. I continued

on to graduate school where Arnold Schiebel was an important inspiration for me.

He was my neuroanatomy professor at UCLA where he also worked as a psychiatrist. He had made fundamental discoveries about the brain including finding new

basic cell types. Dr. Schiebel introduced me to the possibility of studying how our

brains work and influence behavior and perception, something I was directly

interested in.

In my psychiatry residency at McLean Hospital, I was fortunate to have had a

number of mentors that really shaped my career. First was Ross Baldessarini, who

encouraged me to think of new questions and brought his analytical capabilities to

bear when considering potential answers. In a surprising turn, one of the first


T. Suppes

questions I asked in clinical research led to a broad change globally in our approach

to treatment and research on patients with bipolar disorder. This study, on lithium

discontinuation, was important both to the field and in shaping my future opportunities in academics. Also at McLean, Susan McElroy had a big influence in my

approach to research and in the treatment of patients, and she was actually the first

woman I had as a mentor (though I’m not sure she thought of herself this way).

That Sue was the first woman mentor, speaks to how important I believe it is that

“senior” women provide new opportunities and mentoring to the next generation.

Sue was vocal about women getting equal treatment in academia, and she shared

my excitement about clinical research as a way of improving our understanding of

how to help patients.

My first academic job was at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School

(UTSW) in Dallas. There I met John Rush who played a crucial role as my direct

mentor and helped me springboard my career for the first 10 or so years. He helped

me to hone my focus and most importantly he showed me how to tame anxieties

about moving forward in the world. While we collaborated across the aisle, as my

work focused then primarily on bipolar disorder and his on unipolar depression, we

published and carried out a number of studies together as part of a larger team.


What Was Your Best Career Move?

When I finished my residency and fellowship, I was offered a job at Harvard as

junior faculty. However, the offer I accepted from UTSW, included support and

enough money to conduct an extensive clinical trial on the first use of a second

generation antipsychotic on patients with nonpsychotic bipolar disorder. This trial

was important to me because I had seen some very ill patients improve significantly

on this new medication, and I was committed to doing this study. One aspect of this

decision that made it a strong choice in retrospect is that I was also the only person

at UTSW focused on bipolar disorder versus being one of many at Harvard and

other institutions that I had considered.


What Were the Key Obstacles You Had to Overcome?

The primary one was to maintain confidence in my capabilities and to pursue my

vision regardless of outward appearances of success or failure even during dark

days. I believe it was also important that I never allowed myself to think that my

vision was too big. In academics, it is important to have a thick skin and to realize

that when people are trying to keep you down, it is their problem and not yours.

Although we have to be flexible and responsive to external circumstances, it is also

vital to maintain our belief in the importance of our own ideas.


Patricia Suppes



What Kept You Going During Difficult Times?

This is a tough question. A large part of what kept me going is that there was never

another path that I was really excited to pursue. While I enjoy seeing patients and

teaching, it is the excitement of research and new discovery that truly inspires me.

Certainly, I needed to believe in myself but that is not what kept me going. Friends,

family, mentors, and having fun along the way have all been important.


What Role (Positive and/or Negative)

Did Being a Woman Play in Your Career?

I come from a family of educated women who were not able, because of the times

they lived in, to use their intelligence and realize their potential to the fullest extent.

Both my maternal grandmother and mother believed women should have equal

opportunities with men and supported me in my efforts to pursue the research career

I was interested in.

When I first entered graduate school and later throughout my career, there were

almost no women doing what I was doing and very few senior women were

available. I found this lonely, and I did feel a bit in the wilderness. It is only very

recently that the academic culture has moved toward greater support of women,

though much progress is still needed. There are more women in academics, and

they seem able to succeed on their own terms. Having said this, there are still many

situations, such as scientific meetings, in which 90 % of those attending are men.

There still is not a fair balance.


How Did You Deal with the Issue

of Work–Family Balance?

It is critical to have good help on the home front. It is essential, I think, not to try

and be the housekeeper, accountant, cook, caregiver, and so on. It was important to

me to have time for my children and they took priority over work commitments.

I once saw a well-known cardiology researcher at UTSW receive a major national

award, and the first person she thanked was her housekeeper. My situation is not far

off. If I had to deal with my housekeeping and laundry every week, it would have

adversely impacted my ability to succeed at work and make time for my family at

home. I made a clear choice not to miss school events or other activities and shaped

my attendance at meetings and so on around the children’s schedules. Having said

that, I can also remember a number of mornings working from 5 to 7 am before

anyone was up for the day.



T. Suppes

What Would You Do Differently if You Were

to Start Your Career Now?

I think the main difference would be to take more chances in my research choices.

In my early years, part of coping in the overwhelming male world of academics was

a sense that I needed to be absolutely certain about my research ideas before

moving forward. I believe this slowed me down and diminished my creative

approach at the time. Now with the benefit of hindsight and recognized academic

success, I’m more comfortable taking bigger leaps with less certainty of where they

might land me.


What Advice Would You Give to a Young Woman

Starting Her Career Now?

Firstly, do not believe everything you hear. One of the key things for me was

working from home about 50 % of the time, a practice that is apparently still rare in

academics. This was work time when the house was quiet and no kids were around,

but having this type of uninterrupted work time was critical to my career. If you do

not ask about working from home or give it a try you will not know if it may work

for you. Very few academics I have seen adopt this approach, but I got the idea

from my father, who was a professor at Stanford, and worked at home every

morning. There was also something about working from home that helped me feel

more connected to the everyday life of my family, even though they were absent

during those morning work times. Research work provides infinitely more flexibility in comparison to clinical jobs.

I would also say, “go for it.” Women, myself included, often will not take on

potentially bigger roles. Perhaps we are afraid of feeling overwhelmed or not doing

a “good enough” job. So I say, go ahead and try these roles out—nominate yourself

or speak to colleagues about nominating you. Put yourself out there, and importantly let people in your field know about your interests. It is critical to have good

mentorship and support from people around you and if possible at a peer level too.

My friends in my field, both women and men, have made the experience richer and

more fun.

Carol A Tamminga

Carol A. Tamminga



Dr. Carol A. Tamminga

Dr. Tamminga holds the Lou and Ellen McGinley Distinguished Chair and the

McKenzie Chair in Psychiatry and is the Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry

and the Chief of the Translational Neuroscience Division in Schizophrenia at the

University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. The goal of her research is to

determine the mechanisms underlying schizophrenia, especially its most prominent

symptoms, psychosis and memory dysfunction, in order to improve treatment. Dr.

Tamminga is a member of NIMH’s National Advisory Board and the Advisory

C.A. Tamminga (&)

Translational Neuroscience Division in Schizophrenia, UT Southwestern Medical Center,

University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, Dallas, TX, USA

e-mail: Carol.Tamminga@UTSouthwestern.edu

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

S. Frangou (ed.), Women in Academic Psychiatry,

DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-32177-6_15



C.A. Tamminga

Board of the Brain and Behavioral Research Foundation. She has previously served

on the Board of Scientific Counselors of the National Institute of Mental Health and

the National Institute of Drug Abuse, as Council member and President of the

American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, as a Member and Chair of the

Psychopharmacological Drugs Advisory Committee of the FDA, as well as consultant for the Orphan Products Development Review Group, FDA. She serves as

Deputy Editor of the American Journal of Psychiatry and on the editorial board of

several other journals. Dr. Tamminga was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the

National Academies of Sciences in 1998 and has served on several IOM committees in that capacity.


What Was Your Earliest Ambition?

From the beginning, it was an easy career formula for a girl from a small Midwestern town: graduate high school = become a secretary; graduate college = become a teacher or nurse; inevitably, become a housewife. So, it was nursing for me

since science was, even then, a wonder. This goal was both strong and orienting,

and lasted until one day, when LIFE magazine (in its old oversized format) published an article titled “A day in the life of a medical student.” The student was

studying medicine at the University of Chicago, led a fascinating life full of science

and discovery, was female, and had long brown hair (styled just like mine). The

story opened up a new and vibrant career option, which I immediately adopted and

never let go, despite the inevitable discouragements and slights along the way. It is

hard to forget the negative comments and perverse “advice” from all fronts (except

from my family) about the pitfalls and dangers of becoming a physician. It was an

era when women were actively advised to follow the status quo and never challenge

career boundaries. My family, on the contrary, was matter-of-fact and supported

educational achievement of any kind. As long as my family (husband and children)

was cared for and my house was kept clean, I could pursue any career I so chose.


What Attracted You to Psychiatry?

It was clear from the beginning of medical school that I was interested in the brain

and exploring its mechanisms for generating thought and behavior. The more

traveled career path to study these complexities would have been neurology;

however, I was drawn to the challenge of understanding psychiatric disorders,

especially developing an explanation for psychosis. And so I chose to pursue

psychiatry. Mine was an academic track from the beginning. It occurred to me that

if I ever had to “work” for a living (i.e., practice), it would be much more interesting

to be a psychiatrist than a neurologist. The explosive growth in basic neuroscience,

with its fundamental contributions to our knowledge of brain mechanisms, threw


Carol A Tamminga


open the doors to understanding neural pathology in human brain disease. This

journey in academic psychiatry has never disappointed. I find it the most captivating field in medicine and it still promises to bring treatments to brain diseases

that we are not even sure we can correctly name.


What Do You Enjoy Most in Your Job Now?

I still love the challenge of identifying brain mechanisms to explain psychiatric

phenomena; however, seldom it actually occurs. New discoveries from basic

neuroscience, which are reported daily, document how complex brain mechanisms

really are and provide us all with increasingly realistic neural mechanisms poised to

model mental phenomena. It is the work in the trenches that remains most

encouraging for me: new findings which pull together a novel explanation; an

actual replication of an experiment; seeing a student becoming invested in discovery; finding a new perspective for a set of observations. The task of translating

these discoveries into clinical applications still remains a lofty challenge.


Who Do You Consider Your Mentor(s) During Your


It was Danny Freedman who first took me from a naïve resident to an early scientist

and challenged me to think clearly and work hard. He was unforgettable, a lifelong

mentor, and an inspiration to many of us. It is hard to strictly separate friends and

colleagues in the field from mentors, as many of them have made such great

contributions to my personal and intellectual growth. I have been truly blessed in

my career by the kindness and attention from many friends, collaborators, and



What Was Your Best Career Move?

I am a settled sort and prefer familiarity. But it was my move from the Midwest to

Washington DC and to the rich research programs and personalities of the NIH that

most changed my research. It was the chance to work within the crowded hallways

of NIH scientists that cued me into solid science tracks in brain research and




C.A. Tamminga

What Were the Key Obstacles You Had to Overcome?

In the beginning, my friends and family heard me talk about the oddities of being in

medical school with classmates who were almost exclusively male. I was in the

final years of the era when women were not provided for in a medical school: where

the doors in the surgical suite were labeled “WOMEN” and “SURGEONS” and

women’s overnight call rooms did not exist. In those days, the head nurses saved

me a private (hospital) room each night I was on call, doting on the only woman

medical trainee in the hospital. First-year anatomy class still started with the

large-breasted nude woman with the quip: “Anatomy can be fun.” The realization

of the inappropriateness of all of this came gradually and has changed entirely with

time. Now it seems like all that must have been centuries ago. I had the support of

many of my classmates and teachers, especially those who considered merit,

contribution, and aspirations rather than gender in our relationships.


What Kept You Going During Difficult Times?

No question: my mother.


What Role (Positive and/or Negative) Did Being

a Woman Play in Your Career?

I have always taken great pleasure in being a woman and think that women have

profound advantages in life; as such, I am protected from basic envy. In the

beginning, and sometimes even now, there are disadvantages in interpersonal and in

work situations; I would put practical career details on this list, including important

things such as salary. But after my first few years in academic psychiatry, once I

had achieved enough seniority to have become a secure fixture, gender-related

opportunities began to emerge. At this time, gender balance on important committees became a federally dictated necessity and recruitment opportunities for

plumb committee assignments began coming to women. I undertook membership

and even leadership of terrific efforts much before my male peers and learned a

tremendous amount in the process. It has always taken extra effort to get papers

published in the best journals and to get on the fast track for grant funding, given

the unconscious bias in judging merit; but every life path has its challenges and I

find this life path deserving.

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