Joanne Kamens’ Letter to her 13-year-old Self

Dr. Joanne Kamens develops treatments for human diseases based on RNA interference, a natural mechanism of controlling gene expression.



Dear Joanne at 13 and beyond,

Way to go—not that many girls make it into the Minnesota Talented Youth Math Program and none have ever come in number 1! You are so lucky to have this opportunity to meet other kids really interested in math and science and who also find it fun to do 300 math problems a week. You are geeky, but in this program, geeky is cool so enjoy begin surrounded by your own kind.

Don’t ever stop looking for and finding answers to questions. I know it is hard to be heard when you are a 4 foot tall, red headed girl and I get that you need to be strong about that, but maybe it would be good to learn other ways of persuasion and convincing too. It will serve you well later when you are in the working world—you won’t have to be boning up on your listening skills all the time if you start working on this early enough. I am still not that good at listening and try to work on it every day. But never be afraid to speak up and to make mistakes sometimes.

How lucky you will be—you can’t even know it now! You will choose a great advisor in graduate school (oh, sorry to break it to you, but you are not going to be a medical doctor—you love the basic science too much so will be getting your Ph.D. instead—your parents will be proud of you anyway). Your advisor will be gender blind and treat his whole lab with respect and equal support. He will be a real hero when you get pregnant and he will make it possible for you to finish your work, get your degree, and get a salary as a post-doc in his lab so you have time to find a job that will pay for day care. He will also be the best teacher you will ever have at critical scientific thinking and will support you in getting your first industry job by introducing you to all his industry connections. Don’t forget to thank him and to help teach others how important it is to actively choose great advisors (and not just be lucky at choosing one).

Your husband is going to be a great supporter of your work and all you do. He is going to be a 100% involved dad and share all responsibilities equally to make it possible for you both to have successful careers. You will be blessed with talented children who are beautiful and inside and out. This wasn’t just luck but turned out even better than you expected. Keep enjoying what you do and your family will hopefully support you.

You expect a lot of people (and of yourself). This isn’t always going to make it easy to function in a corporate environment so start working now on tactics for this. You will still be working on it in 30 years, but every new interpersonal skill will help. Keep thinking about how to bring out the best in the people you work with. You will make mistakes…get over it.

You will be good at staying in touch with a few friends from each important life stage, but you should start building stronger relationships with others in your professional life…you kind of waited too long to start realizing the value of staying connected with friends and colleagues around the world. It’s never too late to start, but you will be working for 10 years before you realize how important this is and how much pleasure it could add to your work and life.

You will never be a beauty queen, but your hair will get better and drop the plaid—it isn’t working. And for heaven’s sake, don’t spend so long going out with that guy in college. It isn’t going to last and your friends really can’t stand him but won’t tell you.




Dr. Joanne Kamens is the Senior Director of Research Collaborations at RXi Pharmaceuticals. She received her PhD in genetics from Harvard Medical School and her undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Kamens has focused her efforts on opening doors for women scientists by creating supportive mentoring networks for over a decade. She founded the Boston chapter of AWIS (the Association for Women in Science) and now serves on the national AWIS Chapters Committee. Dr. Kamens also serves on the Board of Directors of WEST (Women Entrepreneurs in Science and Technology).

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