Margaret Perkins was an Assistant Professor at Rockefeller University, working on the basic biochemistry and cell biology of malaria parasites, when I first met her. She was an examiner for my candidacy exam. Her work was cutting edge and fundamental to our understanding as to how these parasites invaded erythrocytes. She identified receptor interactions between the host and parasite, and the biochemical mechanisms that allowed them to invade. Later she became involved in advocacy for maternal health.
By the time I reached my candidacy exam, most of my interactions with scientists involved men, and unfortunately, many of those interactions were negative. I was shy & didn't have the kind of confidence they had, and I didn't want to emulate the arrogance. I was on my 3rd supervisor (1 died, 1 lost funding, and ultimately, the 3rd did not receive tenure and was forced out of the university) and I was having doubts about the whole career choice. I remember visiting Dr. Perkins in the lab, her lab, her hair askew, her hands in gloves, taking tubes out of a centrifuge. She was following her own ideas, and making the decisions about next steps, experimental design, etc. She was well respected and recognized for her achievements. I had read all her papers. She was so brilliant, so passionate and when I interacted with her, so normal. She made it seem like it was possible to be a woman with an independent scientific career. That was important to me and made me want to keep trying.
Submitted by Maria Febbraio