Joanna Groden

Joanna Groden

Professor and Vice Chair, College of Medicine;
Co-Director Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program;
Director, Pelotonia Fellowship Program

If you had to define a Glass Breaker in one word, what word would that be? And explain why you chose that word.

I would define Glass Breakers as persistent. We move forward, keeping in mind our goals and the things that are important to us. No matter what happens, we continue to move the ball forward. I think it is the essence of many of us who continue to make things different for other women, and for ourselves.

Describe your career path that has led to your current post.

I believe one's career path starts with a love of something. Passion is what drives many of us to study further, to get engaged in a particular field. Training is a key part of how you develop [as a scientist]. That meant for me to pick up and move to different places over and over again to acquire different experiences and new opportunities. I moved to Ohio State because of the exceptional Comprehensive Cancer Center; earlier in my career, I moved to the Genome Center at the University of Utah where I was able to study human genetics and learn the techniques used to map and sequence the human genome. Continuing to learn, because you love something, is a very important step in career development.

How would you describe your leadership style?

My leadership style tends to be somewhat social — talking to other people is a key way to build collaborations, to network, and to get others enthusiastic about what you are interested in doing.  A very important part of being a leader is to listen and learn about others.

What were the best career investments you've made along the way?

My best career investments have been training at different institutions in order to continue to evolve professionally and as a person. These are very strategic decisions we each make to become more proficient in our careers. I've lived in a number of different places in Ohio, Utah, New York City and Vermont. Each of those places contributed to the development of my career and to my competencies in order to be successful in what I do in the STEM disciplines.

Any mentors or champions who supported your professional development?

The best mentors and champions are sponsors. Sponsors are people who step up and say, "You know, you'd be good at that …” or “I think you should try for this and I'm going to recommend you for that." These are the people throughout one's career that show you the doorways to new opportunities. For me, they have been my PhD and postdoctoral mentors, as well as other leaders and coaches who’ve said, "yes, you can do that” and “why don't you try to do that."  Saying "yes" and being willing to take opportunities as they come is a big part.

But sponsors are something that you also become, providing opportunities for other people. The more senior we become in our careers, the more important it is for us to turn around and say, "You know, you'd be good at this." It moves forward from you, when you provide opportunities for others that you were given when you were up and coming.

How would you describe your career goals today? How have they changed over time?

My career goals would include getting my next paper placed in a high impact journal and to make sure that half of every research group is made up of women and/or underrepresented faculty, trainees, students and staff. I want to look behind me and see that there are more women in the positions that I held or I wished I did. I'm also really interested in training our generation of scientists and clinicians to talk about what they do in a way that other people can learn from them.

We tend to live in a jargon-oriented world that's very off-putting to other people who aren't in our field. I think science is immensely exciting yet we don't communicate it well. What I am working on with many trainees, in the Pelotonia Program and the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program, is to talk about their work in a way that's accessible to others and that makes science really exciting. Ultimately, it will lead to greater support in the United States from our government and our politicians to continue to invest in science and education.

What kinds of challenges have you faced along the way, and how did you overcome them?

That's a hard one. The challenges as we go forward have to do with competing for limited opportunities. Competing is always a challenge because someone wins and someone loses. Again, continuing to persist, to look at one's goals and continue to move forward when you don't get what you immediately want is important. Persistence means never giving up. It's being a little bit stubborn when you don't get what you want — to think of something else that you do or to think of a new path to getting where you want to go.

When you think about serving in a leadership role as a female, do any unique experiences come to mind?

When you serve in a leadership position as a woman, subliminally what you do says a lot to other people. A great example of that is in the College of Medicine where the number of women in the medical school classes were less than the national average. One of the admissions directors of the medical school program realized that there were very few women or underrepresented faculty in any of our recruiting materials; that when the students came to interview, they never saw any women who were leaders. He began to invite women to come and talk to the women and men who were interviewing.

Each year afterwards, we started getting more women; by adding more underrepresented faculty, underrepresented students began to increase in our incoming classes. Now we're well above the national averages. One of the key things to keep in mind is that if we don't see women in leadership places, we won't pave the way for the next generation to think that they can be something and that they can do something, and that they can be the boss of everything if they wish.

What advice would you give to other women looking to reach similar goals?

The advice I give to everyone is that first you have to be really good at what you do. You have to meet the metrics that are required of you in whatever discipline, if you want to continue to work in it. You have to go to school, you have to have the career-building experiences such as publishing or doing internships or fellowships, etc. Once you reach that, the idea is to continue to have goals every year. You need a new five-year plan, and you have to accomplish those goals.

You say "yes" to opportunities, you stay focused on what you want and you continue to try to get there. It's really important to not give up. It's really important to persist in reaching your goals. You talk to others, you continue to learn, you think of new strategies to get where you want to go. It's not going to happen serendipitously. Those traits of focus, persistence, strategizing and ultimately excelling are immensely important for women and for anyone who wants to be successful and happy in what they do.

What's next for you? Something you're looking forward to.

Continuing to do what I do. I love what I do. I love science, I love research, so I'm going to continue to work with our PhD students and other trainees in research. I love research and I want to communicate THAT to the next generation. I see my job as setting the stage for the next 25 years not through what I do but through what the next generation is able to do. If they're confident and well trained, then they'll do great work.