Member Spotlight

The Career of Dr. Mary E. Clutter

It is with deep regret and profound sadness that we report the death of women’s rights champion and AWIS leader Dr. Mary E. Clutter (1930-2019). An AWIS Member since 1994, Dr. Clutter was also a 1996 AWIS Fellow and helped diversify the face of science. The article below is an archive from the spring 2011 AWIS Magazine.

“The first criterion in choosing panelists is expertise and experience in the field, at the same time ensuring the balance of the panels with regard to such factors as participation of women and underrepresented minority scientists and of scientists from the wide range of academic institutions and from industry.”

Dr. Mary E. Clutter

advocating against #manels in a 1997 Senate testimony

By Alison Diefenderfer, spring 2011 AWIS Magazine archives

When Dr. Mary E. Clutter left her faculty appointment at Yale for a position as a visiting scientist at the National Science Foundation (NSF), she did not intend to stay away from higher education for long. As life has taught most of us, however, we cannot always see what lies ahead. For Dr. Clutter, the future held a decades-long and very productive scientific career at NSF, one that merits coverage in this current issue of AWIS Magazine, where we look at work­force development within the STEM fields.

To begin, Dr. Clutter’s education and early career path prepared her well for a future working for NSF. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Allegheny College, and both a Master and Doctorate of Science in Botany at the University of Pittsburgh. Soon thereafter, she went on to lecture in introductory biology at Yale.

Early in her professional career, she worked with the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) to support women joining the scientific workforce. In 1971, ASCB members at Yale joined together to form Women in Cell Biology (WICB). According to Dr. Clutter, “WICB was the first professional organization for women in our field.”

She helped WICB recruit at that year’s ASCB conference in New Orleans, successfully gathering almost a thousand scientists for a subsequent meeting in Boston. This occurred at a time when women at Yale held very few tenured positions.

Within five years of getting involved in this initiative, Dr. Clutter was on her way to the nation’s capital as a visiting scientist. In 1976, she began work with the Developmental Biology program at the National Science Foundation. With time and experience, she would later become the Assistant Director of NSF, responsible for Biological Sciences, the division now known as the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO). Besides serving as Assistant Director, Dr. Clutter has also served as Program Director of Developmental Biology, Division Director of Cellular Biosciences, Senior Science Advisor to the Director, and Acting Deputy Director, NSF.

Part of the reason Dr. Clutter stayed at NSF past her initial visiting position was that the work allowed her to continue promoting plant biology research. Dr. Clutter also saw it as a way to participate in improving internal and external NSF communications. She encountered initiatives at NSF that allowed her to “accomplish and contribute more to science by working in the federal government remaining at NSF than by remaining at Yale.” Dr. Clutter made strong headway toward her goals while at the NSF, ultimately becoming “an internationally-recognized scientist and administrator [who] has spent her career initiating and administering programs to advance scientists and research in the biological sciences with emphasis on promoting interdisciplinarity and broadening participation.” Dr. Clutter had simultaneously taken on roles as a researcher and administrator at NSF while advocating on behalf of the STEM fields.

Dr. Clutter grew, diversified, and led a highly productive career as an NSF scientist and chose to stay rather than return to Yale and higher education. She has been quoted as saying, she “has [had] the best job in the world,” in reflection of her career at the NSF, showing that scientific careers within the federal government are not only possible but quite rewarding too.

For example, Dr. Clutter has served as co-chair of the National Science and Technology Council’s (NSTC) Committee on Science’s lnteragency Working Group on Plant Genomes, which later became the first complete genome-sequencing endeavor. As described on the NSF’s website for the Directorate for Biological Sciences, the long-term goal of the PGR (Plant Genome Research Program) is to understand the structure, organization and function of plant genomes important to agriculture, the environment, energy, and health. Both during Dr. Clutter’s career and since her retirement, NSF has worked with different branches of the federal government and across industries to understand more about science as it affects us all.

Furthermore, Dr. Clutter has advocated for funding and governmental support of the sciences and research, especially work which embraces a cross-disciplinary, diverse approach. After all, “NSF/BIO is also the nation’s principal supporter of fundamental academic research on plant biology, environmental biology, and biodiversity” and “BIO-supported research advances the frontiers of biological knowledge, increases our understanding of complex systems, and provides a theoretical basis for original research in many other scientific disciplines.” One way Dr. Clutter and NSF helped diversify the workforce ranks was by including young scientists in the plant genome project, encouraging more institutions and potential future leaders to become engaged in collaborative scientific work.

ln addition to serving scientists as an administrator and advocate, Dr. Clutter has invested time and effort in other endeavors. For instance, she has served as the U.S. Chair of the U.S. European Commission Task Force on Biotechnology; a member of the Board of Trustees of the international Human Frontiers Science Program; a member of the Board of Regents of the National Library of Medicine; a member of the National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education and Economics Advisory Board; chair of the Biotechnology Subcommittee of the Committee on Science of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC); and co-chair of the Subcommittee on Ecological Systems of the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources/NSK. Dr. Clutter has also been on the Board of Directors for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which awarded her fellow status. This is not her only fellow status, as she was also part of the 1996 class of fellows with the Association for Women in Science.

Dr. Clutter’s hard work and dedication to research and the advancement of science and the scientific workforce has led to many honors, such as the Medal of Distinction from the University of Pittsburgh, along with two honorary doctorates: one from her alma mater, Allegheny College, and one from Mt. Holyoke College. In 1991, then-President George H. W. Bush presented Dr. Clutter with the Presidential Distinguished Executive Award, which is among the highest level of awards and honors within the U.S. Government’s Senior Executive Service. In 2006, the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) also commended her work with the ASPB Leadership in Science Public Service Award. When she retired, she was replaced Jim Collins, another member of AWIS. After retirement, Dr. Clutter served on committees within the National Academies Policy and Global Affairs division.

Looking back on a career such as that of Dr. Clutter, one is grateful for and inspired by her work, willingness to mentor, and commitment to advancement in the sciences. From an early career interest in plant biology, including studying “function of polytene chromosomes in plant embryos,” to adding “expertise in biocomplexity, cyberinfrastructure, government research policy, leadership development, science administration, and genomics.”

Dr. Clutter grew, diversified, and led a highly productive career as an NSF scientist and chose to stay rather than return to Yale and higher education. She has been quoted as saying, she “has [had] the best job in the world,” in reflection of her career at the NSF, showing that scientific careers within the federal government are not only possible but quite rewarding too.

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© 2019 Association for Women in Science. All Rights Reserved.

© 2017 Association for Women in Science. All Rights Reserved.

1667 K Street NW, Suite 800, Washington, DC 20006
awis@awis.org
(202) 588-8175

LET'S CONNECT

1667 K Street NW, Suite 800, Washington, DC 20006
awis@awis.org
(202) 588-8175

© 2019 Association for Women in Science. All Rights Reserved.

© 2017 Association for Women in Science. All Rights Reserved.