Up | Down | Top | Bottom A Series of Firsts: Barbara Sloat

Barbara Furin Sloat

Barbara’s research and publications focused on multiple forms of lysosomal enzymes, cellular morphogenesis in yeast, and the recruitment and retention of women in the sciences. In addition to her scientific work, her experiences as a woman scientist have guided her career and professional contributions in many ways. She was founding Director of the University of Michigan’s Women in Science Program, now called Women in Science and Engineering (WISE), a model program nationwide. She also served as Associate Director of the Honors Program in the U-M’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LS&A).

In recognition of her work on behalf of women in science and medicine, she is a recipient of the Sarah Goddard Power Award for "distinguished service, scholarship, and commitment to the betterment of the status of women" at the University of Michigan, and the Grace Lyon Alumnae Award from Denison University for "her outstanding contributions to the advancement of women in science." She is listed in American Men & Women of Science, Who's Who of American Women, and Who’s Who in America. In addition to membership in national scientific associations, she has served on the national executive board of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS), and on the Board of Director of the HIV/AIDS Resource Center (HARC) of southeast Michigan. She is presently on the Board of Directors of Jewel Heart Tibetan Buddhist Center, an international organization devoted to Tibetan education and culture, which is headquartered in Ann Arbor, MI.

Barb met and married J. Barry Sloat in Ann Arbor (he was from Los Angeles, educated at UCLA and MIT) in 1968. He had a successful and happy career at Ford Motor Company until his brain tumor diagnosis in 2002; he died four years later. Son John Andrew Sloat, age 40, (Oberlin and U-Michigan Law) lives and works in Chicago. Eric Furin Sloat, age 28, graduated from St. John's College, Annapolis, MD and is a PhD student in Classical Studies at Columbia University, NYC.

Growing Up

Listen to Barbara describe her family and her grammar school education in Youngstown and Boardman, Ohio.

KB: Great. So now we’re going to begin. I am just going to start off with your childhood and your family. Where did you grow up?

BS: Sure. That’d be great. I grew up in Youngstown, Ohio as a child of two immigrant families. My father owned a grocery store until I was eleven, a family grocery store. We lived above the store, looking over the steel mills, kind of a scene right from Deer Hunter movie, truly. My parents were teachers, however they were the first in their families to go to college, each family, and they became teachers. My own father did not work in the mills but all of my relatives did.

KB: Wow, so they grew up and instilled in you the value of a work ethic?

BS: Oh, absolutely. As I look back, my mother and my father and all their siblings and all of my cousins, we’ve just all done extraordinarily well. My father’s family was from Russia, they’re Russians, and my mother is from Czechoslovakia. I grew up with Italians and Irish and Polish and Hungarians and Greeks all coming into the store, very ethnic neighborhood. I don’t think I ever met anybody that was English or German or anything like that until I went to college. The Furin Store was very nice place to grow up because there was just a lot of interaction with people.

KB: And then where did you go to grammar school?

BS: And so I went to a local grammar school in my neighborhood, Penhale School in Campbell, Ohio and when I was eleven my father decided to sell the grocery store that he had taken it over from his father who died, who was an immigrant from Russia. The reason was that the A&Ps were popping up at that time and he was not having as much business because we had a typical grocery store where he cut meat and we delivered, he delivered, on Saturday and Wednesdays and so he sold his store and we moved to Boardman, Ohio, seven miles away, still Youngstown, but Boardman was kind of a up-coming suburb, some of the first suburbs, this was in the 1950s, like 1953. We moved into...there was a shopping mall that had gone up there and we moved into a Cape Cod house in a muddy field, all of that kind of thing. Boardman had been an old community, however, founded way back in the early 1800s and had a very fine high school, so I ended up going to Boardman High School, which I hated. I didn’t like moving from my small community with the grocery store and all the people who knew my family because my parents had been born in that same town where the grocery store was but it was actually a very good high school. Sputnik went up at that time. I had a very good girlfriend who loved mathematics. They used to subdivide the classes in those days according to how bright you were. So, I was in the bright section, Section A, and then there were like twelve other sections. So, we got a lot of pretty good attention in high school, as I look back I can see that.

Listen to Barbara discuss her parents’ love of teaching and how that encouraged her to attend college to become an English teacher.

KB: So, what got you interested in science?

BS: Nothing at this point, actually. In high school I wasn’t that interested in science. My mother loved botany. She was an elementary teacher but she just was a natural lover of botany as my grandfather was. She was always identifying birds and plants and my brother, two years younger, was like my mother. They just loved going into the woods. They loved hiking. They loved the outdoors. I was never that type. I kind of suffered for that because I didn’t like to go along with them. But I was always a great reader and I ended up going to college at Denison University in Ohio, Granville, Ohio, and it turns out my father had gone there and graduated in 1934. How my father, who was the youngest of his Russian family, got to college period, much less to Denison, is an interesting story but it just was one of those things. So, I ended up going to the same school where I got some good scholarships. My mother wanted me to stay in Youngstown and go to Youngstown College where everybody went and even though I was in the bright group in high school, I would say that 20% of us went to college, if that. It wasn’t a college bound town, you know? So, I went away and I went away to become an English teacher, be a teacher like my parents. So, my mother loved teaching. I mean she just loved it. My parents got married when they were 30, so she taught after college as my father did and they met at the elementary school where they kind of grew up. And then she quit when I was born as women did in those days and my father went into World War II in the Navy, he was a Lieutenant in the Navy, and he was gone. Then he bought the grocery store and so she ran the store with him. But when we moved to Boardman and I was a teenager, my brother was maybe twelve, eleven or twelve, she went back to teaching and she taught for the rest of her life basically. She loved it. She didn’t want to retire when she got to be 60-67 or something, so I get that from her. So, I wanted to be a teacher, an English teacher, which is what girls did at the time. My father said, “Barb, get a master’s degree. Don’t stop at the bachelor’s degree because you’ll get paid more as a teacher,” so that was kind of a goal.

Denison University

Barbara Sloat, 1984

Listen to Barbara describe how she fell in love with biology at Denison.

BS: So, I went to Denison and I took, I had nothing inspiring in terms of science in high school at all. My teachers were all male. They only read from the book. I could tell you their names but I won’t. The chemistry teacher read the book and then the biology teacher read the book. But I went to Denison and I took Biology 101 in my freshman year and I fell in love with biology. I still use that term. I tell that to my students. I tell that to anyone. I literally fell in love with cells. This sounds crazy, but it’s true. I just liked it so much. I had a wonderful teacher, Dr. Gail Norris, and much later in my life, say fifteen years ago, I won an alumni award from Denison and I was invited back to give a speech on campus on women in science and he came to it. He’s still there, yeah. So, I took biology and I loved it and meanwhile I was doing very well in English too. And I thought “I’ve got to take another course in my sophomore year.” So, I signed up for histology and oh God, I just loved it. I just loved these tissues and I just took one look at a slide and I knew what it was. I’m just saying it’s kind of magical. I didn’t feel that way about chemistry. I took chemistry too. I mean did okay in chemistry, probably got “B+”s and “A”s but I didn’t like it at all. I didn’t even like physics very much but biology was just there for me and ever since I’ve appreciated how people’s interests vary so much. I mean it’s something that can be there and it was cells and tissues that I loved so much. I got my hands on every cell biology-related book in the Denison library. Did a project later. Went to the Ohio State library and when I had to take a botany course in order to graduate, a field course, I took spring flowers. Denison is a gorgeous, beautiful place and I struggled to get a "C" in that. I just didn’t relate to that. I didn’t want to memorize that. So, I struggled with what to major in because I had come to be an English major, but I really liked this and I have to tell you I spend many sleepless nights in that dorm pacing around trying to decide. And I decided in my junior year when I had to that I would major in biology and take as much English as I could so that...because I’d never again have a chance to study science, I figured. I could always read books but this is my chance to study science. So, I majored in biology and the thing I didn’t do, I didn’t have time then, to take education courses in order to become a teacher. That was what slipped and that’s how I got to Michigan because I applied to come here, to the School of Education for one year, one year that would give me my teaching certificate.

Barbara Sloat, 19841

Listen to Barbara talk about how she secretly wanted to enroll in medical school while her parents encouraged her brother to do so instead.

KB: So that’s what you did after you graduated? Or did you do something else?

BS: So I figured that’s how I would do it. So I was still going to be a teacher and now I’ll tell the sad part of this story. As I look back in a way is that I really loved cells, tissues and anatomy and any of that. I mean, I wanted in my heart to go to medical school, but I didn’t even articulate that because there was nobody in my family who was a doctor or remotely in that area or could even aspire to it. So my parents, I don’t know that I really, seriously discussed it with them, you know, it wasn’t in the cards.

KB: You didn’t think they would support you or you just didn’t think that it was something they would believe that you could do?

BS: Well, I think they thought I could do it. Interesting thing is my brother, two years younger, they wanted him to go to medical school. I am just telling you what it was like in those days. He was the boy and my father said, “Greg, you have to have a good career. Be a doctor! You know, you can belong to the country club.” My father played wonderful golf but he played at the public courses. We didn’t have money to speak of but my brother was a beast and ended up going to dental school as a second choice. I don’t even think it really came up in my home and I wonder why. I wish I had some friend or somebody who could have helped me with that but I was not encouraged at Denison to go into medical school either, which is too bad. I mean, I did talk to my professors about that and they said, “Barb, you are going to get married and have children. Why would you want to do that? I mean, you’re not going to want to be a doctor. You’re going to have a family.” And so that was how the thinking went at this small college and that was certainly where I was. I even rationalized not discussing it with my parents because I figured that I could get my way paid to graduate school, or education school at that time, and I wouldn’t have to burden them with debt. I’ve since, in my women in science work, read about other women who did that. We rationalized it. We tried to save our parents from going into debt. It didn’t come up with my brother and after my Dad died, I found his meticulous files what he had spent for our educations. They spent four times as much for me to put him through dental school and he didn’t have scholarships and things. I’m just saying that as revelation almost. It’s like “Oh my God”. So a lot of it came from me. I mean I didn’t have anybody to plant a seed. That seed of women in science, the reason I applied for this position that was advertised as a temporary job in 1980, that’s where it comes from; it comes from those Denison years. It comes from a love of science and it comes from “I want to encourage somebody who has an interest to do it”. You know, not trying to dig women up from the woodwork or girls.

KB: So what year did you graduate?

BS: From college?

KB: From, uh yeah.

BS: ‘63.

KB: And all of your other friends, nobody was going to med. school?

BS: Actually, there were probably nine biology majors at that time. One was a girl, Mary Lee Obitz, and she did go to medical school; her father was a doctor in Columbus. I’ve heard, you know, over the years that she didn’t like it at all and she actually didn’t practice medicine eventually when she got married. It was then my perception as I began watching this...now I wasn’t eating my heart out because I wasn’t going to medical school. In some ways I wasn’t thinking about it. This is almost in retrospect. Again I didn’t want to put my parents through it. I didn’t even want to bring it up.

University of Michigan

Listen to Barbara discuss working on an NSF Summer Fellowship with Dr. Hunter and how that pushed her to change master’s program from education to biology.

KB: So then when you went to get your education degree was it different? Were people supportive even though you were going to teach in science?

BS: Well, it turns out I never got to the School of Education because I was in the basement of the bio. building at Denison. I was about to graduate and I didn’t want to go home. I mean Youngstown is not the best place to be. I was working at J.C. Penny all those years in Youngstown and so I saw a poster in the basement and I can still see it in my mind. These important moments and it said “NSF Summer Fellowships at the University of Michigan” on it. I didn’t know really what NSF was. I had never been to Ann Arbor, for God’s sakes, but I had a boy friend at Denison, Bill, who lived in Grosse Point. So I knew a little bit about Michigan and I remember telling him about it and he said, “Hey let’s go up there! We can go visit my home and I’ll show you Ann Arbor.” At any rate I applied for it and I got it because I was smart. I was getting all these “A”s and I was very good. So before I knew it I had a six week summer internship in Ann Arbor in the anatomy department here. This is the summer before education school was going to start and I had gotten a fellowship for that. So I ended up working in a lab here, finding a room on Hill Street. Bill hated my friend. Bill was not around that summer. It wasn’t that we were heavily involved. I saw him a couple of times but he did bring me up for an initial visit and I stayed in the League up in the dorm room that they had at that time. So I ended up in the lab in the anatomy department with Dr. Hunter, Robert Hunter, who was a Professor of Anatomy. It was doing acrylamide gels and lab stuff. He said to me, “Barbara, why are you going to the School of Education? Why don’t you do more biology?” Basically, he became a mentor for me and I knew he was right, so before I knew it I had applied to the zoology department and I got admitted there too with a TAship. He said, “You can always get that teaching degree.” So then I signed up for a master’s degree in biology. I thought I would get that. So, you know, you don’t need female mentors. Male mentors are terrific too. Bob Hunter, who then moved on to California years later, kept in touch with me. I really give him so much credit.

Listen to Barbara describe why Dr. Allen selected her to work in his lab and how he and his staff encouraged her to get her master’s in biology.

KB: So he was the initial prompt into your getting a master’s even though your Dad also said get a master’s? So then how was master’s school? Did you experience competition?

BS: Well, when you get into graduate school at Michigan, you can either stop at the master’s or go on. That’s true for most places. So, I enrolled in cell biology my first semester and I had to take ecology and evolution. In those days if you were going to be a student, you had to take something in all fields and the professor of cell biology, Dr. John M. Allen, who later became chair of the department, picked me out of that class of about 45 people because I was so avidly interested. (laughs) So he talked to me, you know, after my first exam and then he learned that I had been in Bob Hunter’s lab and he knew Bob Hunter. You know how this goes. So John Allen said, “Why don’t you do a project in my lab next semester?” and he’s the one I got my Ph.D. with, so you see how these things kind of unfolded. He had done some of other work with Bob Hunter. So I found my first year of graduate school very difficult not because, because Michigan was so focused on memorization, the cell biology course. I mean, the first exam they wanted to know, I got a C- on it, they wanted to know how many microns between and between that. How many? At Denison we didn’t do that. We talked about ideas. That’s why John Allen called me in because he said, “Barb your questions in class are so terrific but you got a bad grade on this. What’s going on here?” So that’s how I ended up in John Allen’s lab and then they all said, “Why don’t you get a Ph.D.? Why are you stopping at the master’s?” I did get a master’s.

KB: What year did you get your master’s?

BS: Oh must’ve been ’66.

KB: And then how many additional years to get the Ph.D.?

BS: Two more.

Listen to Barbara describe her parents' reaction to her decision to pursue a Ph.D.

BS: So what happened then was those the..I think they were the Nixon years. I forgot whose years they were but there was plenty of money around for science. They were the post-Sputnik era and I didn’t pay a cent for my graduate education because I had fellowships. Yeah, fellowships of various sorts, so then there was another moment, and maybe you’ll find it interesting, when I remember standing in John Allen’s lab. I had been there now a couple of years. I had decided to go for the Ph.D. I had a fellowship, wasn’t going to cost me anything, and I called my parents. It was a Saturday in the lab. It was sunny. I remember I had corduroy Levi’s on and I can remember what I was wearing; it was one of those moments. So I called them happily to say, “I got a fellowship. I am going to go on for a Ph.D.” My father said, “What the hell are you doing that for?”

KB: Oh wow.

BS: And as I thought about it and have been in Women In Science so long now, honestly, his concern that nobody would marry me if I had a Ph.D., that I was overdoing it. He wanted a good life for me. He wanted me to marry a guy with a good job and to...but it was, you know, that’s the kind of thing we had to fight. We had to overcome somehow and I had some kind of inner drive that said to me...you know I mean I struggled. I wish I had been more confident and just said: “Screw it, Dad, you know, I’m doing this.” But I struggled. Am I doing the right thing? Am I not doing the right thing? That’s what women have to face when they’re in these positions.

Listen to Barbara discuss how the lack of women increased the further she rose in academia.

KB: So did you see progressively less women as you went graduate to Ph.D. in your classes?

BS: Definitely. In fact, I never had a woman professor ever or teacher of science in high school or college or ever in graduate school and it wasn’t until I started going to conferences, I started maybe in my last year of graduate school, and then after I got married and was working. It took me a long time to realize that there were no women speaking really. Very rare presenter but there weren’t very many women around. There weren’t women in those classes. Yeah, I did, although I had quite a few women graduate friends. They tended to be more in outdoor biology but there are women in graduate school.

KB: So what did you do after...

BS: We had a lot of fun in graduate school. We had a very good group. We all loved biology. Those were the days of protests and parties and all that stuff. It was a nice time except of course my parents thought I was crazy.

Career and Family Life

Barbara Sloat, Women In Science office, 1983

Listen to Barbara talk about meeting her husband, Barry Sloat, and how women were expected to follow their husbands’ career to the possible detriment of their own.

KB: So you got support from other graduate women you knew?

BS: We never talked about it. I mean, not until later. We never talked about how difficult it was. We never talked about the fact that we weren’t expected to do the same things as the men and I think as we then got Ph.D.s around 1970...1968, ’69, ’70 and then people got married, you know, Pat Brown married Steve Brown. They were both graduate students. Joan Martin married Mike Martin. I mean that was all happening now. We’re all 25, 26-7 or whatever. It was beginning to be clear that the women weren’t getting the jobs and the men were or the women were going with their husbands. So we began to...I think slow resentments started to surface then and some questions but we were all still into that, you know, you get married and you follow your husband and you do, do, do that and some ways that wasn’t such a bad thing, looking back, because five or ten years later I ended up getting married within about two months after I got my Ph.D. I met a man on a blind date. Somebody came into the lab and said, “Barb, this person moved into my building. He’s come to work for Ford Motor Company and I’m really thinking that he might be a good match. Would you take a date from him?” And at that point I was so tired of all these incests at the biology department that I said “yes”. So my husband, Barry Sloat, came and he already had a master’s from MIT in management and was an engineer from UCLA recruited to work at Ford. So, I forget where I was going with this but I think people in the biology department and my friends were outraged that I would even date somebody who wasn’t in the department. So it’s all very ingrown, but I know where I was going with that. So I got married and the biology department offered me a job as a lecturer that first year after I got my Ph.D. and my chairman of the department, 1969, said, “Well now, Barb, you know you can’t expect to earn what a man would earn. After all, doesn’t your husband work for Ford Motor Company?” That was the second part of it. Now I am beginning to get some messages that something’s not right but I still didn’t, you know, we didn’t talk about it these things. We didn’t know it was such a damaging thing. I mean, it’s like, “Hey, give me a break. Not only are you married but he works for Ford. Therefore he must...” In fact, I was earning $9,000 a year that first year and Barry was earning $12,000 but there was just all that, you know, industry was really looked down upon but once you got married they figured you were sort of taken care of I think.

KB: How did your husband feel about it? Did you talk about it with him at all?

BS: You know, it’s a hard question. I don’t remember that we talked about it in that sense. I think I probably felt lucky to get the job. It’s hard to describe but I think I assumed too that he had the more important job. I think that’s right that it’s the man who needs to have that important job and somehow we’ll find something around it and this may sound shockingly passive to you but we weren’t thinking that way. In fact, something I thought about over the years is that as I was finishing my Ph.D., I was at a cell biology meeting in San Francisco or someplace and I did very well. For my thesis, you know, I had four hundred people sending postcards asking for a copy of the research; it was a good thing. That was great. I remember having dinner with my professor and some other people he knew and afterward one of these men, other professors from Stanford, said he really wanted to show me his electron micrographs and his stuff and we were talking about doing some research. Well, it turns out this man then invited me to do a post-doc at Stanford. I was already dating my husband. You know, I grew up in Ohio. I went to college in Ohio. I came to Michigan to grad school. I did regret, eventually, while still in school that I hadn’t gone to Harvard or Stanford or someplace because I could have gotten in but, again, nobody in my family or at Denison even encouraged me to do that. They saw me as a pretty bright young girl who was going to get married anyway. So I thought, “If I had been five years older or later or ten years I probably wouldn’t have gotten married. I would’ve gone on and done that post-doc first.” Do you know what I mean? I could have gone on to California. I could have been at Stanford. I could have...now I didn’t get married until I was twenty-six, so I wasn’t exactly, you know. I was unusual for my era because all of my Denison roommates got married early that first summer, age twenty-one. You get pinned and you get married. My parents were opposed to that, so they never brought me up that way. So, I thought about that because as I got into women and science work, I am really grateful that I met a terrific person. We were a fantastic couple. My husband died three years ago, unfortunately, of a brain tumor. Yes, very dreadful situation but he had a very happy career at Ford. We had two sons. I had a long marriage. I had had a good career. I found so many women in science who didn’t find a partner, didn’t marry, didn’t have children or divorced because life in science is really difficult and so I look back and think, “God, I was just on that line before feminism really took off, like five years. We were right on the line. We were still the generation getting pinned and married and all that and none of my friends that I knew ever at college or later had mothers who worked. My mother was a pioneer. I was sort of a pioneer but then after that, you know, everything changed. The War, feminism, everything and so I say, well, I probably...I was so independent-minded kind of...I probably would have said, “I really like this guy but I am going to do the post-doc.” Who knows what would have happened? I don’t know what to say. It’s hard, you know?

Barbara Sloat, Women In Science office, 19832

Listen to Barbara discuss why she chose not to pursue certain opportunities in order to support her family and how that dynamic changed between the birth of her first and second child.

KB: So, did you quit working and stay at home with your kids when they were born? Or you kept working?

BS: No, I didn’t. I didn’t quit. The only year that I have not worked since I was fifteen back in Boardman, Ohio, was the year my husband died when it just became too difficult. But I did, because I was a lecturer in those years and a research scientist, I did work half-time. I was on grants. My son was born in 1970, ‘71, the older one and I was teaching at that time at U of M Dearborn, so the cell biologist at U of M Dearborn was away for two years and so I was recommended and they invited me to teach there. So, I just taught one course each term and, you know, I was happy to do that. I was a new Ph.D. They really liked me it turns out. They had a job opening and they wanted me to apply for it and I decided not to so that my career has in some ways been...it could’ve been a...I don’t want to say more successful...it could’ve been a much more demanding career or maybe successful too. At many points I chose not to...say apply for the Dearborn job, which I probably could’ve gotten. I had some sort of inner sense that family life was important to me, that the marriage was important to me, the partnership, my child was important to me. I couldn’t imagine...my husband’s life was very busy. He loved it but he left at seven in the morning and he didn’t come back until seven at night on a good day. He was relentlessly...he was just hard-driving, very successful. Turns out when he left Ford at the time he was diagnosed he was Director of Health Care Finance and so he had a number of jobs. He really loved it okay but he was not around a lot and I couldn’t imagine having a child and me leaving in the morning and driving forty-five minutes. I just, it was too much for me to imagine. Later I was offered a job as Associate Professor at Adrian College, this is twelve years later, and I drove to Adrian in every possible way I could. I mean, you can’t get there in less than an hour and in the winter it would be really hard. So, I said, “No, I am going to stay here teaching,” at that time I think I was starting at the Residential College. So I have had a number of different things I have done here, including Women In Science. I was Associate Director of Honors. I am a woman who didn’t go 100% for that science career and I am glad of it because I don’t know how I would have done it. In a strange way it’s become harder for me to encourage women into science unless I know they’re really, really, really...they really, really love what they’re doing. And I think marriages are different now too; they’re much more partnerships.

KB: Right. If you have more support you can go...

BS: Absolutely! I mean, what if my husband, what if we had decided that we were both going to live...he’s not going to live an hour away from his work. He’s going to do half of the cooking and that wasn’t the way it was early in my marriage. Twelve years later I had another child, so there was a twelve year gap, and with that child, which was 1982, it was quite different because I expected my husband to take him to the dentist or the doctor if he had to go. Just like, “I’ve got a meeting too.” Things changed that much. I think what I’m telling you is that I was really in this period of huge change. At the first child, he didn’t know and I didn’t know that we could share this more. All the better for the kid but still I could not have worked like he did, twelve hours a day at the office. I had grown up with teachers and I kind of was used to more flexibility.

Women In Science Program

Listen to Barbara describe what piqued her interest in the Women In Science program and how she became its first Director.

KB: So, let’s get to the Women In Engineering program. So, you kind of told me a little bit about your inspiration for pursuing it. Elaborate more on that.

BS: So I...when this job was posted in 1980, I was in the biology department. So I was in the biology department as a lecturer for the first year then I spent two years at Dearborn and then I had...I tied up with a research person in the bio department, John Pringle, who was a new professor and we were interested in yeasts and cell biology and so he and I worked together and I was constantly writing grants to support my salary. I was doing good research. In fact, I published as a first author in Science back in ’81, so this was ’80, but I was only funded 50%. That’s sort of...you have to apply for your technician and everything else and I was getting restless in the lab. I felt like...I don’t know what I felt like. I wasn’t sure. My son was now seven or eight. I guess he was ten, you know, but I saw in the University Record a posting: “Women In Science Program: 50%” and I thought, “Well, 50% this is interesting. I already have 50% maybe I could...I am going to look into this,” and something made me go read the posting. Something just struck me about it, you know, all that Denison thing, it probably clicked in and a real deep passion about this...yes, this would be good, to encourage women into science. So, I applied for it and I got it and it was Women In Science Program. It was housed at CEW, Center for the Education of Women. I didn’t know a thing about them. I was just a real scientist. It was funding for one year, $25,000 for one year. If you could make it work, CEW and Women In Science, you will have to find your own money to keep it going. So, it was just a complete seed program and it turns out that some women on campus had been working for five years to get this manifest. These few women from the Academic Women’s Caucus had worked very hard and Billy Frye was Provost at that time and Billy Frye was a biologist. So they knew they had a scientist up there. This was our chance. I’m very open-minded. He had been a professor of mine. So I got the job and all it was was a desk in the basement of CEW, the bottom of the stairs. It was like, “This is it, girl!” You know? You have one year. So that’s kind of how it started.

KB: Who did you interview with for the position?

BS: The interview was set up at CEW. Jean W. Campbell was Director of CEW, a very, very visionary woman. Anne Cowley was on the interviewing group. She was an Assistant Research Scientist in Astronomy, the only woman in astronomy, and she was married to Charles Cowley who was the Professor. Another person who interviewed me was Patricia Wulp from CEW. There was a fourth person and I can’t remember who that was but they tried to get some women in science involved in it.

Listen to Barbara describe the goals of the Women In Science program and who she chose for the Women In Science Advisory Committee.

KB: What did they say the position would entail?

BS: Develop a program to encourage women into science and faculty into science. In fact, I pulled this out: Established in 1980, the goal of WIS (engineering wasn’t anywhere near us at that time) is to increase the number of women students who choose majors, advanced degrees, and careers in science, mathematics, and engineering. That was kind of it and I didn’t think CEW was a very good place for it because I didn’t deal with undergrads. But I quickly formed a Women In Science Advisory Committee so that it was more than me and I had Sally Allen from the bio department, she was one of two women professors at that time in biology, Sayhan Ege from chemistry who was the only chemistry professor at that time, and there was no-one in physics. We had Anne Cowley from astronomy and Anita Payne from the medical school. The word sort of spread so it wasn’t just me. It was these women before me, ten, fifteen years older than me who...and Pauline Sherman from the School of Engineering, she was the only professor of engineering, women professor of engineering at that time in Space Aeronautical Engineering. A woman from the School of Public Health...Jane Schultz, joined us, so we would meet monthly at the League at a table like this and we would talk and plan and they all liked me and I liked them and I really enjoyed it from the beginning. It’s like, “Well, the first thing we need to do is get a program from the women who are coming in in September. How do we find out who is coming in as freshman into Michigan? How do we know if they have an interest in science? And who can we get to have a panel?” We had the first one in the physics department, the Dennison Building. “How can we serve doughnuts and coffee too? How can we send the invitation?” This all takes a lot of time because you end up having to go talk to Admissions and then you have to talk to, get permission, from the school to release the names of the women. I mean, you probably couldn’t even do it now.

Left to right: Barbara Sloat, Sally Dunnick (WIS Program Assistant), and Addie Hunter (CEW/WIS Secretary) at the Women In Science office at Center for the Education of Women, 1983

Left to right: Barbara Sloat, Sally Dunnick (WIS Program Assistant), and Addie Hunter (CEW/WIS Secretary) at the Women In Science office at Center for the Education of Women, 19833

Warner-Lambert Lecture Series poster, 1983

Listen to Barbara tell her story about how the Warner-Lambert Visiting Scientist Lecture Series began.

BS: So I began to really direct programs, bit by bit, undergrad programs. We had a very successful initial one in September. Then I got a phone call from another biology professor, Al Sussman. He had been in my department, a botanist, he wasn’t my professor but he was now Vice President of Research at the university. So there was Billy Frye up there, who I never really saw, but there was Al Sussman and he said, “Barb, let’s get together. I’m so glad that you took that position,” because, you know, it was announced. “Let’s get together. There’s somebody I want you to meet.” It was Jerry Weisbach, who was the President of Warner-Lambert, which is now Pfizer, but at that time it was Warner-Lambert then it changed to Parke-Davis and then it became Pfizer. He was here from New Jersey. He was the President. So we met for breakfast, my first 7:30 a.m. breakfast at the Campus Inn. So here I moved from being in the lab to suddenly having to breakfast at the Campus Inn with the Vice President of Research and Jerry Weisbach, President of Warner-Lambert but I always felt pretty confident in such situations for unknown reasons. My husband certainly encouraged me because that’s what he did all the time, you know. So, basically, Al Sussman said, “I know Barb very well. Jerry’s very interested in women in science because there aren’t many at Warner-Lambert and he’s willing to give you, to provide some grant money, if you want to write a grant.” And so the three of us started talking and I became very good friends with Jerry Weisbach then eventually because he gave a grant of $25,000 to set up the Women In Science Warner-Lambert Lecture Series. I don’t know if you’ve heard of that but that was a very important project and it was very early on. So suddenly within the first six months I came up with $25,000 from Warner-Lambert and what we did was and I have it...I have the title of it in here. We set up something called the Warner-Lambert Visiting Scientist Lecture Series and the idea was that I came up with and these women is we will invite departments to apply to us for money and we’ll give them all the money for an honorarium, travel, everything to bring in a scientist who’s a woman. So, that word began to spread and people began to apply. This spread the word to biochemistry to chemistry to physics, you know, “Hey, there’s this money sitting there that’s pretty easy to get as long as the scientist is a woman.” And we have learned a lot because eventually we took the term woman out of it. We just called it the Warner-Lambert Visiting Scientist Lecture Series. First, we put in Women In Science but you know women don’t want to be thought of as women, they want to be thought of as scientists, right? You know we had a batch of people coming in from all over the country, from California, from everywhere. Anatomy and Cell Biology, Great Lakes Marine Water Center, Biophysics, Microbiology and Immunology, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, Department of Mathematics, Department of Physiology, Pharmacology. They’re all applying to us for money. That was terrific.

Warner-Lambert Lecture Series poster, 19834

Listen to Barbara talk about her annual fundraising efforts to keep Women In Science going and describe the first couple of conferences WIS held at Rackham.

KB: So, right away you saw people very excited?

BS: Yes, it was like the fire took off. I think there were department chairs and people who didn’t like the idea of making it a woman, but it was a good idea. It was perfect. So this money then allowed me to, which was like a three year grant, allowed me to apply for other money. We applied for money from the U.S. Department of Education to do summer internships but still there wasn’t enough money to provide for the program. The $25,000 Weisbach gave us we used for the program. I, as Director of Women In Science, had to every year go around to various Deans and ask for money because the university said, “If you can survive it’s because they want you.” So, I would get $5,000 from the Dean of Pharmacy, $5,000 from the Dean of the Medical School, $5,000 from the School of Engineering, and Jim Duderstat was Dean at that time and he later became President. He was really keen on women in science. He was terrific. You need to find these people. You know, his daughter’s an M.D. and he...and then $5,000 from LS&A and that was the hardest part. My heart was in undergrads and trying to get them in and to stay in science but the Dean of LS&A, he didn’t want to give the money. He said, “I can think of a lot better things to do with the money.” So we pieced money together and I ended up with some women student interns. You know, some terrific young women who came to work as interns and really helped me to do a lot of things. Another way that the word really spread was in 1982 I had another idea. I don’t know where I had these ideas but I did. I really liked it. Had a conference at Rackham and we pretty much filled the downstairs of Rackham. I think you couldn’t do that these days. The title was so most of the attention was paid to undergraduates but then of course these departmental talks affected faculty and graduate students. But we wanted to have something for women faculty and so did a conference and again raised money for it. Here I am with a dual appointment in biology and to CEW. Money through CEW and other sources to have a conference called “Image and Professionalism: Issues for Women In Science,” which was a conference for women in science convened at Rackham in 1981. It was designed to address the special problems of graduate women, post-doctorals, and professional women in science and it was terrific. I think those women who were out there couldn’t wait to come. We had a speaker from MIT, a woman, first woman in the chemistry department there and we just shared a lot of things. I think we learned so much, you know, about what this game was like. It’s not...it was at that conference that I learned forever that it’s not the hard good work you do; it’s who you know behind the closed doors as well. I mean, we just didn’t know how to negotiate any of this, so that’s kind of how it got started.

Image and Professionalism Conference poster, 1981

Image and Professionalism Conference poster, 19815

Listen to Barbara describe their research project to examine the decision points for freshwomen intending to become scientists and how they tried to host a big conference every year with prominent speakers like Margaret Rossiter.
(Note: first few seconds of audio sound warped.)

BS: Meanwhile, CEW had a couple of researchers there was to do, start a research project on the decisions that women make when they come into Michigan as freshwomen, first-year students, intending to go into science. How many actually go into science and what are the decision points along the way? Because there was a lot of talk in those years about the leaking pipeline for the women in science idea was alive at that time. You know, AAAS, American Association for the Advancement of Science, had its first president who was a woman in those years and I remember going to the big conference every year and she gave a talk actually on the leaking pipeline, which was shocking. Normally, you don’t do that, so people were talking about things. So, we launched this research project: “An Analysis of Factors Affecting Choices of Majors in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering at the University of Michigan” and we launched it in say 1982 but it wasn’t finished until 1989, by the time they graduated. At that time I left Women In Science and Cinda Sue Davis had come in, so she’s named on here as well. This took a lot of work too. So we tried to have a big conference every year. The first year, ’81, was this Women and Professionalism and then in ’82 we had a famous woman speak, again, at Rackham, which filled Rackham, I tell you. It was Margaret Rossiter from Harvard and she wrote the first book on women scientists in America. Seminal book: “Women Scientists: Struggles and Strategies to 1940”. She later did one after ’40, 1940, and tons of people came to that, so I don’t know, we just together had a lot of savvy about who we wanted to bring in. We wanted to bring in somebody that has legitimacy. We ended up with nineteen women visiting lecturers. We’re not just women kind of playing around with our words that we’re serious about this. So that was a big conference. So, you know, that whole thing of doing the research project, doing the undergraduate things, doing a big conference every year, applying every year for money from these Deans, it was pretty busy.

Listen to Barbara talk about why she chose to leave Women In Science and teach at the Residential College instead.

KB: Do you feel like for all your efforts you started getting more attention from the Deans? I know you went to them one-on-one. Would you feel like they are really kind of supporting your program now?

BS: Oh yes, now, absolutely now. I actually left the Women In Science job around 1985, so I only stayed in it five years. The reason was, one of the reasons was, at this lecture by Margaret Rossiter I had a phone call shortly after this from the Director of the Residential College on campus. I didn’t know what the Residential College was at all. I had no idea and he, John Mersereau, said, “That was a great lecture.” I gave some words, you know, I was the host, the moderator. He said, “How would you like to teach a seminar in the Residential College?” I said, “I have no idea.” I went over to see him and I ended up teaching a seminar in the RC. I had wanted to teach a course on gender and science in the biology department because now here’s Barbara the biologist suddenly learning all this stuff about this whole new field. You know, I had never studied sociology and women in history and it’s a whole thing of its own and I thought a seminar would be great. Well the biology department basically told me that I was crazy. Not only that, they told me I wasting my time on this Women In Science stuff. They said, “Barbara, you know, you’re not serious if you’re doing this Women In Science stuff.” That was all very distressing but I eventually ended up leaving the biology department and I ended up teaching a seminar in the RC. So, now I am doing this CEW job, doing research in the bio department and now I am invited to teach a seminar on the development of gender in science. So I really liked the teaching. It was a small seminar. I had always taught these huge classes in the Nat. Sci. Auditorium. I really began to like that and think “something’s got to go” and I did get tired of the constant applying for money, administrative, setting up another program. That wasn’t so much me, you know, to do it year after year after year, so I put in my resignation at Women In Science and basically went to the RC as my sort of other hat. Partly because I wanted to teach gender and science. I wanted to learn more. I wanted to do that part of it. I continued to do talks about women in science for a long, long time. I mean, it really did become my thing.

KB: Those were with undergraduates?

BS: Yes.

Women and Science Workshop poster, 1981

Listen to Barbara discuss some of the issues surrounding women in science such as the idea of “thinking like a man”.

KB: So, did they have a whole new perspective on this issue as you were teaching them because they grew up in a different era?

BS: I always insisted on having LS&A students as well as RC students, so a typical class might be fifteen people, half of whom are pre-meds and senior biology people or chemists or whatever. I don’t think that they had much of a clue at all! Even though they were a lot younger than I was they...I think it opened their eyes. I caught this fairly recently. I think...we had a section on the history of women in science in the U.S. You know, we had a lot of...some philosophical issues about gender and words and how the whole structure of science was establishing using metaphors that are very “conquering nature” and very dominating, the domination sort of approach and how all these words really matter too. It really matters. This notion of “thinking like a man”. I know I’ve been told that and I’m sure other women, say in physics, even more so. This is very complicated. It’s very interesting. I think it’s opened their eyes.

KB: What’s the notion of “thinking like a man”?

BS: Well, I think in the harder sciences, especially, and this is my opinion, in which you find fewer and fewer women, “thinking like a man” means thinking very objectively, not getting messed up with subjective things and, you know, the notion that science is very objective and it’s very specific and this is just the way it is. If you’re good at physics or if you think that way or even...it’s been told to me a number of times...if I come into a CEW meeting early in my career there...it’s just a different way of operating in that women’s group, so I wanted the facts. I wanted to know why people had not done this or not done that and what’s the next step and somebody says, “Barbara, you’re thinking like a man. You’re acting like a man.” And so I think if you get into the literature of women in science, you find that young girls say they start dropping out of science and their interest, in the U.S., around seventh grade, age twelve, you know, high school, that somehow it’s mixed up with not being as feminine as you might be and I use that word broadly. Like you’re different. You can’t be a cell biologist. You don’t look like a nerd but now it’s getting better, much better I think. Girls are getting much more confident. I think it can kind of scramble the brain of young people and alter people too. Do I really want to do this or not? Do I really want to study physics? My father’s notion, but as late as seven years ago I was counseling a woman student from Detroit, she was a first generation person. She was a senior in chemistry and you and I know how difficult a chemistry major is, God. She wanted to switch majors and I finally got out of her that her family didn’t think that she could marry somebody either, that she was in too masculine of a field. So this becomes, I think, mixed up with your sort of self-image unless you have strong support, which is what Women In Science does. It says to these young girls, “Hey, science is really fun. It’s great. There are a lot of us doing it.” You know, the stuff that Women In Science and Engineering continues to do. “You’re not different. It’s okay, even if you love physics, that’s terrific,” whereas your parents might not say that. We also started a summer internship program, which I know Cinda still does a project, but we had summer internships in the sciences funded, again, this was through the National Department of Education in Washington, to bring junior high students in to work in the summer for six weeks with a woman scientist. So we did that too in those first four years.

Women and Science Workshop poster, 19816

Listen to Barbara describe some of her frustrations with the University in regards to the Women In Science program.

KB: So, how do you think the university was unsupportive of this program?

BS: It’s sad because of Billy Frye. “If you women want to try this, go ahead. We’ll give you $25,000,” and that was a huge step, “otherwise you’re on your own.” So it wasn’t supportive that way. When Cinda took the job, things became more “jelled” because that was now five years later and this was working and people were more on board. So she didn’t have to go running around to all the departments. I mean, as I recall they firmed it up as a partial appointment. They were not supportive in that, you know, they were very suspicious about putting the name “women” on anything. “We don’t want to get mixed up in that.” Otherwise, I knew a lot of people, so I had a lot of support.

Listen to Barbara talk about some of the great achievements of the Women In Science program and how it helped her personally.

KB: So, what has caused you to experience great pleasure in the program? What has made you really proud of this program?

BS: Oh I am extremely proud of the program. It has continued. It has survived. We were one of the very first in the country. I mean, I have been around to all kinds of places in those years and after. We really became a model program, I think, that the university can support this and then Charles Vest, who became the President of MIT, was at Michigan, he was here, and he ended up supporting MIT and their Women In Science issues much later, like the last 5, 6, 7 years became a really strong advocate for women. I think the Women In Science Program is probably the most gratifying part of my whole career if I look back. I’m a good teacher too and I’ve done good research but I think we really have influenced a lot of people. I’ve met wonderful women. I learned that science is not as disconnected and dominating-driven and factual and I’ve lived in science for a long time. During my second child, you just didn’t talk being pregnant with another woman professor from the medical who was pregnant. You just pretended you weren’t and you came back two weeks later and just stayed right on track. So I got to know a lot people. I think we really do encourage women and girls and we encourage each other as women scientists. I just think it’s...I don’t see any downsides. My God! Women and blacks and Chinese and whoever you happen to be, everybody should have equal cards. You shouldn’t have to struggle so hard. It’s crazy that science should be so male-dominated.

Barbara Sloat talking to Joyce Friedman (Computer Science Dept.) at the “Image and Professionalism: Issues for Women In Science” conference

Barbara Sloat talking to Joyce Friedman (Computer Science Dept.) at the “Image and Professionalism: Issues for Women In Science” conference7

Listen to Barbara speculate on the future of the Women In Science and Engineering program and how it’s still necessary.

KB: So, what do you see the future of the program being?

BS: I think it can continue to do what it’s doing: setting up programs, encouraging young women, trying to educate their parents, trying to support women who are in school. I know engineering school, we had hoped that engineering school would sort of be half women back in the early days and it’s hard to retain women in engineering and it’s hard to retain them once they get out into the field too. It’s a very male field too, which means it’s not so comfortable if you’re not behaving the same way or you’re not acting the same way. So, what was I going to say about engineering? What did you ask me?

KB: About the future of the program...

BS: Oh the future! Yeah. For instance, computer science, the field of computer science was kind of born during these years, these decades and we thought, “Oh my God! A brand new science field! This is going to be equal from the get-go! Here at Michigan, at MIT, everywhere.” You know, I read recently an article that that hasn’t panned out at all. That in fact there are relatively few women who concentrate in computer science, now why is that? I mean there is still so much to do. Why is that? I try to convince my own students that they need to get advanced degrees. They need to get science degrees, M.D.s, Ph.D.s, because then they’ll have power in the world. I have power because I have a Ph.D. and I can afford child care and I could follow my interests. I think there’s so much room for this still. It’s my impression that there’s a lot of educating going on now. I came to a conference here Women In Science and Engineering was involved in trying to educate the faculty through that event program that they have now. So I think it’s a lot better though. I think girls feel freer. Don’t you?

KB: Definitely.

BS: They feel freer to make those kinds of choices and I feel pretty ancient! (laughs) I mean, it’s not that long ago that this all happened.

KB: No, I think you just accomplished change.

BS: And I feel very lucky to have been on a kind of a cusp. I think not just me but the founders of the program, CEW, James Duderstat. There was a word used at that time: sea change. There’s a sea change occurring and I remember using that term, sea change, myself because there kind of was. You were beginning to see some feminist writing on women and objectivity and thinking and how we’re taught to think and how the very structure of the language makes us think certain things so it was nice.

Listen to Barbara describe all the guilt she suffered for supporting Women In Science because her department felt she was not being serious about her discipline.

BS: Now, the thing I haven’t addressed is all the guilt that I had to suffer by getting involved in all of this.

KB: Really? Tell me about that.

BS: Because the biology department thought I was nuts and they said, “You’re not serious about science.” There’s nothing worse for somebody who has sort of trained all along and has a Ph.D. and is trying to compete and trying to be in there to be told you’re not serious. I think it’s very difficult out there still. I think, I kept thinking, “Oh God, I shouldn’t be spending time on this. I should be doing more experiments. I should applying for more grants.” I mean, this notion that you’re not serious is very difficult. When Cinda took the job, you know, she had to make a decision too. “Am I going to keep working in the lab?” You really can’t do all of this so, again, that takes...it takes courage and it takes support. I think nowadays that would be easier to do too because there aren’t so many jobs around, you know what I mean?

Resource Directory of Michigan Women in the Sciences, circa 1980 Resource Directory of Women Faculty in the Sciences, circa 1980

Resource Directories of Michigan Women in the Sciences and Women Faculty in the Sciences, circa 19808 9

Summer Internship in the Sciences poster, 1984

Listen to Barbara talk about reaching out to high school students and developing a directory for women faculty in the sciences.

BS: We also had something that reached out to high school students. We had a lot of fun. We did a lot but we did something called “Women Faculty in the Sciences Resource Directory”. Early on I decided I had to find every woman scientist anywhere nearby who could be a resource. And my husband loved computers and so he used to computerize all these for me, but we eventually ended up taking these out to high schools and having some programs in high schools in Ann Arbor too. So that the high school teachers would know that we were here if they needed something. So I see a future for it. I think, you know, whatever you can do to bring students in who have that wonderful interest and who need the encouragement, who need the support.

KB: Change the stereotype a little bit?

BS: And I think it’s still very difficult for a woman in science. In fact, it’s more difficult, again, because of the economy and because of the shrinkage of jobs in the academy over the last ten years. Very hard to get jobs. When it gets really hard to get jobs and jobs are cut back then women aren’t necessarily the ones who win out in their interviewing process, so the jobs become harder to get. New York Times recently had an article this winter on women in science, a whole huge page in the Science section, about the struggles women have out there, making it, much less having families as well. So as long as we have more and more awareness of the issues and how wonderful these women are, these scientists are, the better.

Summer Internship in the Sciences poster, 198410


Listen to Barbara’s advice for young women interested in science.

BS: I guess all I want to say is that I do love science. I fell in love with cells when I was seventeen when I went to college and I truly loved it and all the opportunities it’s brought me, including travel everywhere to conferences. My hope for all students is that they find something they really like and they can stick with it and have the support that they need. It really breaks my heart to see how science-adverse our culture is and our students. People almost feel like they can’t understand. They can’t go there as it gets more technological. They can’t really understand chemotherapy. They can’t really understand...that this is somehow for these other people. I wish that we could encourage the study of science, you know, in kids.

1. Kalmbach, Robert, News and Information Services (University of Michigan), Barbara Sloat, Sarah Goddard Power Award, 1984; from her personal collection

2. Barbara Sloat, Women In Science office, 1983; from her personal collection

3. Barbara Sloat, Sally Dunnick (WIS Program Assistant), and Addie Hunter (CEW/WIS Secretary) at the Women In Science office at Center for the Education of Women, 1983; from her personal collection

4. Warner-Lambert Lecture Series poster, 1983, Box 3, Women in Science and Engineering Program (University of Michigan), Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan

5. Image and Professionalism Conference poster, 1981, Box 2, Women in Science and Engineering Program (University of Michigan), Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan

6. Women and Science Workshop poster, 1981, Box 3, Women in Science and Engineering Program (University of Michigan), Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan

7. Barbara Sloat talking to Joyce Friedman (Computer Science Dept.) at the “Image and Professionalism: Issues for Women In Science” conference, 1981; from her personal collection.

8. Resource Directory of Michigan Women in the Sciences, 1983, Box 2, Women in Science and Engineering Program (University of Michigan), Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan

9. Resource Directory of Women Faculty in the Sciences, Box 2, Women in Science and Engineering Program (University of Michigan), Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan

10. Summer Internship in the Sciences poster, 1984, Box 2, Women in Science and Engineering Program (University of Michigan), Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan