, M.D., Ph.D., a member of the Reeve Foundation International Research Consortium on Spinal Cord Injury, has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences
(NAS). This is one of the highest honors a scientist can achieve. Members are nominated and extensively vetted by his or her peers, “in recognition of distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.”
Barres, a professor and chair of the department of neurobiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, was one of 84 new members. NAS has about 2,200 member in the United States and 400 from other countries. About 200 NAS members have won the Nobel Prize.
“This was a total surprise,” Barres said. “I had heard last year that I was nominated but had no idea I had actually been elected.”
Barres said that personally, his election to the Academy was a “nice honor.”
“But the primary significance to me is that it matters for young people. It sends a strong message to them that our country really values science and that they should consider becoming scientists. And of particular importance to me is that this matters to young trans kids. I am the first transgendered person to be elected to the NAS. This helps them to have confidence that they can feel comfortable being who they are, including changing sex, and still be successful in their career, in this case science. They don't have to choose between the two (identity and career).
“Young people should never let anyone make them feel bad about who they are--their differences are often their greatest advantages in life! I have been contacted by so many talented young trans kids (and I meet with them at every Society for Neuroscience meeting and hear their personal stories) who tell me their parents strongly resist their changing sex because they will lose their careers. That they can point to me as an example that this is not true really matters.
“When I decided to change sex 15 years ago I didn't have role models to point to. I thought that I had to decide between identify and career. I changed sex thinking my career might be over. The alternative choice I seriously contemplated at the time was suicide, as I could not go on as Barbara. Very fortunately, my academic colleagues have been incredibly supportive and my fears were far worse than reality. I hope that my election to the academy will help young trans scientists (and LGBT folks in general) to see this.”
NAS is 150 years old this year. In March, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed an act creating the National Academy of Sciences.
From the NAS:
Throughout its history, the Academy has promoted excellence in science through the election of its members and original research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and has provided independent, authoritative advice on matters related to science, engineering, and medicine—leaving a lasting impact on science, the nation, and the world. This year, we celebrate our 150th anniversary with a range of activities that focus not only on the history of the NAS but also in large part on the story of science itself and its role in building and shaping our country and establishing its place in the world.
Former Consortium member Fred Gage, Ph.D., a scientist at the Salk Institute, was elected to NAS in 2003.