Interview – Professor Lois Salamonsen
Reproduction’s next special issue is on female pioneers in the field of reproduction. The journal’s editorial board prides itself on striving for gender equality (including current research into equality of gender in peer review) and supporting the careers of women in science. We spoke to contributor Lois Salamonsen, Head of the Endometrial Remodelling Laboratory at the Hudson Institute and an adjunct Professor at Monash University.
Could you briefly tell us about your particular field and research?
My team work on the uterus, particularly the inner layer, the endometrium, which provides the environment in which the embryo undergoes its final development and into which it implants to start the process of placental development. The endometrium is a remarkable tissue, as it is shed each month at menstruation, is restored in the early part of the next cycle, and then differentiates to prepare itself for implantation should conception occur. If not, then it is shed again to restart its next cycle. Disorders of the endometrium are common and greatly affect the lives of women, their partners and families. These include: infertility, endometriosis; abnormal uterine bleeding, and disorders of implantation lead to disturbed placental development, resulting in early miscarriage and poor fetal development. Our work has focused particularly on the human with clear vision of clinically relevant outcomes.
Do you have a female role model in science?
Very early in my career, a wonderful scientist, Glen Metcalf, showed me that it was possible for women to have a meaningful career in science, even with a family. She had so much enthusiasm for science, it was infectious. One of her important findings was the wild variation in progesterone levels as women approached the menopause.
What is the most memorable thing that has happened to you while working in science?
Being elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Sciences in 2017 has been a real pinnacle of my career – well beyond my wildest dreams.
What were the obstacles you had to overcome in research?
Obstacles for me were really all about being female. I did not do medicine because I was female. Only 5% of each class were female. They were given a ‘hell of a time’ by the all-male lecturers and I was even told I would keep a boy out of medical school and then never work. Likewise after I obtained a first class honours degree in biochemistry, topping the class, I was not invited to do a PhD: that was only for the males. This was before the time of ‘women’s liberation’ so I only started my PhD when I was 40, with two young children and a very supportive husband.
What changes are needed in science to be more attractive to women in science?
Women now have wonderful female role models and are at least equivalent to males in their performance. However, we have not yet overcome the ‘male dominance’. One thing I have tried to do is to influence the selection of women for important lectures; this is much improved in Reproductive Sciences, but we still have a way to go. It is also important that our funding bodies, awards committees etc, acknowledge the full impact of having children on women’s opportunities. Not only do they need maternity leave, but in most instances, the burden of childcare still falls on women.
Read Louis' contribution to the special 'My Womban's Life: Understanding Human Endometrial Function' and keep an eye out for the ‘Celebrating Women in Reproductive Science’ special issue for more contributions of reproductive female frontiers.