An Interview with Gary McDowell

Current Job:  Executive Director, Future of Research nonprofitgarymcdowell

Scientific Discipline/Field: Science Policy

Country: US Resident, UK and Irish Citizen

Pick some letters (L,G,B,T,Q etc.): G


What does your job involve? 

Running the day-to-day, medium and long-term duties of the nonprofit. We are trying to help junior scientists to advocate for changes to the problems they perceive with the scientific system, and to advocate for scientific training to create a more unified scientific enterprise supporting a variety of scientific career paths, not just academic ones.

I help with logistics, advertising, sponsorship and fundraising of local junior scientist-organized conferences; and also work on project grants and with institutions, scientific societies and federal funding agencies to address structural issues within science, and promote the voices of junior scientists in discussions of and efforts to address these issues. I spend time writing academic and general articles, applying for project grants, holding and organizing workshops, and collecting and analyzing data on the scientific workforce.

How did you get to this job (education etc.)? 

While I was a postdoc, I got involved in science policy as an interest in addition to carrying out my bench research. The policy work went extremely well and over the course of two years, beginning from a small local meeting in Boston the organization grew to hold meetings around the country and to be invited to participate with national partners in effecting change. We applied for a start-up grant for a full-time employee, and the work seemed more productive and rewarding, and more likely to lead to the kind of job I wanted, than the faculty position I had originally thought I wanted.

Do you feel being LGBT has affected your career decisions? 

As a white cis-presenting male, I feel it didn’t result in a difference to how people treated me generally, but I think it has given me an appreciation of the struggles faced by those who are disenfranchised or in subordinate positions to those with the most privilege in a system. I feel it has influenced my drive to give a voice to undergrads, grad students, postdocs and junior faculty – the people in science who are not yet in positions to feel safe in their careers expressing opinions. I feel that resonates with struggles coming from the LGBT community. Likewise using the advantages my privilege gives me to give voice to those without it is something I feel being a white cis male in the LGBT community has given me pause for thought and perspective on.

Have you had any reactions from colleagues about being LGBT, either good or bad?

I really am not conscious of overt bad reactions – often in science it’s met with indifference. I often get good reactions.

Did you have any role models growing up (LGBT, STEM, totally unrelated…)?

In my last year at school before university, I had a pretty amazing group of teachers who were really supportive and encouraging, and before that I was generally well-liked by teachers and was a very academic child. I didn’t come from an academic background, I didn’t know any LGBT people growing up, and I am still the only scientist in my family, and I never really hoped I could ever have done a PhD until quite late on, it just wasn’t a path that had seemed open to me. I also have been a fan of Kate Bush from the age of 2, she and her music have been pretty inspiring to me, and helped me at a lot of key moments in my life.

What are your plans for the future?

For the next 2 years, I have funding for my current position – and I’d like to see where it takes me. I’m always keeping my eyes open to opportunities, but I’m really enjoying using my passion for science to try to change science. I am not very sure where this will go, but in academia I never realized there had been this part of me that so wanted to effect change, and I hope to keep going with this as a goal, and figure out the best way I can try to achieve that going forward.

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