Scientist x (Singer + Writer + Beauty Queen + Actress) = an impossible equation?

The scientist who is also a singer/actress/beauty queen is an idea that has long fascinated. As if creativity in science or in the arts is by default mutually exclusive. As if the human brain was wired for one and not the other. As if the workload of a scientific career is incompatible with the pursuit of anything else. And in the case of the beauty queen, because of the age-old stereotype of physical attractiveness as incompatible with intelligence. Those reasons, among others, may explain why women scientists haven’t always been vocal about exploring other interests. Today that’s changing. DiscovHER picks five scientists who’ve succeeded in science - and in another career altogether.

Kathy Reichs, forensic anthropologist, archaeologist & crime fiction writer

There can’t be many careers that include testifying at the UN Tribunal on the Genocide in Rwanda and producing a TV series. Reichs has built a successful crime fiction-writing career inspired by her work as a forensic anthropologist – which includes other high-profile cases such as identifying remains found at the World Trade Center. Despite publishing more than 20 novels, and working as a producer on Bones, the TV thriller based on her fictional alter ego Temperence Brennan, Reichs continues to practice forensic anthropology. Although her writing commitments naturally make her more selective about the cases she takes. She’s a consultant for Quebec’s forensic sciences laboratory and is a member of Canada’s National Police Services Advisory Council.

Nazneen Rahman, cancer geneticist & jazz singer

To follow Nazneen Rahman on Twitter is to be updated on everything from the results of a skin cancer trial to the rise of British MCs. A geneticist and Doctor specialising in identifying the genes that cause cancer, professor Rahman is also a jazz singer – and a finalist in a UK Songwriting Contest, in 2013. Two universes that for years, she kept very much separate: 

For certain when I was younger I thought my music might make people take me less seriously scientifically, but I also did like having something to escape to that was completely removed from the day-job. 

Head of the Division of Genetics and Epidemiology at the UK’s Institute of Cancer Research and Head of the Cancer Genetics Clinical Unit at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, Rahman is leading a research programme to introduce testing for cancer genes into the UK’s oncology services.

Erika Ebbel Angle, biochemist & beauty queen

It’s been more than a decade since Erika Ebbel Angle became Miss Massachussets, yet the former beauty queen still dons her tiara –and a lab coat - when presenting her Dr Erika science show. Ebbel Angle, an MIT Graduate with a biochemistry PHD from Boston University has said: 

Science comes with a stigma that if you are a female scientist, you have no other interests and you are a sweatpants-wearing person who has no interest in your own physical appearance or maintenance. 

 Founder and CEO of non-profit organisation Science from Scientists, a STEM program for school students, the Dr Erika show is helping demystify science by showing students why their experiments went wrong - in the popular format of a daytime talk show. Ebbel Ange remains a biochemist, currently creating a start-up to identify small molecule biomarkers, as early predictors and potential treatment for diseases.

Pardis Sabeti, geneticist & rock singer

When geneticist Pardis Sabeti hit the headlines for her work fighting ebola, certain fans of the Boston rock band Thousand Days discovered something new about their lead singer. Indeed, the band’s fifth album was actually put on hold while Sabeti headed up research into the ebola genome. As Sabeti told Rolling Stone magazine: 

People underestimate the creativity you use in science and the rigor you need in music. They basically have the same path.

For Sabeti those paths merged completely when she put her voice to the campaign for ebola awareness, writing and singing the song One Truth alongside fellow ebola researchers in memory of the close colleagues lost to the disease.

Hedy Lamarr, Inventor & actress

Hailed “The Most Beautiful Woman in the World” actress Hedy Lamarr took up weapons technology research in her spare time. One of the best-loved actresses of 1940s Hollywood, Lamarr sought to help the allied war effort by developing the technology for a torpedo guided by radio signals undetectable by the enemy. An invention called “frequency hopping.” While her discovery was largely ignored at the time, perhaps due to her beauty and her typecast role as the screen seductress to Hollywood’s leading men, she was inducted into America’s National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.

Like the five women in our selection, do you know other scientists who’ve carved a successful second career outside their chosen scientific field? Let us know at @4womeninscience. 

For Women in Science

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