A video in Julie Greenwood’s lab catches cancer cells in the act of invading the brain. They are glioblastoma cells, agents of the same disease that killed Senator Ted Kennedy. “Glioblastoma cells are very effective at invading the neighboring tissue of the brain,” says Greenwood. “In many cases, these cells sprint.” Although surgery is often a first step in treatment, it’s nearly impossible to remove all of the tumor cells.
Greenwood leads a team of undergrads and graduate students delving into the biochemical cross-talk — how proteins affect cell movement, how cells respond — between cells and the environment. Their hope is to contribute to an effective treatment for the disease.
Greenwood joined the OSU Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics in 2000, presenting herself as a male, Jeff Greenwood. On the weekend before she started her job as associate dean, she came out in an email to her colleagues as a transgender woman.
Terra: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
“I always like to say my biggest accomplishment is my three boys. I like to emphasize that because in science we don’t always say it. In my work, my biggest accomplishment is my students. They’re the ones that make the research happen. I’ve had great graduate and fantastic undergraduate students. I love having them in the lab.”
Terra: How have gender and diversity influenced your career?
“I have embraced my identity, and I feel great. That does not mean there have not and there will not be significant challenges. But, the gorilla is off my back, and I am so happy. I have so much energy; my productivity has tripled.
“Sometimes I don’t know if my interactions with others are affected more by my transition as a woman or by my transition to associate dean. For 14 years, I was in the locker room, so to speak. So I do hear things. I do feel that there is language, and there is attitude that individuals don’t even realize. I know it’s complicated.
“I’ve had occasions when I’ve entered into seminars and meetings, and at least twice, there was the assumption that I was the assistant. Not the associate dean, that’s for sure. But even going to national meetings where no one knows me, it’s so interesting, the gender segregation. In a meeting that is predominantly men, women cluster. There’s a comfort.
“As a queer person, it’s been very difficult. I went to a conference with people who are out in the STEM fields, and most of them say STEM is ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ in terms of being queer. In Corvallis, we think we’re so liberal, but on these issues, we’re not so liberal.”