MCDB department chair champions women in science
When Pamela Raymond was 4 years old, the water heater in her house broke, flooding the kitchen. When her mother called her father for help, he asked to speak to his daughter.
“He asked if I remembered the fuses he had shown me,” says Raymond, who pulled out the correct fuse and stopped the flooding. “My parents told me that story over and over again, and now it’s a part of me. My dad thought I was mechanical and reinforced a trait that was not normally associated with a little girl.”
Now, as chair of LSA’s Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, Raymond appreciates her father’s confidence in her abilities.
“Coming from a nonacademic family, it was hard to have aspirations to go on in higher education — just going to college was enough,” says Raymond, who also is the Stephen S. Easter Collegiate Professor of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology.
But after finishing her undergraduate degree at U-M in January 1971, she went directly into graduate school after her zoology professor and mentor Stephen Easter suggested it.
“What he really wanted was a GSI to teach his neurobiology class,” jokes Raymond. “But in all seriousness, he’s the one who showed me there was a path to a career in science.”
She pursued that path, and now has her own laboratory, where they study retinal development and regeneration using zebrafish as a model system. Watching Raymond move among the fish, it’s clear she’s passionate about her research. Her other passion, she says, is women in science.
Hanging in her office is a picture from the Bentley Historical Library that she received as a gift while serving as associate provost for academic and faculty affairs.
“It’s the first picture they can find that shows women engaging in any type of science activity at Michigan,” Raymond says of the picture. Dated 1893, the photo shows a large group of medical students, including four women and one African-American male, looking through microscopes in a physical chemistry class.
“A few years ago, I saw some T-shirts that said, ‘I want to be pretty like my mom’ and ‘I want to be smart like my dad.’ Our society has barriers to women succeeding in male-dominated professions,” says Raymond. “Women can be smart. Women can do science. Women should do science.”
Raymond moved from the Medical School faculty to LSA in 2005, and when she became chair of the Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology in 2008, Raymond was the only female full professor in the department.
Raymond works with the U-M ADVANCE program to promote diversity in faculty hiring and retention, and to develop programs that make it easier for all faculty members to balance family and career.
“Michigan now has family-friendly policies that are good for all faculty, not just women,” says Raymond.
What moment in the classroom or lab stands out as the most memorable?
Every time a student realizes they can create something new and discover new things that nobody ever knew before.
What can’t you live without?
My garden. I enjoy going out and digging in the dirt and seeing what comes up the next year. It’s very rejuvenating.
What is your favorite spot on campus?
The reading room in Rackham that looks out over Ingalls Mall.
What inspires you?
Asking questions, and thinking about what the answers might be, and how to find out what the real answers are.
What are you currently reading?
Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In.” And what’s waiting in queue is “Dear Life,” by Alice Munro, which my daughter got me for Christmas last year. Now that Munro has won the Nobel Prize, I need to read it!
Who had the greatest influence on your career path?
My Ph.D. adviser, Stephen Easter, for whom I named my collegiate chair.