Cynthia M. Cole


In 1960, I was selected to represent Marywood, my Catholic girls high school, in the Southern California regional competition for Bank of America scholarships for students in math and science.  I reached the final group of 7 (the only female) and everything looked good for me until they tossed out a question about the ethical responsibilities of scientists.  I knew that the expected answer was that the scientist was to be a seeker of pure knowledge, without regard to how that knowledge would be used. Knowing I would not be chosen for one of the 3 scholarships, I still felt compelled to lay out my argument that scientists are part of society and responsible to society for their behavior.

After the inevitable selection of other winners occurred, my future career was saved by the kindness of the young man who won the third place scholarship.  He asked me if he could give me a ride back to Anaheim.  In the course of the ride, he said that he thought I was robbed, that my answer deserved first place.

With that encouragement, my professional life focused on teaching health professionals the principles of human behavior and the ethical responsibilities to patients and communities inherent in being a health professional.  I also spent the last 10 years as a university faculty member, teaching brilliant but underestimated rural students how to design and carry out studies of health behavior in and with rural communities.

I felt like I was coming full circle, ensuring that these students with unique knowledge of and commitment to community life knew how to design credible studies and get their points on the table for discussion.  My final words to the grad students in my department when I retired were, “Will you carry this mission on and help faculty and students to truly “know their place”?  I was thrilled to the core when several said, “Yes, I will, yes…”

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1 Response to Cynthia M. Cole

  1. rw says:

    Hi, I love that you said a scientist has to think about the context of her work and how it will affect society. Thanks for taking that stand, I (among others) benefitted from the actions of you and those who were brave like you.

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