• The 23rd Annual Women's Faculty Committee Awardees alongside organizers and Provost Flotte.
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2023 Women's Faculty Committee Awards

Wednesday, May 24, 2023


Congratulations to our Award Winning Women-Identifying Faculty!

The 23rd Annual Women's Faculty Committee Awards honor the contributions of outstanding faculty. Recipients are nominated by their fellow faculty and selected by the Women's Faculty Committee. Before the presentation of awards, the Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Dr. Mary Ahn shared statistics on women in leadership positions at UMass Chan. Women represent a greater percentage of Professors, Associate Professors, Assistant Professors and Instructors at UMass Chan than the national average. We applaud the leadership of UMass Chan for working hard to promote gender equity in leadership in medicine.

We are thrilled to have two of the awardees this year be from the BMB department and another two awardees be associated with BMB. To celebrate their achievements, we conducted brief interviews of each of our 2023 awardees.


Mary Munson, PhD – “Outstanding Mentoring to Women Award” 

Why are you being recognized as a mentor of women scientists?

Dr. Mary Munson being awarded by representatives of the Women's Faculty Committee
Dr. Mary Munson receiving her Outstanding Mentoring to Women Award.

My experiences, skills development, and the extensive network that I have built throughout my career, allow me to be a strong and supportive mentor to enable mentees to reach their full potentials in exciting and successful research careers. Some highlights that were mentioned regarding this particular award for mentoring include:

  • Having trained a diverse group of scientists (13 PhD students, 11 postdoctoral fellows, 38 undergraduates, 6 technicians/post-baccalaureates; ~75% are women, 9 are international, and 13 are URiM trainees);
  • Co-leading UMass Chan’s Investigator Career Advancement Program (iCAP) as the Assistant Vice Provost in the Office of Health Equity, and working to improve inclusive faculty hiring and retention practices; 
  • Acting as a co-Investigator on the ASCB-AMP MOSAIC Program’s UE5 NIH grant (1UE5GM139190-01) to support and mentor cohorts of new K99/R00 scholars for the postdoc to research-intensive university transition;
  • Having many (unofficial) mentoring relationships with junior/mid-career women on the UMass Chan campus and in the greater scientific community (I’ve lost count of how many…);
  • Acting as the Vice Chair for Diversity in the BMB department;
  • My work as co-Chair of the American Society of Cell Biology (ASCB) Women in Cell Biology Committee (WICB) (note – I’ll be stepping down from this role to assume my new position as the incoming President of ASCB in 2025!);
  • My role as the faculty advisor for the UMass Chan student SACNAS chapter (2020-present); 
  • Co-organizing the Diversity Action Committee in the BMB department, and co-leading our Diversity and Equity Action Plan (DEAP);
  • Organizing and Chairing the Faculty Focused on Inclusive Excellence (FFIE) Community
  • Being a Trained Facilitator for “Entering Mentoring,” a program sponsored by the Center for the Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research (CIMER), and a trained facilitator for “Restorative Justice” practices. 


Why do you think it is important for women to be actively involved as leaders and researchers in science?

Beyond the fact that more than 50% of our trainees identify as women, yet women are under-represented at the senior faculty and leadership levels? I could share many common ideas about women having different (and often more effective) leadership styles or about the importance of providing good role models for junior women scientists. One point that is sometimes overlooked is that women perform the majority of service work including DEI-related work aimed at making science more equitable. Not only do we need increased recognition and weight given to such service activities, but I really think science would be a more equitable community if women were better represented in leadership roles.


What recent or upcoming research in your lab are you most excited about?

I’m super excited about finally seeing exocyst complexes in action to help SNAREs efficiently fuse membranes. We’re also building a mouse knock-in model with Peter Newburger’s lab for a neutropenia-associated dysfunctional mutant endocytic regulatory protein, and the mice have all sorts of interesting phenotypes that I’m excited for us to explore.


Any advice for people looking for mentors, or looking to start mentoring women?

Here are several, slightly random, pieces of advice:

  • Generally, everyone should have multiple mentors—one mentor can’t really provide useful guidance for all mentoring needs. Identify mentors that are invested in a mentee’s best interests and will even sponsor/promote their career (or identify separate sponsors). 
  • Mentoring should be a mutual beneficial relationship—mentors enjoy helping mentees, and also should receive credit for their efforts (e.g. in promotion/tenure/APR documents)!
  • For mentees:  If you would like someone to be a mentor for you—just ask! The worst that can happen is that they might say no (or not respond). However, note that good mentoring does take time, and mentors (especially from groups under-represented in science) are often overcommitted and may not have time. Don’t take it personally. 
  • For mentors:  Everyone should have mentorship training, even if they already think they are a good mentor. Being a scientist is a commitment to life-long learning, including in areas like mentorship!


Zhiping Weng, PhD – “Women in Science & Health Achievement Award”


Why do you think it is important for women to be actively involved as leaders and researchers in science?

Dr. Zhiping Weng being awarded by representatives of the Women's Faculty Committee
Dr. Zhiping Weng receiving her Women in Science & Health Achievement Award

The active involvement of women as leaders and researchers in science is crucial for fostering a diverse and innovative scientific community. By including women, we benefit from a broader range of perspectives, ensuring research is more representative and addresses the unique needs of the entire population. Additionally, tapping into a larger talent pool enhances the competitiveness of the scientific workforce. Female leaders and researchers serve as role models, inspiring future generations of girls to pursue STEM careers while also promoting gender equality within the field. Furthermore, women-led research can profoundly impact societal issues, particularly those affecting women and marginalized communities, contributing to a more equitable and just society. 

What recent or upcoming research in your lab are you most excited about?

We have been studying the evolution of regulatory elements in the human genome in the mammalian lineage. We recently published a paper in Science on this topic. https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abn7930


Any words of advice to earlier-career scientists, regardless of gender identity?

·      Pursue your passion: Choose a research area that genuinely interests and excites you. Your passion will fuel your motivation, creativity, and resilience throughout your career.

·      Embrace lifelong learning: Science is an ever-evolving field. Stay curious, and be prepared to continuously learn, grow, and adapt to new developments and techniques.

·      Develop a strong network: Build relationships with colleagues, peers, and experts in your field. Networking can lead to collaborations, job opportunities, and professional growth.

·      Hone your communication skills: Effective communication is essential in science, both for sharing your research findings and for collaborating with others. Invest time in improving your writing, speaking, and presentation skills.

·      Promote diversity and inclusion: Advocate for and support diversity and inclusion within your field. Recognize that diverse perspectives and experiences enrich scientific research and foster innovation.

·      Maintain a healthy work-life balance: While dedication to your research is important, don’t neglect your personal well-being. Strive to maintain a balance between your professional and personal life, and make time for self-care, hobbies, and relationships.



Athma Pai, PhD – “Early Career Achievement in Science & Health Award”

Dr. Pai has her primary appointment in the Radiology Department.


Why do you think it is important for women to be actively involved as leaders and researchers in science?

Dr. Athma Pai being awarded by representatives of the Women's Faculty Committee
Dr. Athma Pai receiving her Early Career Achievement in Science & Health Award.

As a society, we are hopefully getting beyond the point where it is surprising that women would be actively involved in professional careers. I would hope that in the future, the representation of women in science would be equal to their representation in society (50/50) and it would not be unusual for women to be both researchers and scientific leaders. But until that time, I think it is important for us to continue showing the next generation that it is possible to advance in a profession that you are passionate about, regardless of gender.


What recent or upcoming research in your lab are you most excited about?

We have many projects that are reaching fruition, especially after long COVID-related delays in getting things off the ground. We recently developed a few different genomics approaches to measure the timing of mRNA biogenesis in eukaryotic cells and I am looking forward to publishing those approaches for the field to use. Moving forward, I am excited about our ongoing projects applying our recently developed kinetic approaches to biological systems where the efficiency of mRNA biogenesis might really matter - namely, cancer cells and the immune response. I am also excited about the work stemming out of an ongoing collaboration with the Watts lab to study inefficient cryptic splicing (which was just funded by the NSF) and exploring avenues to utilize this information for optimizing RNA  therapeutics.


Any words of advice to earlier-career scientists, regardless of gender identity?

Pursue a field of research that you are passionate about and find or build a team of like-minded scientists with whom to work. Scientific research is hard and lonely, often involving amazing highs but also devastating lows that require lots of self-motivation to get through. Having a set of team members or colleagues that make it fun to come to work every day and being dedicated to the scientific quest makes everything go smoother!

Jill Zitzewitz, PhD – “Outstanding Community Service Award”

Dr. Zitzewitz has her primary appointment in the Radiology Department.


Why are you being recognized for community service?

Dr. Jill Zitzewitz being awarded by representatives of the Women's Faculty Committee
Dr. Jill Zitzewitz receiving her Outstanding Community Service Award.

I'm being acknowledged for my recent work as a patient advocate and my service to UMass Chan and the broader community.  I currently lead the Central MA multiple myeloma support group, which is educationally supported by the International Myeloma Foundation.  I also attend meetings as a patient advocate, where I report on new therapies in the pipeline and their impact on patients.  I'm incredibly grateful for the wonderful care I've received at UMMHC, and I currently serve on the Cancer Center Patient Family Advisory Council to help advocate for all patients.  I also lead team Jill's Maroon Walkers in the UMass Cancer Walk each year since my diagnosis to raise money for cancer care, research and clinical trials here at UMMHC because I have learned first-hand how basic research impacts cancer therapeutic development in serendipitous ways.

Previously, I also served 7 years as the faculty representative to the UMass Day Care Task Force to bring daycare back onsite.  I also previously led the BMB department's development and service efforts, where I worked with students to bring science outreach to local elementary schools for Science Nights, where graduate students developed hands-on experiments for kids to do with posters that described the science involved.  I also served as a Girl Scout Leader for 12 years, and I continue to support community service events in my community.  As a matter of fact, soon I'll be using one of my allowed community service days to volunteer at the Josh Thibodeau Helping Hearts Foundation heart screening at South High on Thursday May 4th, and then later I'll be serving as a team leader for a meal packaging event at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Holden, MA, where we'll be packaging >16,000 meals to help feed our hungry neighbors in Worcester, Haiti and other places as well.  


Why is community service so important to you?

When I think about why community service is important to me, I can't help but think of the last part of the Girl Scout Motto - "To make the world a better place!" Helping each other and doing service together builds community and makes positive change.  It's also very personally satisfying to be able to contribute to helping others, and often I feel like it helps me even more.  Those two hours each month leading the Central MA support group are some of my favorite times of the month, filled with laughter along with the tears.  Recently, we had our first in-person event since the pandemic, a stroll on the rail trail, and it was wonderful to be together!  These fellow myeloma patients and caregivers are family to me now. All of the community service activities I've participated in through the years have grown my community, and I'm so incredibly grateful for how the BMB community and my town soccer and scouting community and my church community all worked together to support me when I first had my myeloma diagnosis.  The sharing of science knowledge, meals provided for my family, rides for kids and visits when I couldn't move from a chair sustained me and made my world better during a challenging time, and that is what now drives my own patient advocacy work now.  I want to give back to others the support I received and ensure all cancer patients have access to good care and a community of support.


Why do you think it is important for women to be actively involved as leaders and researchers in science?

I view my leadership style as one of leading by serving so it's incredibly meaningful for me to be honored by this award.  I think as women leaders, it's our responsibility to be the voice for the future generation of scientists and to lead by example so women can see what is possible in the sciences.  Things like access to good, affordable daycare can be a tipping point when young women are makings decisions about their career trajectory, so it's important to have women leaders who can help them envision what is possible and support and advocate for changes needed to help women thrive in the sciences.  Honestly, I wouldn't have been able to thrive as a scientist and the mom of 4 without the incredible support of my husband Osman, a fellow scientist and former member of the department, who is also a big community service advocate.  (Osman coordinates the central MA TOPSoccer program and is a member of Welcome NST, where he has worked incredibly hard to welcome our new Afghan neighbors to Worcester.)  Our youngest daughter is studying behavioral neuroscience at Northeastern, and I'm encouraged and hopeful that her path in the sciences may be a bit easier than it was for my generation of women.


What upcoming work in your career are you most excited about?

I'm very excited that I have been able to switch my faculty focus from investigation to education (another example of where my service on the Academic Personal Policy task force benefited me in unplanned ways! ).  I am very excited to continue to bring the patient perspective to the classroom.  My all-time favorite lecture is the lecture on Proteostasis and Autophagy in Cellular Biochemistry, where I can both talk about protein misfolding from the science perspective of my research career but then discuss the therapeutic development of proteosome inhibitors, which transformed the outcomes for myeloma patients like me. I love using myself as the human model system in the classroom when talking about how we never know how basic science can impact human health, and I'm always very open about providing the patient perspective.  I'm also excited to continue my work in education, with a focus on interprofessional education.  I think that the problems facing our society are challenging, and we need to train our scientists, doctors and nurses to work collaboratively to advance therapies that help people and improve human health. It's the multitude of perspectives that drives change.  I'm really grateful to work at UMass Chan and get my cancer care at UMMHC.  This community is my home, and I'm grateful that I can still contribute in meaningful ways!


Congratulations again to our awardees! Let us know what your favorite piece of advice was from this article on Twitter (@UMassChan_BMB).