An Interview With Suzanne Franks of Thus Spake Zuska


Over the holidays, we'll be rerunning interviews with the ScienceBloggers, beginning with Suzanne Franks of Thus Spake Zuska.

What's your name?
Well, originally my name was Suzanne Franks. Then I married someone, and just because I said I wanted to, my name became Suzanne Shedd. Ten years later, it took a lawyer and a court order and a "petition to retake former name" to go back to Suzanne Franks. And there's still a utility company and a credit bureau that thinks my social security number belongs to Suzanne Shedd. Let that be a lesson to you young women who think it's a good idea to change your name at marriage. Anyway - Suzanne Franks.

What do you do when you're not blogging?
I garden, I read, I cook, I have migraines.

What is your blog called?
Thus Spake Zuska

What's up with that name?
Zuska is a Slovak diminutive bestowed upon me by my maternal grandfather. Zuska was never hesitant to demand justice. I'm glad to have her back with me in adulthood.

To paraphrase Nietzsche, "Discrimination is something that is to be overcome. What have you done to overcome it?" Descending from the Appalachian coalfields, I proffer my hard-won wisdom to the world. The residents of Science-and-Engineering Land are lost, sickened by discrimination and harassment. Perpetrators and victims alike are mired in this discriminatory wasteland. The source of their sickness is the Death of the Superior White Male, a fantasy who never really existed, but to whose malignant existence denizens of Science-and-Engineering Land devote entire careers. They are locked in the past. I don't have time to fantasize about how things might be better in the future. The struggle exists in the present. (Thanks to Jorn K. Bramann for an excellent synopsis of Thus Spake Zarathustra, which I paraphrased with pleasure: here. )

How long have you been blogging, anyway?
Just over a year. Though I've been blogging in my head and to my friends a lot longer than that. Pretty much my whole life, if you must know.

Where are you from and where do you live now?
Geographically: I was born in the back seat of Dad's Oldsmobile on the side of a back road in Greene County, Pennsylvania, USA. Coal mining country - bituminous, not anthracite. My mom still lives in the same house she was (literally) born in. It's a house built by the coal company. Six rooms, my parents, my grandfather, and us six kids, and extended family around town. I live now in a suburb of Philadelphia, PA, in a hundred-year-old three-story colonial house with two cats and my husband. My nearest family is 300 miles away.

Intellectually: I come from a place where girls were supposed to grow up to be good wives to local boys, and good mothers to their children. I did not marry a local boy, and I have no kids. I do have a divorce and a couple of theses! Did I mention I was raised Catholic?

Would you describe yourself as a working scientist?
Well, first we'd have to agree on what "working scientist" means. I used to joke with my friends that according to the standard prejudice about what it meant to be a "real" scientist, the only real scientists in the U.S. were postdocs and post-third year grad students. They were the ones doing actual lab work, collecting and analyzing data, keeping up with the literature, etc. The professors had all, as far as we could tell, been gradually transformed into proposal-writing and grant-maintaining machines. Also, postdoc and grad-student slave drivers. And people in industry didn't seem to count at all. Let alone anyone doing something so garish as public policy or administrative work - those were "used-to-be" scientists. My opinion: if you work in any capacity in which you draw upon your science/engineering education to perform your work, you are a working scientist/engineer. That said: I used to have a very nice paid career as a scientist/engineer, before I became disabled with chronic migraines. I now consider myself to be an unpaid disabled blogging scientist/engineer.

Any educational experiences or degrees you'd like to mention?
Oh lord. Degrees are easy: BS in engineering science (Penn State), MS in nuclear engineering, (MIT) MEd secondary ed - mathematics (Arcadia U), PhD in biomedical engineering (Duke), women's studies graduate certificate (Duke) - I'm a chronically educated person. I've had educational experiences that would curl your hair, but you can read about all that on the blog. I'll just mention this statistic: 11 years of engineering higher education at three prestigious institutions. Three female professors for an engineering-related class the entire time. That's 0.3 role models per year. I just love it when people tell me things are getting much better for women in engineering now, because that's what they were saying to me when I was a student.

What are your main academic interests, in or out of your field?
Anything gender and science/engineering related. Research on women in engineering and science. These are not necessarily the same. The first is more theoretical - the culture of science and technology, its production, its uses - while the second focuses on issues of access and climate. They are related but you'd be surprised how little communication there is between the two camps. I am interested in fostering communication between them. And, of course, getting engineers and scientists, who are not necessarily the ones doing this research, to listen to anything that either group is saying. Three points of a triangle, but little communication between any of them. If we could link them...well, any engineer knows how strong a triangle is.

I'm also interested in what I call the Intelligent Design Schoolhouse Crusade for Christ movement. The organized movement that wishes not to remove science from our schools, but to pervert it and bend it to the purposes of the radical right evangelical movement that foments all the intelligent design hooha that goes on in the U.S. and makes us look like fools to the world.

Long, long ago I used to be very interested in chemotherapeutic resistance of cancer cells, how it affects their lipid metabolism, and what sorts of perfusion systems are best for studying this using 31P NMR spectroscopy. I had some really, really lovely spectra obtained from living cells - just gorgeous. Should have framed some of them.

The last book you read?
I can't seem to read just one book at once. Right now I'm reading Socrates Café - A Fresh Taste of Philosophy by Christopher Phillips; Suffering for Science: Reason and Sacrifice in Modern America by Rebecca Herzig; Longitude: The True Story of a Modern Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel, and The Observations, a novel by Jane Harris. Though I did just finish Longitude the other day, so I guess that would be it.

What is your idea of a perfect day?
No migraine, no aura, no feeling that a migraine is about to come on, no hangover from pain-relieving meds from yesterday's migraine, no low-grade headache that isn't quite a migraine but is just there and annoying. Just a normal head. That, plus anything else that happens. Sunshine is good.

What's your greatest habitual annoyance?
These are a few of my least favorite things: barking dogs, loud music reverberating from cars, mountaintop removal, George W. Bush, and sexually-harassing science/engineering faculty members.

Who are your favorite heroes of fiction?
Rat, from the comic strip Pearls Before Swine. Jo, from Little Women, before she got all swooney about Professor Bhaer. Karana, from Island of the Blue Dolphins. Kit Tyler, from The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Elsa and Alice Pendleton, and Greer Farraday, from Easter Island by Jennifer Vanderbes, a book every living woman scientist and engineer ought to read. And then send her a fan letter.

Your favorite heroes in real life?
Debra Rolison, who has asked the infamous question "isn't a millennium of affirmative action for white men sufficient?" Absinthe - you are marvelous, dear. Rosalind Franklin - James Watson, you'd be nothing without her, ah, "borrowed" data. Cynthia Burack - she knows why. My mom - I'd have quit engineering after my first calculus course if not for her. Beth Montelone, Ruth Dyer, Jackie Spears, and Susan Arnold at K-State. Jean O'Barr at Duke. Oh, I can't possibly list them all. All the WEPAN folks. There are so darn many kick-ass women. If you don't see yourself on this list and you think you should be, you should just assume that in the unabridged version your name would be there.

What's your most marked characteristic?
Speaking forthrightly.

What's your principal defect?
Speaking forthrightly at inopportune times.

What quality do you admire most in a person?
The ability to allow others to feel and express their feelings, whatever they may be, and not try to explain them away or tell them they should feel differently. It's a much harder thing to do than you might think, and a rare friend who can do it consistently, for more than just the happy feelings.

Who are your favorite writers?
I don't think I really have favorite writers. I like good writing, and I like things that make me think in new ways. But I'll read the back of a cereal box if nothing else is available.

What would you like to be?
Healthy. I can do pretty much whatever else I want, if I could just stop having migraines. Also, a mean banjo-picker.


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I was suggested this blog by my cousin. I am not sure whether this post is written by him as no one else know such detailed about my problem. You're incredible! Thanks!

Zuska said

"Rosalind Franklin - James Watson, you'd be nothing without her, ah, "borrowed" data."

Unfortunately for Zuska and Franklin, Watson and Crick made more sense out of her data and with knowledge of chemistry than she could (at that time atleast). Who knows maybe she wouldn't have been able to solve it :p

That said Rosalind Franklin was equally deserving of the Nobel Prize as Wilkins, Watson and Crick(They should also have named her as an author in that paper;maybe even the first one) but unfortunately she died before the awards were announced and inconveniently for some people with axes to grind the Nobel Prize is not awarded posthumously.

There is no need to highlight a talented and brilliant female researcher by running down other male scientists. Brilliance has nothing to do with gender.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, Venky, or so James Watson would have you believe. But Francis Crick, who was more of a man than James Watson ever could have been, admitted to Anne Sayre in her biography of Rosalind Franklin, that without Franklin's data - which Maurice Wilkins took without Franklin's permission and showed to Watson and Crick - they would not have gotten the structure of DNA as fast as they did, and possibly never would have gotten it at all with their model-building alone. However, Crick said, he believed that Franklin, with her data alone, would have gotten the structure of DNA on her own, possibly in another six months or a year.

Of course, most people know of Rosalind Franklin from Watson's book "The Double Helix" in which his vicious caricature "Rosy" stands in for the real life Rosalind Franklin, who was never called Rosy by anyone who knew her while she was alive. Of course, she couldn't speak up about Watson's vicious caricature or misrepresentation of events in "The Double Helix", now could she, because she was dead when he rewrote history.

If I have an axe to grind, it's because James Watson picked it up and put it in my hand. He may have been a talented scientist - if by talented we include appropriating the data of others without their knowledge and/or consent for our own personal use and advancement of our careers and then failing to give them credit or acknowledgment during publication or the acceptance of resulting Nobel Prizes.

I am sick unto the very death of the veneration of James Watson; whatever else good he has done, he also stole Franklin's data, didn't give her credit, and road that data all the way to the Nobel with nary a backward glance or tinge of guilt. Not only that, he maligned the character of the woman whose data he stole. He or Crick could have said to Wilkins "hey, if this is Franklin's data, then we need to bring her into the discussion, work on this together, ask her permission, be ethical scientists". But they didn't. They just trampled all over scientific ethics. And the scientific world still calls them heroes for doing it. Makes. Me. Want. To. Puke. On. Their. Shoes.

Who knows maybe she wouldn't have been able to solve it

Honestly, I think this suggestion is absurd. Franklin knew what everyone else, including Watson and Crick, knew about DNA. The crucial element in the solution was Franklin's x-ray data; her painstaking technical excellence had her producing cleaner data than pretty much anyone else in the world at the time.

The situation is not complicated: Franklin was cheated out of appropriate recognition. In a profession whose basic currency (social and, in a real sense, fiscal) is kudos, this is unforgivable.

Venky indulges in the fallacies, 'Red Herring' (twofold), 'Ad Feminam', and 'Dubious Assumption'. He makes no valid argument.

It's sad Watson has any credit as a scientist. He's been a active policy person and a best-selling author, but I can't think of a single scientific discovery that was clearly Watson's work. Even in The Double Helix, it is clear that the heavy thinking was done by Crick.

As another note, your aside of 3 women engineering faculty means 0.3 role models/year was a cute aside, but do you really think it's impossible for your to have a male role model or were all your male professors not people who inspired you?

BSCI, regarding the role model thing: role models can do many, many different things for a person. One of the things they can do is model for the person a particular way of being a particular kind of person in a particular field of endeavor. Men have many, many, many models to choose from of how to be men in science. They have so many models to choose from, that they are not even conscious of the fact that they are choosing a model of a way to "be" a man in science. They don't think about what it means to be a man in science, because they take it as a given that you can be a man in science (or engineering). There are a plethora of models to choose from, so it's not a problem.

There are, however, precious few models to choose from of how to "be" a woman in science or engineering. And as we know, it is not assumed by many to be natural or normal to "be" a woman in science/engineering. On top of that, because there are so few of us, whatever one of us does, is taken to represent what ALL women would/should/could do or say in a given situation. We are often, simultaneously, ignored AND under a spotlight. We shouldn't be there - but since we are, we should be conscious of that fact that we are representing ALL WOMANKIND.

Now, this is a lot of pressure for any one woman to deal with. It is nice, under such circumstances, to see once in awhile some other woman who has made it through the mill and is still somewhat functional. To observe how she carries herself. What she does in public. How she dresses - because we know the way women dress is much more important, much more noticed, than the way men dress. We want our female role models, not just for scientific inspiration, but just to know that it can be done. They don't even necessarily have to be our mentors - a lab supervisor, or someone we go to daily or weekly for advice. They just need to exist somewhere nearby, in our orbit, telling us by their lived presence that OUR existence is not an anomaly, not an impossibility, not a joke - but a real, true, possible, wonderful thing.

I do not doubt that a female science/engineering role model can represent and teach things to female students that a man is unable to do. You listed several excellent examples. Still, to say that a man cannot be a role model for a female student is a rather extreme statement. Was there never a male teacher or researcher who treated you as a scientist and to whom you looked up as someone who did good science and as someone who could teach you how to do good science?

And just for your information, I'm male and I cannot remember how any of my female science and engineering professors dressed. I tend to notice sloppiness more than style so I assume none of them were sloppy. I do remember one male prof who always wore a sports jacket, t-shirt, and pants. Each day, either the jacket or pants were wrinkled, but never both.

Mr. Hooker you missed the emoticon at the end of the line you quote.

As I said earlier Rosalind Franklin was just as deserving of the Nobel Prize (unfortunately for people who like to claim she was cheated out of one she died before the awards were announced) and she should also have been the co-author in that paper (and for that matter WIlkins too; though both were acknowledged in the end).

Maybe she could have solved the structure but the fact is that Watson and Crick did it first. Did they get her data by underhanded means? Nope. Quite a lot of the data was already in the public MRC biophysics report, she had also mentioned most of the data in a talk attended by Watson. She had also decided to leave King's for Birkbeck and thus Gosling had given that famous photo to Wilkins which he shared with Watson and Crick. There was nothing untoward in it (it is not as if she was still working with DNA at Birkbeck).

Basically she was opposed to building theoretical models and that is where she lost out in the race to get the final structure. If she was more flexible about the model building we would probably be talking about the Franklin or the Franklin-Watson-Crick model rather that just the Watson and Crick model.

BTW did you know that Franklin thought that A-DNA was not helical?

Not just the people who Comment here, but EVERYONE
*Maybe some of Franklins friends
*Possibly maybe even crick and wilkins
oh yeah and ME!

Here are some important questions.
#1 Did Watson 'really' a bad writer- or did he do it on purpose?

#2 Watson isn't the most 'honest' person, are you sure he wasn't lying about some 'things'(*cough*Franklin*cough*)

#3 Don't you think he changes his mind- a little to much.

#4 Oh and haven't you notice how diffrent he talks about Franklin from any other female he has met.

#5 What really happend in that lab when they were aguring over the shape over the double helix.

See i think Watson is a big liar- 'in some cases'
but whose to say Rosalind isn't here- to give us her side of the story.

So in other words Watson could lying about some 'things'

Just some thoughts.......that's all.....

I'm sure Watson is hidding 'something' from all of us, we're sure what?
I think i know what it is. But that's me. You take a guess.

By spunkanimedolphin (not verified) on 24 Nov 2007 #permalink

Cheay*wakes Tab over the head*: YOU ARN'T SUPPOSE TO SAY ANYTHING!
Me: Oops, was that me.
RANDOM SPUNK GROUP *glare and growl at her starting to grab things.*
Me: Woo, woo, guys, guys, *backing up*: Just put the tourches and pitch forks down. : Guys, guys.
RSG*start running*
RSG*trap me in a banana spider web*
Me: Awe man!
Hyper: I thought it was, You almost let the cat out of the bag...
Darkone: SHUT IT!
Hyper: Yes Mel
Darkone: IT'S DARKONE!
Me: Hay *hold up hands in defense*: At lest I did not tell them who or what WFM is.
Hyper: When are we going to become super cupid to send WFM throught out the process of Random DNA and Random RNA to the MESSENGER RNA TO SEND THEM OUR MESSAGE!
People at site*stare*
Iced: Uh I think people already thing we're...
Hero^Ray >.>
Person: Which would be?
RSG*cokes*: W-F-M.
Person: Which would stand for.
Person*looks at use weird*: What- the heck- does that mean.
Me: Go to my myspace and you'll find out ALL ABOUT IT!
RSG*evil smrik*
Person: Okay *looks away.*
RSG*runs away leaving a new message behind*