'Picture a Scientist' on Netflix Tackles Sexism in the Science Community

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Jun. 11 2021, Published 12:59 p.m. ET

Picture a scientist.

If you pictured a man, it’s not your fault — we’ve been conditioned to associate men with professions like scientists. And the documentary Picture a Scientist is trying to challenge that, among other far more serious gender issues in the science community,

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Picture a Scientist is coming to Netflix this weekend, and it’s a must-watch. Keep reading to learn more about the documentary, and the three incredible women scientists it profiles.

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‘Picture a Scientist’ is coming to Netflix.

Picture a Scientist was an official selection of the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival — and now audiences across the U.S. will be able to watch it on June 13, 2021, when it premieres on Netflix. 

The documentary chronicles various women scientists who are changing the way society views scientists, with a primary focus on biologist Dr. Nancy Hopkins, chemist Dr. Raychelle Burks, and geologist Dr. Jane Willenbring, as per the film’s website.

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Throughout the film, Dr. Hopkins, Dr. Burks, and Dr. Willenbring share the ways they’ve been victims of everyday sexism and even violent sexual harassment throughout their careers. The film also interviewed many other scientific experts who share what they think needs to be done to make the science world more equitable and diverse.

Here’s a look into the film’s three starring scientists.

Dr. Nancy Hopkins

Molecular biologist Dr. Nancy Hopkins, PhD, is a biology professor at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she has worked since 1973. Her research has primarily focused on cancer over the past five decades, and she has won many awards over the years.

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Dr. Hopkins received both her undergraduate degree and her PhD in biology from Harvard University. She also spends her time fighting for cancer prevention and early cancer detection research, as well as gender equality in the academic scientific community, according to her MIT profile and the Picture a Scientist website.

Dr. Raychelle Burks

Dr. Raychelle Burks, PhD, is an associate professor of chemistry at American University in Washington, D.C. She previously worked as a professor at St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas, as well as in a crime lab. She got her PhD in chemistry from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, her MFS in forensic science from Nebraska Wesleyan University, and her BS in chemistry at Northern Iowa University.

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Dr. Burks’ research primarily focuses on low-cost colorimetric sensors for forensic detection, such as detecting explosives and drugs. She has won many awards for her work, she is involved in projects that aim to advance social justice and STEM, and she often appears on TV shows and podcasts as an expert, according to her American University profile and the film’s website.

Dr. Jane Willenbring

Dr. Jane Willenbring is a geomorphologist and an assistant professor at Stanford University. She previously worked as a professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (part of UC San Diego), as the director of the Scripps Cosmogenic Isotope Laboratory, and as a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

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Interestingly, Dr. Willenbring’s research explores issues regarding the Earth surface, with a focus on how climate change impacts landscapes, as per the Stanford website. She has also won various awards and fellowships throughout her career. Additionally, in 2017, Dr. Willenbring and multiple other women lodged sexual harassment complaints against a “prominent Antarctic geologist,” who allegedly violently harassed Dr. Willenbring her on a research expedition, as reported by Science magazine.

The women’s accounts of how the geologist harassed them are absolutely horrifying, and Dr. Willenbring stated that her goal in filing this complaint was to prevent “another young, female student bearing the brunt of his misogyny,” as per Science. Her appearance in Picture a Scientist is undoubtedly motivated by her desire to create a more equitable science community for women, and we can’t wait to watch it on Netflix come June 13.


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