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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, November 06, 2002

New research director breaks through barriers New research director breaks through barriers (November 06, 2002)

Drell says research centers need to embrace diversity

After Persis Drell graduated from Wellesley Women's College near Boston in 1977, she received somewhat of a culture shock after beginning her PhD program at U.C.Berkeley.

"I was the only woman in classes of about 45 students," she said. "It took me a long time to start asking questions because if I asked a dumb question, everyone would remember. I stuck out like a sore thumb."

Drell eventually overcame those insecurities and established herself as a respected physicist. This year, she became the Stanford Linear Accelerator's research director and was named one of the "50 Most Important Women in Science" in the November, 2002 issue of Discover Magazine.

"If you really want something, you'll find a way to solve the problems" that arise, she said.

Such "problems" include advice from peers that she shouldn't have children before achieving tenure. She didn't listen, though, and actually attended a job interview at Cornell with a two-week-old infant in her arms.

Despite her success, however, Drell -- the daughter of Stanford University professor emeritus and former SLAC deputy director Sidney Drell -- noted her field needs to embrace diversity further.

When she left her position as professor of physics at Cornell University this year, there were only two or three women out of 44 faculty members in her department, Drell said. This is typical, she added.

"From a selfish viewpoint, (diversity) lets you get the best people," she said. "Why artificially eliminate a pool of people from the field?"

-- Julie Patel


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