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Travis (Elizabeth), PhD, Oral History Interview: Home

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Interview Profile

 

Submitted: 27 March 2014

 

Interview Information:

Two interview sessions: 24 and 25 March 2014
Total approximate duration: 3 hours and 40 minutes
Interviewer: Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.

 

For supplementary materials:

Please contact, the Historical Resources Center, Research Medical Library:

Javier Garza, MSIS, jjgarza@mdanderson.org

 

About the Interview Subject:

 

Elizabeth L. Travis (b. 29 September, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania) came to MD Anderson in 1982 as an associate professor in the Department of Experimental Radiation Oncology.  She is now the Mattie Allen Fair Professor in Cancer Research in that Department, which is part of the Division of Radiation Oncology.  She is also a professor in the Department of Pulmonary Medicine. 

Dr. Travis is known for her discoveries of how radiation therapy affects normal lung tissue. Since 2006 Dr. Travis has served as Associate Vice President for Women Faculty Programs.

 

Major Topics Covered:

Personal and educational background

Research in radiation oncology –effects on normal lung tissue

Evolution of thinking about gender and impact of gender on careers/institutions

Formation of Women Faculty Organization

First study of gender inequity at MD Anderson

Formation of the Office of Women Faculty Programs (2006)

Leadership

Advancing women’s leadership within the institution and beyond

Gender issues: life-balance issues; women in leadership roles; leadership styles; unconscious bias; impacts of equalizing gender (and diversity) representation.

 

A note on transcription and the transcript:

This interview had been transcribed according to oral history best practices to preserve the conversational quality of spoken language (rather than editing it to written standards).

The interview subject has been given the opportunity to review the transcript and make changes: any substantial departures from the audio file are indicated with brackets [ ].

In addition, the Archives may have redacted portions of the transcript and audio file in compliance with HIPAA and/or interview subject requests.


 

Table of Contents

 

Interview Session One: 24 March 2014

 

A Passion for Science Leads to Radiation Physics
Chapter 01 / Educational Path

 

Choosing Opportunities to Develop a Research Career: A Growing Awareness of Gender Issues
Chapter 02 / Professional Path

 

The Start of a Research Career on the Effects of Radiation on Normal Lung Tissue
Chapter 03 / The Researcher

 

Furthering a Research Career at MD Anderson
Chapter 04 / The Researcher

 

Gender Issues at MD Anderson and the Creation of Advocacy and Equity Services for Women
Chapter 05 / The Administrator

 

The Office of Women Faculty Programs: Activities and Challenges
Chapter 06 / The Administrator

 

 

Interview Session Two: 25 March 2014

 

Women Faculty Programs: Its Beginnings; Awards for Progress Made
Chapter 07 / An Institutional Unit

 

Leading Change for Women; Women as Leaders
Chapter 08 / The Administrator

 

Research and Grants Related to Gender and Diversity
Chapter 09 / The Researcher

 

Personal Choices and a Philosophy about the Importance of Having a Career and A Personal Life
Chapter 10 / Character and Personal Philosophy

 

Setting up the Office of Women Faculty Programs
Chapter 11 / An Institutional Unit

 

Leaving a Legacy of Visible Women
Chapter 12 / View on Career and Accomplishments


Chapter Summaries

 

 

Interview Session One: 24 March 2014 (listen/read)

 

Chapter 00A
Interview Identifier (listen/read)

 

Chapter 01 (Educational Path)
A Passion for Science Leads to Radiation Physics (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • Personal Background
  • On Mentoring
  • Obstacles, Challenges

In this segment, Dr. Travis talks about her family background and the educational track that led her to a career in radiation physics.  She explains that she is a second generation Italian-American raised in the small town of Wilmerding, Pennsylvania.  Her family owned a bar/restaurant and she grew up working in there from an early age, developing her work ethic in the process.  Though her parents had only finished high school, both insisted that their children go to college. 

Dr. Travis notes that she knew very early that she was interested in the sciences, but observes that ideas about careers for women at that time were very limited, and she thought of becoming a dancer or a flight attendant until tenth grade (at Westinghouse Memorial High School).  At that point her biology teacher, Mr. Smith, had a great mentoring influence.  She describes how Mr. Smith brought together all the science-focused students in her class into a community (where gender was not an issue).  He helped her parents understand that she should go to college for the sciences, though she was encouraged to become a teacher at that point.

Dr. Travis attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania (B.S. 1965) and notes influences important during this period, including a course in radiation physics and an opportunity she took to work in a radiation physics laboratory at the University of Pittsburg during a summer.  Dr. Travis explains her decision to go to graduate school for her Masters program.  She mentions her marriage at the end of her first year in graduate school and how that influenced the path of her early career, taking her to South Carolina. 

Dr. Travis talks about her involvement in training and the satisfaction she take in developing young minds.  She shares her philosophy of mentoring: listening to identify where an individual needs help, offering constructive advice when needed.

 

Chapter 02 (Professional Path)
Choosing Opportunities to Develop a Research Career: A Growing Awareness of Gender Issues (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • Personal Background
  • Personal Background
  • Experiences re: Gender, Race, Ethnicity
  • Obstacles, Challenges
  • Evolution of Career
  • Women and Minorities at Work
  • Women and Diverse Populations

In this segment, Dr. Travis explains that she was working as a Research Associate in the Department of Radiation Health, (1965−1967) Radiobiology Laboratories, Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA) when she realized that she missed the laboratory.  She accepted a position that involved teaching and starting up a laboratory at the Department of Radiology at the Medical University of South Carolina (Charleston, SC, 1968−1971).

Dr. Travis recounts a story that she often tells women to demonstrate how women professionals often don’t believe in themselves.  She explains that she was offered a position teaching and starting up a laboratory for the  Department of Radiology at the  Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC, (1968−1971).  She first turned the job down.  “I had PhDs telling me I could do the job, but I didn’t believe it.”  She immediately regretted the decision and called back the next day, taking on that challenge as well as the opportunity to work for her Ph.D. at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Next Dr. Travis talks about her evolving awareness of gender issues.  She explains that she had always been aware of gender. She notes that she attended a very good high school (Westinghouse Memorial High School) where she felt that boys and girls were treated equally.  She also notes family influences on her sense of equality.  Dr. Travis then talks about how the sixties and limitations on women that are unimaginable now. 

Dr. Travis also recounts an experience of sexism she had in the Department of Radiation Therapy at the Medical College of South Carolina.  She had been hired to set up a laboratory, however when the head of the department hired a man to assist her, he offered this inexperienced new hire $4000.00 more in salary than Dr. Travis was paid “because he had a family and children.”  Her salary was increased by $4000 (but no more).   “We think it’s a meritocracy,” Dr. Travis says.  “But it’s not true.  You have to know how to promote yourself.”
 

Dr. Travis next tells about her decision to go overseas after completing her PhD.  The University of South Carolina wanted her to stay, but she wanted to develop her research career and applied for post-doctoral programs, taking a position in London as a Research Scientist (lecturer) in the Department of Radiation Biology at the Mount Vernon Hospital Gray Laboratory (Northwood, Middlesex, United Kingdom, 1976−1979).  Dr. Travis explains that the Gray Laboratory was a “Mecca” of radiation therapy and she was selected for their postdoctoral program because of her work on radiation and normal tissue.

 

Chapter 03 (The Researcher)
The Start of a Research Career on the Effects of Radiation on Normal Lung Tissue (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • The Researcher
  • Professional Path
  • Career and Accomplishments
  • Discovery, Creativity and Innovation
  • On Mentoring
  • Professional Path
  • Technology and R&D
  • Discovery and Success

In this segment, Dr. Travis explains how her research career really began between 1976−1979, when she was a Research Scientist/Lecturer at the Gray Laboratory (Mount Vernon Hospital, Northwood, Middlesex, United Kingdom).  She notes that “they took a chance on her,” as she had never been awarded a grant, but they saw potential and recognized that she had knowledge of lung pathology and radiation therapy.  This was key, as the field of radiation therapy was starting to focus on the effects of radiation on normal tissue.  Dr. Travis lists the researchers who were at the Gray lab at that time.  She talks about the atmosphere and notes some lessons in mentoring she received from the laboratory head, Jack Fowler.

Next, Dr. Travis describes a collaborative project she undertook to develop a non-invasive assay of lung tissue after irradiation that involved measuring the breathing rates of mice as they developed lung damage from radiation therapy.  She describes the rationale of the study as well as the challenges of measuring the breathing rate of mice.   She describes the device she and her colleagues developed to measure breathing rates (see Figure One) and notes that this was the first time that anyone had measured breathing rates as animals developed lung damage from radiation.

Next she notes that it was very hard to get the field to accept the findings and describes how she and her colleagues addressed this by arranging for their measurements to be confirmed.  With that evidence gathered, their paper was published (1977/78).  Dr. Travis next describes one regret: that she didn’t patent this device and another (described below): both have been picked up by companies and are still being sold thirty years later.

Next Dr. Travis describes the “jig” she developed to immobilize non-anaesthetized mice for irradiation (see Figure 2).  This was developed to simulate how patients are irradiated in the clinic and Dr. Travis explains how they were working with fractionated doses. 

Dr. Travis goes on to describe more of her work at the Gray

Laboratory and why it was such an ideal environment.  She talks about the goals she had set to achieve in London and notes that at the end of her three years there, she had an independent research career.

 

Chapter 04 (The Researcher)
Furthering a Research Career at MD Anderson (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • The Researcher
  • Joining MD Anderson
  • Evolution of Career
  • Professional Path
  • Professional Practice
  • The Professional at Work
  • On Research and Researchers
  • Discovery and Success
  • Collaborations

Dr. Travis begins this Chapter by explaining that she was aware of MD Anderson throughout her career.  After her post-doctoral fellowship at the Gray Laboratory, she was recruited to serve as Cancer Expert at the National Institutes of Health (National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, MD, 1979−1982) and she was recruited by Lester Peters for MD Anderson in 1982.  Next Dr. Travis explains how her work on radiation damage to normal lung tissue in mice had implications for patient care.  She describes some experiments conducted to explore radio-protectors, radio-sensitization, and strategies for changing the fractionation of beams to do less tissue damage.  She undertook this work at MD Anderson and mentions individuals she worked with and the seminal data produced showing that it was better to use a lot of radiation on a small area of tissue to do the least damage to normal disuse.

Dr. Travis notes that she came to MD Anderson as an Associate Professor and she was the only woman in the Department of Experimental Radiation Oncology.  She describes the department as very vibrant, one of the best in the field, and she brought her focus on normal tissue, which no one else was researching at the time.  She also observes that the Department “took a chance” on her, as she had no grant funding at the time.  However her first R01 grant proposal was funded; she also had a program project grant.

Dr. Travis describes how writing grant proposals helped her develop as a researcher during her first years at MD Anderson.  She explains how a grant proposal creates a road map for an experiment and forces the researcher to articulate hypotheses and think about a research question in a holistic way.  “You see it from 35,000 feet,” she says.

Dr. Travis compares her experience at MD Anderson with the environment at the NCI.

 

Chapter 05 (The Administrator)
Gender Issues at MD Anderson and the Creation of Advocacy and Equity Services for Women  (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • MD Anderson History
  • MD Anderson Culture
  • Growth and/or Change
  • Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Religion
  • Diversity at MD Anderson
  • Women and Diverse Populations
  • Obstacles, Barriers
  • Discovery and Success

Dr. Travis explains how a movement to address women’s issues began in the eighties.  The University of Texas System had convened a Commission on Women and Minorities.  She also notes that Dr. Margaret Kripke, a major player in these events, came to MD Anderson in 1983.  Dr. Kripke put together a small, ad hoc group to work on the status of women at MD Anderson.  Included were: Elizabeth Travis, Lillian Fuller, and Judy Watson (Dr. Charles LeMaistre’s “right hand”).  They conducted a study (1984) and found inequities: unequal pay for women; women took longer to be promoted, women were not serving on committees or as department chairs or in high-profile positions.  Dr. Kripke took the data to Dr. LeMaistre and the Vice President of Research, Dr. Frederick Becker.  She notes that women themselves were generally not aware of the inequities prior to the report.  Next, the ad hoc group started the Women Faculty Organization to work for access to opportunities for women. She explains why it was important that senior women comprised the core groups.  She also reflects on how the activities of the group were received.

Dr. Travis next talks about the rationale for putting together the book, Legends and Legacies, one of the first projects of the Office of Women Faculty Programs. 

Dr. Travis tells a story about a table in the dining room of the Clark Clinic where men always ate their lunch.  She recalls a day when the women involved in the Women Faculty Organization reserved it, much to the men’s shock.  She talks about how humor was important as she and others worked for visibility for women.  She tells how the “dining table” incident developed and showed a shift in the culture.

Next, Dr. Travis explains how the Office of Women Faculty Programs operates, stressing that women alone cannot make these changes to culture, the men in the institution must also be engaged.  She talks about some measures of success: e.g. in 2007, nine out of the eleven faculty receiving faculty achievement awards were women.  She goes on to talk more about the evolution of the early movement to address gender issues, when the faculty group was expanded to include women on the administrative side, as changes were not happening fast enough.  In 1996, Dr. Travis observes, another survey was conducted about women in leadership confirming few women in high positions.  At that point, Dr. Travis notes, Dr. Margaret Kripke was Chief Academic Officer and was in a position to correct inequities and identify rising-star women.  Dr. Kripke was also on the point of retiring and concerned that she would leave a vacuum at the leadership table.  (She was the first and only woman to date to sit on the President’s executive committee.)  Dr. Travis explains that Dr. Kripke hired consultants (Wanda Wallace and one other consultant) to suggest plans of action.  The idea for a dedicated office addressing women’s issues was formed.  Dr. Travis applied for the position (and she explains why she decided to slow down her research career at this point), as she had always been passionate about gender issues.

 

Chapter 06 (The Administrator)
The Office of Women Faculty Programs: Activities and Challenges (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • The Administrator
  • MD Anderson History
  • MD Anderson Culture
  • Growth and/or Change
  • Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Religion
  • Diversity at MD Anderson
  • Controversies
  • Professional Practice
  • Leadership
  • Women and Diverse Populations
  • Obstacles, Barriers, Challenges

in this segment, Dr. Travis describes some of the main projects developed through the Office of Women Faculty Programs (which opened in 2007).  She begins by describing the book, Legends and Legacies (published 2008), that brought together personal narratives written by MD Anderson’s key women scientists and clinicians.  She notes that she worked with Mary Jane Schier, Steve Stuyck, and Maria Dungler in the Public Affairs Office.  She also explains the rationale behind the photograph best associated with the book: a group photo of the featured women dressed in cocktail dresses.  She notes that it was inspired by an Annie Liebowitz photograph, but also notes that the group photo stresses that “We have to build communities of women.”  She describes the book launch events and the impact of the book on the institution, noting that the book put a different and more human face on the women of the organization.

Next Dr. Travis describes several early activities of Women Faculty programs, including the website and its monthly online feature, “Women Leading the Way.”  She also describes setting up the Kripke Legend Award to honor people who promote and women: it is a highly competitive in cancer medicine and is awarded to women and to men.

Next Dr. Travis describes reactions to the Office’s activities: “Male colleagues were not happy,” and Dr. Travis explains that she was described as “too strident.”  There are still naysayers, she observes.  Next she describes how she learned to address complaints after a particularly difficult set of personal attacks.  She went to Dan Fontaine in the UT System for advice.  He said, “Do a survey of Division and Department heads about Women Faculty Programs.”  She explains the results and discusses how important it was that she reported the results at the Research Council and Clinical Council –transparency that did a great deal to change the tone of reactions to her work.

Dr. Travis explains that the Office of Women Faculty Programs is an independent office that reports directly to the Provost.

Dr. Travis stresses that the focus of the Office of Women Faculty Programs is to promote women into leadership positions.  She explains that women leaders bring a different perspective and different problem-solving strategies to institutions when they are in leadership roles.

 Dr. Travis explains some of the changes in culture she has observed at MD Anderson: for example, men on search committees now will say, “There are no women.”  Dr. Travis then explains that many people resist thinking about gender as an issue because they feel they are being accused of not being fair-minded.  At the end of this session, she talks about how she handles this and how the institution has changed.

 

Interview Session Two: 25 March 2014 (listen/read)

 

Chapter 00B
Interview Identifier (listen/read)

 

Chapter 07 (An Institutional Unit)
Women Faculty Programs: Its Beginnings; Awards for Progress Made  (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • MD Anderson History
  • Leadership
  • Institutional Mission and Values
  • MD Anderson Culture
  • Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Religion
  • Discovery and Success
  • MD Anderson Impact

In this segment, Dr. Travis reviews the history leading to the formation of the ad hoc committee in the 80s tasked to evaluate the status of women and discusses some documents (not yet in the MD Anderson Archive) related to this history.  She talks about the report produced by the Committee to Evaluate the Status of Women (1988/89).  (She also has a copy of the report made to the institution by consultant Wanda Wallace, called in to advice how to address gender inequity.)  She notes that MD Anderson has a better track record than most medical institutions in promoting women.  She notes that MD Anderson received a Leadership Development Award in 2012 from the American Association of Medical Colleges: this recognized the body of work accomplished by the Office of Women Faculty Programs.  Dr. Travis herself received this award as an individual in 2009.  She outlines the accomplishments that have been made, among them an increase in women in leadership roles from 15% to 27%.  Dr. Travis says this is a “model office” and that she speaks all over the country to talk about its structure and role. 

 

Chapter 08 (The Administrator)
Leading Change for Women; Women as Leaders  (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • The Administrator
  • Professional Path
  • Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Religion
  • Diversity Issues
  • Professional Practice  
  • Diversity at MD Anderson
  • Leadership
  • Mentoring
  • Women and Minorities at Work
  • On Leadership
  • On Mentoring
  • Women and Diverse Populations in Healthcare and Institutions

In this segment, Dr. Travis discusses the importance of developing leadership skills for women.  She opens with the statement that one cannot leave leadership to luck: an individual must be noticed, be visible and prepared for opportunities.  She then lists her formal leadership training experiences[1] summarizes data gathered about these programs by Dr. Shine Chung and others confirming that they make a difference in helping women advance into leadership roles.  She notes that the Office of Women Faculty Programs has money to send a number of women and some minority men to leadership programs each year.  Next, Dr. Travis explains how her leadership training expanded her own skill set.  She talks about how the training at Rice University trained her to deal with conflict situations that arose in 2003, when she was Chair of the Faculty Senate. She again stresses that leadership training gives women tools to navigate complex institutions, to self-promote, and to not only know the leadership theory, but to implement ideas.

Dr. Travis next tells a story about a nasty incident that arose during a meeting when men verbally and personally attacked her.  She speaks about how shocked she felt and how her training enabled her to handle the situation.  She observes that scientists are very accustomed to handling criticism and even attack when it comes to their work and data.  But the skill set for handling personal attacks is different.

Dr. Travis next stresses that women must be prepared for opportunities and they must actually take them and not believe that they are not qualified.  Dr. Travis defines the “imposter syndrome” that plagues women and discusses the fact that men and women are still perceived differently and that there is a much narrower band of acceptable behaviors for women in professional situations.

Next Dr. Travis turns to the qualities that women bring to organizations when they serve in leadership positions.  She talks about women’s instinctive listening and collaboration skills, resulting in a different leadership style.  She explains why this is needed (noting that the Sandusky sexual abuse scandal at Penn. State would not have occurred had women been involved). 

Dr. Travis explains that complex problems require different points of view coming together to find solutions and that women bring valuable perspectives to the table.  She also cites the importance of women as role models and the fact that women patients and the great numbers of women who serve in caregiving roles can connect to women in leadership positions.  She describes a survey of research articles placed in journals: articles with women in the list of authors tend to be placed in higher impact journals.

 

Chapter 09 (The Researcher)
Research and Grants Related to Gender and Diversity  (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • The Administrator
  • The Educator
  • Institutional Mission and Values
  • Beyond the Institution
  • Education at MD Anderson
  • Discovery and Success
  • Women and advancement 
  • Diversity at MD Anderson

In this Chapter Dr. Travis describes her grant supported work on gender and diversity projects.  She begins by describing the “Gatekeepers and Gender Schemas” project (run through the Office of Women Faculty Programs) –a real-time study of recruitment in the sciences.  She also describes her contributions to an NIH U54 Partnership Grant in which MD Anderson is partnering with the University of Puerto Rico to build a cancer research center, a cancer hospital, and to train physicians and researchers.  Dr. Travis is a PI on that grant and on the training program.  She describes why she enjoys working with students and also what is involved in the training program.  The MD/PHD program, she says, is the “jewel in the crown” of the program and this summer its first two graduates will receive their degrees.  She notes the commitment of the Puerto Rican students to return to their home country to practice.

[The recorder is paused briefly.]

Dr. Travis notes some differences in the way that gender issues play out in Puerto Rico and in the United Sttes, then describes how the project is administered.  Next she observes that her interest in teaching, training, and developing young minds has worked underneath the surface of her career. 

 

Chapter 10 (Character and Personal Philosophy)
Personal Choices and a Philosophy about the Importance of Having a Career and A Personal Life  (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

Character and Personal Philosophy

Personal Background

MD Anderson Culture

Professional Values, Ethics, Purpose

The Life and Dedication of Clinicians and Researchers

Dr. Travis shares the name of her son, Scott Philips, whom she chose to have as a single parent.  She goes on to talk about the issue of women, career and family, noting that she is tired of the question: “We aren’t over this yet.”  She also says that it’s disturbing to her that this discussion usually focuses only on people with children.  “Everyone deserves a personal life.  We must provide people with time.  Dr. Travis notes that her son is an “important legacy” for her to leave and she shares the advice she gives to women considering having children.  She observes that the burden of child care still falls on women.  Though more younger men are more involved, she still see vestiges of “old school” thinking even in younger men, citing what younger men say about women in leadership roles.  Dr. Travis believes that the Office of Women Faculty Programs needs to develop a community of men discussing issues about life balance and personal life.  She goes on to explain that careers in medicine and research demand obsession, obligation, and duty, but an individual must have down time to preserve resilience.  She talks about her own interest in travel and the symphony and the pleasure she has taken in making friends around the world.

 

Chapter 11 (An Institutional Unit)
Setting up the Office of Women Faculty Programs  (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • The Administrator
  • Professional Path
  • Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Religion
  • Diversity Issues
  • Professional Practice  
  • Diversity at MD Anderson
  • Leadership
  • Mentoring
  • Women and Minorities at Work

In this segment, Dr. Travis describes how she went about setting up an office that could create rapid results for women at MD Anderson.  She first hired a data person, because “it’s all about the data.”  She explains data is fundamental to all of the Office’s work, decisions about priorities, and role in debunking myths.  She describes how her skills in presenting issues and responding to naysayers evolved as she set up the office.  Next she explains the elements of the Office’s mission: to increase the visibility of women within the institution and beyond and to have an impact on policy.  As an example of the latter role, she describes how the Office was instrumental in changing the policy on tenure clock extension for faculty with a new child.  She also talks about the Office’s role in getting people to look at their unconscious biases: she does a lot of teaching about this issue, using a test developed at Harvard University for unconscious bias.  She also discusses mentoring.  Faculty Development runs the institution’s formal mentoring programs, however Women Faculty Programs addresses issues that this program misses, such as why women don’t like to promote themselves and the skills they lack in self-promotion.  She quotes Walt Whitman: “Ya done it, you’re not bragging.”  She also talks about training she does for men to help them understand that they must ask women questions.

Next Dr. Travis talks about the concept of “sponsorship.”  She has published a paper on sponsorship and defines it in contrast to mentoring, explaining that it’s a business model that she is adapting to a medical/scientific concept.   She intends to put together a sponsorship workshop at MD Anderson and will also develop a Women’s Leadership Network spanning all fifteen units of the University of Texas System, further breaking down barriers between faculty and administrative women.

Dr. Travis speaks about one project she has not yet been able to push through: Cultural competency training focused on gender for Department chairs.  She explains the need and notes that this is on the calendar for August 2014.  She intends this as a pilot program to see how it works. 

Dr. Travis talks about the issues that cultural competency training would cover and stresses that she sees her role as helping department chairs develop the best of the best.

 

Chapter 12 (View on Career and Accomplishments)
Leaving a Legacy of Visible Women  (listen/read)

 

Topics Covered

  • Career and Accomplishments
  • Contributions to MD Anderson
  • MD Anderson Culture
  • Institutional Mission and Values
  • Personal background

Dr. Travis talks about the legacy she feels she will leave at MD Anderson: more women in leadership roles and communities of women who feel visible and recognized.  She is particularly gratified by the community building and gives an example of how the Office supports growth of community.  She also feels she has had an impact on male colleagues who are now aware of gender issues.  Dr. Travis shares some milestones she would like to see accomplished before she retires.

Dr. Travis says she has no immediate plans to retire.  She is “having too much fun” and she has worked since she was twelve and would need to have an outlet for her energy.  She talks about Dr. Margaret Kripke, who retired for a time, then took on another position. 

Dr. Travis makes some final comments about MD Anderson, where “what we do is truly remarkable.”


[1] 1992 Executive Development Program, Professional, Rice University, Houston, Texas; Career Development Seminar for Senior Women in Medicine, Association American Medical Colleges (AAMC), Washington, DC, 1996; Fellow, Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM), Philadelphia, PA, 1999−2000; Executive Education Program, Women's Senior Leadership Program, Kellogg School of Management Northwestern University, Chicago, IL, 10/2010−10/2012. 

Original Profile

Interview Profile #53: Elizabeth L. Travis, Ph.D.
Submitted by: Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.
Date: 27 March 2014

This interview with Dr. Elizabeth Travis (b. 29 September, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania takes place on 24 and 25 March 2014 (total duration, approximately 3 hours and 40 minutes).  Dr. Travis came to MD Anderson in 1982 as an associate professor in the Department of Experimental Radiation Oncology.  She is now the Mattie Allen Fair Professor in Cancer Research in that Department, which is part of the Division of Radiation Oncology.  She is also a professor in the Department of Pulmonary Medicine.  Since 2006 Dr. Travis has served as Associate Vice President for Women Faculty Programs.  This interview takes place in Dr. Travis’ office in Pickens Academic Tower on the Main Campus of MD Anderson.  Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D. is the interviewer.  Dr. Travis contributed a personal narrative to the book, Legends and Legacies: Personal Journeys of Women Physicians and Scientists at MD Anderson Cancer Center.[1]

 

Dr. Travis received her B.S. in Biology in 1965 from Indiana University of Pennsylvania (Indiana, Pennsylvania) and her Masters of Education in 1967 from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and Graduate School of Education in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  She completed her doctoral work in Experimental Pathology and Radiation Biology at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, South Carolina (Ph.D. conferred in 1976).  Dr. Travis did her post-doctoral fellowship from 1976−1979 as a Research Scientist/Lecturer in the Department of Radiation Biology at the Mount Vernon Hospital Gray Laboratory in Northwood, Middlesex, United Kingdom.  She was then recruited to serve as Cancer Expert at the National Institutes of Health (National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, MD), a position she held from 1979 to 1982, when she was recruited to MD Anderson’s Department of Experimental Radiation Oncology.  In the research arena, Dr. Travis is known for her discoveries of how radiation therapy affects normal lung tissue.  She has had an impact on the institution through her leadership of the Office of Women Faculty Programs.

 

In this interview, Dr. Travis first sketches her small-town roots in a second-generation Italian-American family, where she was encouraged to get an education but there was limited understanding of where that opportunity might lead a girl.  She traces her pathway to the independent research career she envisioned for herself and discusses the innovative research on normal lung tissue that won her attention from the Gray Laboratory in the UK, from the NIH and then from MD Anderson.  While discussing her career path, Dr. Travis also describes how her thinking about gender evolved and became a commitment to work on women’s issues at MD Anderson.  She provides a historical view of how gender came to the attention of the institution’s executive level under Dr. Charles LeMaistre, gaining real administrative support.  She talks first about the formation of the Women Faculty Organization and the initial surveys that revealed gender inequities at MD Anderson. She then talks about the formation of the Office of Women Faculty Programs in 2006 and the work she has done since that time to advance women’s leadership skills and visibility both within the institution and beyond.  Throughout, Dr. Travis offers observations on a range of gender and life-balance issues: challenges to women as they move into leadership roles; differences in women’s and men’s leadership styles; how unconscious bias results in gender inequity; how equalizing gender (and diversity) representation strengthens problem-solving power; the fundamental need that all professionals have for a healthy personal life.

 

[1] Legends and Legacies: Personal Journeys of Women Physicians and Scientists at MD Anderson Cancer Center.  Ed. Elizabeth L. Travis, Ph.D. (Houston, Texas: The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, 2008/2009) pp. 202 – 211.