|J.L. Greger and Bug|
Spunky Women Scientists
By J. L. Greger
In my new novel Coming Flu the heroine Sara Almquist is a retired epidemiologist from Michigan State University. She retired early to the Albuquerque area because she was tired of university politics and cold weather. On the positive side, she wanted to explore her artistic side and do pet therapy with her dog Bug.
I guess Sara is like me in some ways. We were both raised on pig farms in the Midwest. I was a professor in biological sciences at the University of Wisconsin (UW)-Madison for twenty-five years. I retired early to get time to write fiction and to get away from snow. My Japanese Chin named Bug (shown in the picture with me) is the model for Bug in the novel. Together we do pet therapy in two hospitals in Albuquerque. Fortunately, my life is not as traumatic as Sara’s.
One of the reasons I wrote Coming Flu was I wanted to help non-scientists sense the excitement, potential, and limits of modern biology. This medical thriller is an example of a new genre of literature called science in fiction or Lab Lit. Coming Flu is not science fiction because a serious flu epidemic could happen.
A second reason for writing this medical thriller was I wanted to create a realistic image of women in science. No one expected the quiet, six-year-old in this photo to become a scientist. Her favorite activity was playing with her dolls. She was not a tomboy.
Similarly, Sara doesn’t fit the traditional image of a scientist in fiction. Think about it. The scientists in many science fiction novels and movies (Frankenstein and its clones) are aging, un-athletic, males with anti-social tendencies. Comic strips improved the image of scientists, at least visually, to be handsome males, like Batman and Iron Man. Now TV shows, like CSI, Bones, and NCIS, feature attractive, young women as scientists. But few scientists in popular books, movies, or TV shows are mature women.
To a certain extent, the changes in the images of scientists in fiction reflect reality. In 1958, women earned 8% of the doctoral degrees awarded in science and engineering in the US. In 1985 and 2006, women earned 27% and 40%, respectively, of the doctorates awarded in these fields. Don’t get too excited about progress! Look at the figures for women holding professorships in science and engineering. Women held 4.5% of those positions in 1973 and 17.9% of the in 2003.
I was an associate dean at the UW-Madison who helped departments recruit women scientists in the 1990’s. Recruiting women to assistant professorships wasn’t as hard as retaining them and grooming them to become full professors. Part of the problem was the social isolation many felt in largely male science department. Personally, I thought the worst part was faculty parties when women faculty members were relegated to talking to wives of older professors in the kitchen. I’m being unfair, many of the wives were nice.
Things have improved. I hope Coming Flu will whet the appetite of readers for spunky, mature women doing real science in more novels in the future.
About Coming Flu: A flu epidemic breaks out in a walled community near the Rio Grande. More than two hundred die in less than a week. The rest face a bleak future when quarantine is imposed. One resident, Sara Almquist, a medical epidemiologist, pries into every aspect of her neighbor’s lives looking for ways to stop the spread of the flu. She finds promising clues - maybe too many.
Coming Flu was published by Oak Tree Press and is available in paperback and eBook formats from the publisher and Amazon. See http://www.jlgreger.com for more information on J. L. (Janet) Greger, Coming Flu, and the new genre of fiction - science in fiction or Lab Lit.
J.L.'s website is: http://www.jlgreger.com
The buy link to Oak Tree Press is: http://oaktreebooks.com/Shop%20OTP.htm#ComFlu
The buy link to Amazon is: http://www.amazon.com/Coming-Flu-J-L-Greger/dp/1610090985?
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