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Alumni Letters

Letters from our readers
February 24, 2009


After reading “What We Don’t Know in Physics” (January/February 2009), I’d like to pose a research problem: explain drag from first principles rather than just empirical data. We probably won’t see any improvement in vehicle performance until we get to the bottom of this.

Bruce Wooden ‘59
Dickerson, MD


As I read “Why Women Leave Science” ­(January/February 2009), it saddened me that little has changed since I got my PhD in 1995. As a woman who chose to stay home and raise her children, I would like to ask, why can’t someone reënter science after making this choice? How about a reëntry postdoc or other enticements to return to science when these mothers restart their careers?

Pamela Barrett Gaspers ‘90
Edmonds, WA


As president of the Association of MIT Alumnae (AMITA), I’m concerned by the trends depicted in “Why Women Leave Science,” but I’m not convinced that Dr. Lorenz will suffer for leaving academia. Success is achieving the quality of life we want for ourselves.

Why would a smart man continue to work in an environment where he faced barriers at every turn? Research by the Wage Project shows that while women have come 30 percent closer to financial equity with their male peers since the 1970s, working mothers earn 60 cents on the dollar!

AMITA offers ways for alumnae in academia to connect and for those seeking flexible career options to come out of their isolation. We welcome your energy and ideas to help us build a future where alumnae moms are not forced to choose between a profession and a life.

Sarah Simon ‘72
President, Association of MIT Alumnae


“Why Women Leave Science” presents compelling reasons for not supporting or funding women’s careers in science. In an era of limited availability, the private and public funds committed to training Suzanne Lorenz should perhaps have been spent elsewhere. The complaints Lorenz raises are not uncommon among men.

The effects of dropping out on her staff, the sponsors of her research, and those suffering from high blood pressure never seem to have entered her mind. I say “suck it up” and keep on going.

As a former owner of small businesses, I know how much effort goes into making them successful. Was it easier for Lorenz to juggle her roles as worker, mother, and wife in business than at the lab? My guess is that she did it for the money. Nothing wrong with that, but let’s be honest.

Gerald Peretsman ‘50
Great Neck, NY

Suzanne Lorenz responds:

After investing many years of education and hard work in my science career, I was well aware that walking away affected many people. But staying in science was taking its toll on my family instead. Case in point: a mere five weeks after the birth of my second child, I returned to the lab full time to complete an NIH grant application so that my funding would be uninterrupted.

It is easy for a man to say “suck it up” when his role as primary breadwinner is accepted not only by his family but by society. The fact is that the family relies much more heavily on the mother for its everyday operations (child care, homework, children’s extracurricular activities, housework, grocery shopping, meal preparation, etc.).

Becoming an entrepreneur also meant hard work, but it allowed me to build my business at a pace that worked with my ­family obligations. It was not “for the money”; on the contrary, I gave up a fairly lucrative salary. But with a home-based business, I provide my own child care. So yes, I am now able to better juggle my roles. For me, and no doubt for many other women in science, this is much more important than the money.


I applaud Susan Hockfield’s call for dramatic increases in government and industry funding for energy research (“Planting the Seeds for Clean Energy,” January/February 2009). We simply cannot find a path to sustainability without major breakthroughs in the way we meet our energy needs.

Every element of the energy system, from extraction and generation to distribution, storage, and use, offers challenges and opportunities for every discipline in basic science, engineering, and social science. It’s going to take a lot of work by a lot of people–in most cases, in large interdisciplinary teams.

President Hockfield is absolutely right: “America’s future depends on its ability to spark an energy revolution.” And that revolution will start on our campuses-but only if the government steps up to the challenge.

Jared Cohon, PhD ‘73
President, Carnegie Mellon University

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