Myriam Sarachik Never Gave Up on Physics

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But even during this golden era of science, women like Dr. Sarachik were discouraged from participating.

Two years before her Kondo effect work, Dr. Sarachik, giving in to the expectations of the day, set aside her physics research a year after finishing her Ph.D. at Columbia University in New York. She was going to stay home and take care of Karen, her newborn daughter.

“I was home for about a month, and I realized I was never going to survive this,” she said.

Her husband, Philip, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Columbia, urged her to return to research. She recalled him saying, “I would rather pay someone to take care of Karen than a psychiatrist.”

But when she attended a job fair at a physics conference in New York, Dr. Sarachik, unlike her Columbia classmates, received no requests for job interviews. “I got none,” she said. “I got absolutely zero. I got, again, very unhappy. So very, very unhappy.”

In despair, she reached out to one of her Columbia professors, Polykarp Kusch.

“I asked him to please help me,” Dr. Sarachik said. “He argued with me long and hard. He said, ‘You don’t really want to do what you think you want to do. You don’t want to do research. Maybe you should take a part-time teaching job.’ And I said, ‘No, I want to do research.’”

She said that at the end of the back-and-forth, Dr. Kusch gave in: “Finally he said, ‘Look, Myriam, we trained you. I don’t know why you want to do what you want to do. But if you want to do it, you have the right to try.’”

In an interview, Dr. Sarachik said of Dr. Kusch, “He had this bias. We all have it, but he was willing to operate above it.”

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