From supporting the studies that led to the COVID-19 vaccine to championing diversity in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) itself, women are making a difference in NIH’s halls, divisions, and programs. The agency is highlighting some of its female leaders throughout Women’s History Month in March in the Record, an NIH publication. The first feature includes a board-certified pediatrician and pediatric hematologist/oncologist who shared their experiences and wisdom and offered insight into their careers in science and medicine.

NIH featured the following women in its March 3 article:

  • Sadhana Jackson, MD, pediatric neuro-oncologist, adjunct investigator in the Center for Cancer Research pediatric oncology branch: Jackson started at NIH in 2015 to conduct research and provide patient care as a pediatric neuro-oncologist at both the National Cancer Institute and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Her work includes caring for patients with neurological cancer and leading a lab focused on the challenges of drug delivery because of the blood-brain barrier among malignant gliomas. Jackson also spearheads the Power of an Inclusive Workplace Recognition Project at NIH, which focuses on increasing the diversity depicted in art displayed in NIH buildings and digital spaces.
  • Payel Sen, PhD, Stadtman investigator and head of the functional epigenomics unit at the National Institute of Aging Laboratory of Genetics and Genomics: Sen emigrated from India to the U.S. about 19 years ago for graduate school in pursuit of her PhD. She earned a PhD in molecular biology, microbiology, and biochemistry. She joined NIH in 2019 as a Stadtman tenure-track investigator.
  • Emily Erbelding, MD, MPH, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases: Erbelding worked as an infectious disease specialist during the COVID-19 pandemic. She and her staff collaborated across government to plan and move the vaccine development effort forward. Before coming to NIH, Erbelding treated patients and taught at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. In 2010, she shifted to government and became the deputy director of the NIAID’s Division of AIDS.
  • Lisa Portnoy, DVM, director of the Clinical Center's Animal Care Program: Portnoy is a veterinarian and a diplomate in the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine who has worked at NIH for almost 20 years. She reviews clinical center animal care and use protocols to ensure research animals are treated humanely. She conducts site inspections of animal facilities and trains investigators.

The NIH leaders and innovators also provided advice and tips for the next generation pursuing careers in science and medicine.

For those considering a career in science, Jackson advised on being persistent and confident. “Keep your head up, despite setbacks and disappointments,” she said. “Stay confident and know persistence always wins the race.”

Sen expressed a similar attitude, explaining that she always advises her trainees to keep pushing forward no matter what.

“Just keep swimming,” Sen said. “What’s true in science also applies to life in general—you may not always get good results, or there might be disappointments and things may be slow at some point. But eventually, in retrospect, everything makes sense. All the effort that you put in makes sense. The whole point is to just keep going.”