Summer of Science - Dr. Stephanie Watts in Pharmacology

Pharmacologist Dr. Stephanie Watts says “science has rescued me many times”

Jun 10, 2022

by Stephanie W. Watts, PhD

AWIS is kicking off the #SummerOfScience! We will be highlighting AWIS members and partners to show the impact different fields of science have on society – and how these fields are impacted by women.

Introduce yourself, your title, and describe your work.

My name is Stephanie W. Watts and I have a PhD in pharmacology and toxicology. I began at Michigan State University in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology in 1995 and have been a full professor since 2005. My work? It’s something I love. My team and I study vascular mechanisms in cardiovascular diseases, specifically hypertension and hypertension associated with obesity. We are known for “outside the box” thinking on vascular mechanisms and substances that change vascular contractility.

What do you love about this field?

Science! People! Discovery! Arguing! I did not want to go to medical school but I wanted to work on something close to it. To me, pharmacology is arguably the most translational science because we work on potential medicines. It is also wonderful because I get to be a chemist, biologist, clinician, artist, teacher, mentor, etc. Most importantly, I get to think about the receptor, a construct central to pharmacology. To this day, I marvel at this idea.

How does your work benefit people and society in general?

Our work is – we hope, hope, hope – is a path towards new medicines. I also have, past and present, a lab with women from many different walks of life. These women will continue to change the world by demonstrating the marked effectiveness of women in science and the good things they bring.

What barriers did you have to overcome to get where you are now?
  • In college, I would receive lab reports from a male TA telling me I didn’t belong in science. I’m still here.
  • I am a short woman (5’ 2”); when I started my lab, company reps repeatedly asked to see my boss. I decided to stand on a stool the next time they showed up.
  • I miscarried on the day I received a poor score on a grant from NIH. I figured if that day didn’t undo me? Nothing could.
  • My oldest son is severely disabled. I started my lab at MSU while we were figuring out the extent of his disabilities.
  • I went on bedrest for 7 weeks while pregnant with my second child. I wrote grants lying on my left hand side because I had to…and thank goodness for computers!
  • I sat on the floor of the cardiac step down unit with a sick husband, writing a grant that was due, because I had to.

Bottom line: You make it work – all aspects of your life. And you move forward.

What advice do you have for other women considering this field?

Pharmacology does let you become so many things, as I mentioned above. For being in science: Remember the passion and love for what you do and let it help you overcome the difficulties you face. Science has rescued me many times; I owe it the very best work I can give.