The Autobiography of a Transgender Scientist

Author Ben Barres
Foreword by Nancy Hopkins
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Paperback
$17.95 US
On sale Oct 20, 2020 | 160 Pages | 978-0-262-53954-8
A leading scientist describes his life, his gender transition, his scientific work, and his advocacy for gender equality in science.

Ben Barres was known for his groundbreaking scientific work and for his groundbreaking advocacy for gender equality in science. In this book, completed shortly before his death from pancreatic cancer in December 2017, Barres (born in 1954) describes a life full of remarkable accomplishments—from his childhood as a precocious math and science whiz to his experiences as a female student at MIT in the 1970s to his female-to-male transition in his forties, to his scientific work and role as teacher and mentor at Stanford.

Barres recounts his early life—his interest in science, first manifested as a fascination with the mad scientist in Superman; his academic successes; and his gender confusion. Barres felt even as a very young child that he was assigned the wrong gender. After years of being acutely uncomfortable in his own skin, Barres transitioned from female to male. He reports he felt nothing but relief on becoming his true self. He was proud to be a role model for transgender scientists.

As an undergraduate at MIT, Barres experienced discrimination, but it was after transitioning that he realized how differently male and female scientists are treated. He became an advocate for gender equality in science, and later in life responded pointedly to Larry Summers's speculation that women were innately unsuited to be scientists. Privileged white men, Barres writes, “miss the basic point that in the face of negative stereotyping, talented women will not be recognized.” At Stanford, Barres made important discoveries about glia, the most numerous cells in the brain, and he describes some of his work. “The most rewarding part of his job,” however, was mentoring young scientists. That, and his advocacy for women and transgender scientists, ensures his legacy.

Life
Growing Up
Gender Confusion While Growing Up
MIT
Medical Training
Doctoral Training
Postdoctoral Years
Starting Out at Stanford
Transitioning from Barbara to Ben

Science
Development of Methods to Purify and Culture CNS Neurons
Why do CNS Neurons Fail to Regenerate their Axons after Injury?
Understanding Oligodendrocyte Development...
Development of Methods to Purify...
Elucidation of Active Roles of Astrocytes...Function

Elucidation of Active Roles of Astrocytes...Pruning
Understanding Human Astrocytes
Development of New Tools to Study Microglia
Studies of Blood-Brain Barrier Formation
Understanding Reactive Astrocytes...
Founding a Biotech Company

Advocacy
Mentoring Young Scientists
Training Young Scientists
Helping Women in Science
Summing Up

Afterword
Biographical Notes
Trainees in the Barres Lab
Selected Bibliography
Index
Ben Barres (1954–2017) was Professor and Chair of the Department of Neurology at Stanford University and one of the world's leading researchers on the role of the brain cells known as glia.

About

A leading scientist describes his life, his gender transition, his scientific work, and his advocacy for gender equality in science.

Ben Barres was known for his groundbreaking scientific work and for his groundbreaking advocacy for gender equality in science. In this book, completed shortly before his death from pancreatic cancer in December 2017, Barres (born in 1954) describes a life full of remarkable accomplishments—from his childhood as a precocious math and science whiz to his experiences as a female student at MIT in the 1970s to his female-to-male transition in his forties, to his scientific work and role as teacher and mentor at Stanford.

Barres recounts his early life—his interest in science, first manifested as a fascination with the mad scientist in Superman; his academic successes; and his gender confusion. Barres felt even as a very young child that he was assigned the wrong gender. After years of being acutely uncomfortable in his own skin, Barres transitioned from female to male. He reports he felt nothing but relief on becoming his true self. He was proud to be a role model for transgender scientists.

As an undergraduate at MIT, Barres experienced discrimination, but it was after transitioning that he realized how differently male and female scientists are treated. He became an advocate for gender equality in science, and later in life responded pointedly to Larry Summers's speculation that women were innately unsuited to be scientists. Privileged white men, Barres writes, “miss the basic point that in the face of negative stereotyping, talented women will not be recognized.” At Stanford, Barres made important discoveries about glia, the most numerous cells in the brain, and he describes some of his work. “The most rewarding part of his job,” however, was mentoring young scientists. That, and his advocacy for women and transgender scientists, ensures his legacy.

Table of Contents

Life
Growing Up
Gender Confusion While Growing Up
MIT
Medical Training
Doctoral Training
Postdoctoral Years
Starting Out at Stanford
Transitioning from Barbara to Ben

Science
Development of Methods to Purify and Culture CNS Neurons
Why do CNS Neurons Fail to Regenerate their Axons after Injury?
Understanding Oligodendrocyte Development...
Development of Methods to Purify...
Elucidation of Active Roles of Astrocytes...Function

Elucidation of Active Roles of Astrocytes...Pruning
Understanding Human Astrocytes
Development of New Tools to Study Microglia
Studies of Blood-Brain Barrier Formation
Understanding Reactive Astrocytes...
Founding a Biotech Company

Advocacy
Mentoring Young Scientists
Training Young Scientists
Helping Women in Science
Summing Up

Afterword
Biographical Notes
Trainees in the Barres Lab
Selected Bibliography
Index

Author

Ben Barres (1954–2017) was Professor and Chair of the Department of Neurology at Stanford University and one of the world's leading researchers on the role of the brain cells known as glia.