Celebrating Women in Science at the MBL

Rut Pedrosa Pàmies near a sediment trap during a redeployment of the Oceanic Flux Program mooring onboard the R/V Atlantic Explorer. (Photo credit: JC Weber)

By Emily Greenhalgh

The Marine Biological Laboratory has always been a unique institution—it’s part of the “MBL magic” that many scientists and students talk about every year. Its founding was no exception. When the MBL was founded in 1888, it was unusual for its time in that it encouraged women students of science to apply on an equal footing with their male peers.

In the more than a century since, the MBL has had some ups and downs regarding women in science—the years between 1910 and 1970 saw a lull in female admissions—but has made great strides in the last 60 years in making the institution a place where everyone can study and thrive, regardless of gender.

In a world where fewer than 30% of science jobs are filled by women, we’re proud that 55% of MBL employees (and 45% of our resident scientists) are women.

MBL’s Women at Work

  • Rut Pedrosa Pàmies near a sediment trap during a redeployment of the Oceanic Flux Program mooring onboard the R/V Atlantic Explorer. (Photo credit: JC Weber)
    Rut Pedrosa Pàmies near a sediment trap during a redeployment of the Oceanic Flux Program mooring onboard the R/V Atlantic Explorer. (Photo credit: JC Weber)
  • Cephalopod Lab. Credit: Megan Costello.
    Research Assistant Emily Lucas in the MBL's Cephalopod Mariculture Lab. Credit: Megan Costello
  • Karen Echeverri prepares to scoop up an axolotl in the Echeverri Lab. (Credit: Dee Sullivan)
    Karen Echeverri prepares to scoop up an axolotl in the Echeverri Lab. (Credit: Dee Sullivan)
  • Heather Bruce dissecting crustacean embryos. (Credit: Eric Chen).
    Heather Bruce dissecting crustacean embryos. (Credit: Eric Chen).
  • Ona Bloom and Jennifer Morgan with juvenile lamprey. (Credit: Amanda Rose Martinez)
    Ona Bloom and Jennifer Morgan with juvenile lamprey. (Credit: Amanda Rose Martinez)
  • Anna Maglio, Research Assistant in the Mark Welch Lab, preparing viral transport kits for use by local hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic.
    Anna Maglio, Research Assistant in the Mark Welch Lab, preparing viral transport kits for use by local hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Lauren Johnson
    MBL Semester in Environmental Science student Lauren Johnson.
  • A female scientist in our Cephalopod Lab. Credit: Megan Costello.
    Hannah Knighton in our Cephalopod Mariculture Room. Credit: Megan Costello
  • The 2019 MBL Physiology Symposium. Credit: Megan Costello.
    The 2019 MBL Physiology Symposium. Credit: Megan Costello
  • University of Chicago students take measurements in Great Sippewissett marsh. Credit: Daniel Conjanu.
    University of Chicago students take measurements in Great Sippewissett marsh. Credit: Daniel Cojanu
  • Zoe G. Cardon, senior scientist at the Ecosystems Center. Credit: Diana Kenney
  • MBL Veterinarian talking about Animal Health during an MBLSciShoots learning lesson.

Woman-led Science in the News: 2020 Edition

Future Of Climate Change, Tongue Microbiome (Part 1) | Science Friday

A Closer Look at the Genomes of Mouth Microbial Communities | Harvard University

Woods Hole Scientists Solve Century-Old Mystery: How Did Insects Get Their Wings? | CAI

The Nature of Color | µChicago

Imaging Photosensitive Corals | Optics & Photonics News

Squid Gene-Editing Shows New Possibilities For Treating Genetic Diseases | Science Friday

The 1st Gene-Altered Squid Has Thrilled Biologists | NPR

Desert Algae Shed Light on Desiccation Tolerance in Green Plants | National Science Foundation

Mapping The Microbiome Of Your Tongue | Science Friday

Data Lost, Ships Stalled, Lobsters Released: What Woods Hole Scientists Have Left Behind | WCAI

They Did Research for Decades. Then COVID-19 Hit | E&E News

Amazing Black Scientists | Live Science

U of C Alum Helps Unlock Clues to Giant Squid’s Mysterious Ways | WTTW Chicago

Scientists Have Sequenced The Genome Of The Elusive Giant Squid | Forbes

More MBL in the News…

MBL’s Women-Heavy History

During its long history, the MBL has been a source of inspiration for generations of women in science—from Cornelia Clapp, who helped found the institution, and Rachel Carson, the mother of the modern environmental movement, to the thousands of female students who have studied in Woods Hole during the last 132 years.

Women in an MBL Lab, 1928.

Women in an MBL Lab, 1928. Credit: MBL History Project

From 1888 to 1910, women came to the MBL as students and investigators—many of these women were teachers in secondary schools. About one-third of the classes in advanced scientific studies were composed of women who came from across the United States to study in Woods Hole. In the Botany and Embryology courses, more than half of the students were women.

Learn more about the women of MBL’s history from The MBL History Project


Science and scientific discovery belong to everyone, women and men, and at the MBL, we are working hard to create an inclusive environment for scientists, students, visitors, and fellows alike.

Want to support women in science? Support the MBL.

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