Stahl receives women in cell biology award

Yes, a man can actually receive the Women in Cell Biology Senior Career Recognition Award.

Philip D. Stahl, Ph.D., the Edward Mallinckrodt Jr. Professor of Cell Biology and Physiology, is the first male to win the recognition since the American Society of Cell Biology initiated it in 1986.

The award recognizes Stahl’s outstanding efforts to promote the careers of women in science, an interest of his since becoming head of the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology in 1984.

Stahl studies signal transduction in cells and is a member of the Siteman Cancer Center’s Cell Proliferation program.

Philip Stahl
Philip Stahl

The annual award goes to a woman or man in cell biology who is a full professor or equivalent, does outstanding science and has a long-standing record of support for women in science and of mentoring both men and women.

Ursula W. Goodenough, Ph.D., associate professor of anatomy and neurobiology, and Sarah Elgin, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics, are former recipients of the award.

Stahl more than meets the criteria, said Helen M. Piwnica-Worms, Ph.D., professor of cell biology and physiology. “Phil is well-respected in the field, works hard to help women in science and has done much to mentor students in his laboratory and faculty in our department,” she said. “His service to the University has been tremendous.”

When Stahl arrived at the University in 1971, his department had a lone female faculty member. Today, women represent a quarter of the faculty. “We’d like it to be 50 percent eventually,” he said.

He has pushed for greater minority representation on the faculty and in the student body by chairing minority recruitment and outreach committees. He also played a leading role in developing the University’s widely praised Young Scientist Program, which brings disadvantaged students to campus for summer laboratory placements and special science seminars.

To help young women and men who are considering a science career but who have little research experience, he began a program that enables students to work in his laboratory between their junior and senior year to gain experience.

“A number of these young people have come through the lab, mostly women,” Stahl said. “It’s a good way to attract promising students to the University.”

His other efforts include spearheading the development of a daycare center for School of Medicine faculty and staff and chairing the Gender Pay Equity Committee for the past decade. He also serves as the chair of the Learning and Teaching Center Committee and played a major role in gathering support for the center’s development. Stahl also was recently appointed chair of the Executive Committee of the Division of Biology and Biomedical Sciences, which oversees all of graduate education in the biomedical sciences.

“Prominent scientists often have a personality that is rather self-centered and fixated on their own work and their own small world,” Piwnica-Worms said. “Phil is an example of someone who steps outside that and looks at the good of the whole community. That’s hard to find among people of his stature.”

Stahl’s empathy for women in science began when a female faculty member at West Liberty State College in West Virginia convinced him as an undergraduate to change from accounting to biology.

“She was an extraordinary biology teacher,” Stahl said, “and I was just swept off my feet by her class.”

His wife, Sharon M. Stahl, Ph.D., associate dean of Arts & Sciences, earned her doctorate in history after they were married and had three children.

“I watched her struggle and realized how difficult it is for women with families to stay in academics,” Stahl said.

His daughter, Eva Marie, is currently working on her Ph.D. in health policy at Brandeis University. She has a baby and is struggling as well.

“I have found women to be wonderful colleagues and mentors,” he said. “Our experience shows that they make great scientists as well. When we exclude them from science, we short-change ourselves.”