Rochester Medicine

Profiles in Perseverance — Barbara H. Iglewski, PhD

Aug. 31, 2019
Women Leaders Share Their Stories

This profile is part of the story Women Unlimited: Closing the Gender Gap in Medicine and Science.

When Barbara Iglewski and her husband both were hired at the Oregon Health and Science University School of Medicine—she as an instructor, he as an assistant professor—her salary was almost 40 percent less than his. Though she received a promotion a year later to assistant professor, her salary boost was minimal.

But money has never stopped Iglewski from excelling in her field, in which her landmark research launched an entire field of study into how the system in many types of bacteria works—and led to her 2015 induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

She is recognized by the Institute of Scientific Information as a “highly cited” scientist, a designation bestowed on fewer than 0.5 percent of all publishing researchers.

Iglewski came to the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in 1986 as a professor and chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. While salaries weren’t discussed between departments, Iglewski, who served as chair for more than two decades, says she wanted from the start to make them more equitable in her own department.

“Several women had vastly inferior salaries to men at comparable stages,” she says. “I said I would only come to the university if I could change that. And I did. That’s one of the things I’m most proud of.”

As her reputation in research grew, the climate for women in medicine and science was experiencing an evolution of its own.

“I had doors open for me as a woman that would not have necessarily been available for men, and the reason was things were changing,” Iglewski says.

The federal government, as an example, was trying to show it had women on their research panels, and in the late 1980s she became president of the American Society for Microbiology.

“The reason I wanted that position was that there were still very few women on the editorial boards of the ASM journal who were reviewing,” she says, “and those who were asked to review didn’t have their names on the pages of the journal.”

After her one-year term as president ended, she became chair of the ASM Publication Board for nine years, where she appointed female editors-in-chief and “lobbied hard” to get male editors-in-chief to appoint women as editors and editorial board members.

At the same time, she was working with “truly outstanding” grad students, post-doctoral fellows, and faculty collaborators, many of them women.

To this day Iglewski is a mentor, adamant that women deserve better start-up packages, including protected time to develop their research projects.

For all of her work, which includes also serving as vice provost for Research and Graduate Education at the University of Rochester, Iglewski earlier this year was presented with the Eastman Medal—the university’s highest recognition for outstanding achievement and dedicated service.

She continues to spread the word about opportunities that may fly under the radar.

“It’s important that women help other women,” she says.