Sue Corkin

Here is an essay I wrote in response to the Society for Neuroscience’s call for remarks on inspirational women in science…


“Fwd: Elsevier’s New Campaign – See Anything Missing?

Elsevier publishes 2,878 journals.  Have all the efforts of women scientists really accomplished anything?  I can only shake my head in disbelief and despair. Suzanne”


On Valentine’s Day, 2014, Professor Suzanne Corkin, PhD. sent a call to action. She organized a response to a glaring oversight by Elsevier: “the face of science” campaign contained only images of white males. The recipient list was a baker’s dozen of the most influential women in neuroscience, and I was honored to be included. Eventually, Elsevier responded to our concerns: .


In the year she retired, Sue Corkin rightfully earned a special issue tribute to her scientific contributions to the field (Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, January 2013). Perhaps even more inspirational than her role in our understanding of the brain and cognition, though, is Sue’s impressive line of exceptionally successful descendants, an elite group in which I aim to earn membership one day. Further, Sue has kept up her lifelong advocacy for underrepresented populations in science even after she retired from the field.


Now more than a decade since I was first warned about Sue’s exacting personality before accepting the job as the laboratory manager of her group at MIT (June, 2004), I can scarcely think of a single personal accomplishment that her mentorship did not make possible. Yeah, Sue was a hard woman to please. Sue set ridiculously high expectations. In fact, sometimes I felt like every milestone I reached was rewarded with an even higher bar for the next one! I should mention though, Sue was not one of those PIs that expected robots working 24/7. She wanted a well-rounded happy, healthy, productive work family. For those of you who don’t know, Sue Corkin gets what Sue Corkin wants, you can bet on that!


Fundamentally, Sue inspired me by practicing what she preached. In the midst of all the media on gender inequality in the sciences, Sue was a living, breathing exception to the rule. Sue is the perfect example of a woman scientist who somehow had it all: a fantastically and diversely-talented, loving, beautiful family; scientific accomplishments some of us cannot even dare to dream of; an active personal life; her health; an incredible since of humour; and a fire that she wanted to pass on to anyone who could take the torch and stand the heat.


At the age of 67 Sue climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, and sometimes we joked about how she would outlive us all. In a way, she will, at least if I have anything to do with continuing her legacy. My path to success has not been without failure, but Sue made no excuses in life, and took none in return. What a way to do it! Life is not a rehearsal, we choose our roles, and if we don’t like the scene, only we can re-write the script. When we want to do great things, “good enough” never is, and thank God… no, thank Sue, for that.