ASTCT asked Stefanie Sarantopoulos, M.D., Ph.D. questions about what it is like to be a woman in the transplantation and cellular therapy field in celebration of Women's History Month, March 2021.
Who inspired you to enter the BMT and cellular therapy field?
- Recruitment: Dr. Stephanie Lee was my main inspiration. She was my attending physician on the BMT wards when I was a fellow at Dana-Farber and after one-month our stint together, she tapped me on the shoulder as I was leaving the wards, and told me I should “do BMT.” Being noticed and recognized by someone whom I respected so much --and who looked like me-- was hugely impactful.
- Retention: Shortly after my BMT rotation on the wards, I moved into my research portion of fellowship. Inspired by his science, I joined Jerry Ritz’s lab. If it weren’t for Jerry’s generous nature and foresight, I wouldn’t have stayed in BMT. I had family health issues that kept me unable to perform at my best and be present. When I told Dr. Ritz about my need to take time away from lab, he looked me in the eye and said “we’ll work around it.”
- Reward: Then I was inspired by Joe Antin, a maven in the BMT field. Dr. Antin was the first to ask me to join the then ASBMT. Dr. Antin inspired me to move out of my comfort zone and apply for a coveted award. He sent me three emails in a row saying I HAD TO APPLY for the Amy Strelzer Manasevit (ASM) grant. Having someone so well known in BMT reach out to me like that with such persistence made an impact.
How do you inspire others?
In addition to trying to do a good job professionally, I think I inspire others by telling them my story. My mother didn’t get to attend school beyond age 14. For financial reasons, her brother was given that opportunity instead, since the family thought my mom would not need higher education. Knowing that basic opportunities were unavailable simply because of female gender is something that some people are surprised to hear is only a generation away. But it’s true.
What does it mean to you to be a woman in this field?
Being a career woman in any field means you have to be pleasantly persistent, pro-active and collaborative. I feel well supported in BMT in large part because of the amazing women who have impacted the field. At the then Tandem meeting seeing Georgia Vogelstein speak and seeing Effie Pettersdorf present her work. Witnessing Mary Horowitz lead with such conviction and success was truly awe inspiring. When I received that ASM award Dr. Antin encouraged me to apply for it was at the Tandem meeting. Helen Heslop was the ASBMT president. I was so honored shaking her hand knowing she was one of two or three females. Seeing these and other strong women persist as a notable minority was awesome.
Being a women in this field means pointing out the fact that Recruitment, Retention and Reward of women and other under-represented individuals is our obligation. I’m so proud knowing that three R’s are priorities for TCT as part of the Diversity and Inclusion efforts led by committee leaders, Sophie Paczesny and Belinda Avalos. Individuals speaking out and sharing -- and collective action -- are key for all of us, especially for women. We can so easily enable equal opportunity in what is an absolutely amazing career path for anyone so inspired.