WICB Senior Award 2002

Publiceret Januar 2003

At the Annual American Society for Biology Meeting in San Francisco 2002 the Women In Cell Biology (WICB) Committee gave the Senior Award to Natasha Raikhel for her outstanding scientific achievements coupled with a long-standing record of support for women in science and by mentorship of both men and women in scientific careers. Natasha Raikhel received her M.S. in Biology in 1970 and her Ph.D. in Leningrad, USSR, in 1975. After her departure from the Soviet Union in 1979, she worked at University of Georgia, USA and from 1986 at the DOE-Plant Research Laboratory at Michigan State University. From 2002 she is Professor of Plant Cell Biology at the University of California at Riverside. Her research is focused on vacuolar biogenesis, protein trafficking and secretion and cell wall biosynthesis in plants.  Her acceptance speech:

Thank you for having honored me today in this way. I accept this award with profound gratitude for the people and the events that made it possible for my students, my colleagues and myself to succeed in our work.  

As many of you know, I originate from and grew up in the Soviet Union. I immigrated with my husband and first born son to Athens, Georgia in 1978 with a personal fortune of only 25 dollars.  My memory is that I felt like a "Blind Chicken" (russian expression) and wondered how I could and would ever make the language, scientific and social transitions required of me. I did not realize at the time that I was lucky in many ways and that fortune had favored me.

I knew only a single American scientist when I first arrived.  But I encountered many helpful people that were critical to my survival.  I also entered a social context within academia that differed in several important ways from the system I had left behind. The American academic system is characterized by a greater diversity, a greater openness of thought and a fairer atmosphere of competition that drives one to take intellectual risks and achieve more.  At its best, this environment also leads to a constant renewal of possibility, a wealth of new ideas and a rich milieu of thoughtful exchange that fosters both collective and individual progress. In America, I found a place where prestige and intellectual and economic rewards were all reasonable potential goals. Although I did not find the streets paved with gold, I actually found the far greater treasure of opportunity.

Another social difference from which I profited is the greater freedom for self determination as an American woman. Here, in the US, it is possible, in concert with the right partner in life, to build a domestic environment where the responsibility for hearth and home is truly shared, so that family life also, can be based on equality of opportunity.  I could not have become the person nor the scientist I am today, without the support of my husband Alex and my children.

What I achieved also was due to the chance of time. I am a product of this age of molecular biology with its  rapidly expanding knowledge bases and burgeoning information systems that has been made possible by our technological growth. This lucky moment in history has allowed all of us here today the privilege to be pioneers of new and fascinating frontiers.

I have tried, as I built a career as an American scientist, to foster and mentor those who will carry our field on into the future, to be persistent in the pursuit of worthy goals and to change myself and the system when and where there was anachronism, inefficiency or unfairness. The award you have given me today, in a way validates my past efforts and encourages a continued career shift in this direction; a shift away from building a personal reputation toward an acceptance of the extraordinary responsibility of leadership within our field. But leadership does not occur in isolation. We all lead and follow within a group, hopefully as a team. I am continuously impressed by the breath and depth of scientific contributions made by so many students and postdocs with whom I have had the pleasure of working with. I now work toward many objectives on behalf of a scientific community as well as my own personal interests. As with my past work, my future work will depend upon the efforts of many, more numerous than I can list, my students, postdocs, friends, and colleagues, for whom I feel much gratitude and with whom I share this moment and this award.

In his essay Tradition and Individual Talent, the poet T.S. Eliot says, that no artist has his complete meaning alone.  I would expand that thought to include today?s scientist, who also cannot have his or her complete meaning alone. I am proud today that my personal efforts in science will over time cease to be mine alone and join with a much larger stream of scientific thought that will live on beyond any of us here today.  It is the American context, which at its best, celebrates diversity, the acceptance of new ideas and the ever present possibility to start again that has allowed for my success.  And so, although you have singled me out for this award, I acknowledge that it truly belongs to our time and a philosophical tradition that I will continue to work within and seek to preserve. Thank you.