Conferences for many disciplines often will include a poster session–a presentation of research using a paper poster and the opportunity to interact with the researcher. Dr. Nansie Sharpless was a great proponent of these sessions as it allowed her to share her work with others in a more meaningful way.
Previously presenting to professional societies would present a challenge as she would have to have an interpreter relay questions from the floor for her to respond to–and no matter what information she presented most would just remember that she was deaf. Poster sessions on the other hand allowed her to share her findings and interact with people in a different way that let her work shine though.
Growing up, Sharpless enjoyed science, mathematics, and music but lost her hearing at age 14 from a case of meningitis. Earning a BS in Zoology in 1954 she joined a master’s program at Wayne State University. Experiencing few problems with being able to communicate with professors or colleagues, she attended meetings and demonstrations, learned new techniques, and even supervised several technicians.
Wanting to continue to challenge herself after obtaining her degree she enrolled in a doctoral program at Wayne State but she was discouraged by family and friends and even the director of admissions saying in a meeting that she would be held to an even higher standard to be able to prove that she could do the work–so she proved that she could graduating with a perfect grade point average.
Hired in the department of biochemistry at the Mayo Clinic, her studies included researching L-Dopa metabolism in spinal fluid as part of researching this chemical naturally found in the human body and its relationship with Parkinson’s Disease.
Later in her career she would join the faculty of Albert Einstein Medical College as an associate professor and would be named the Chief of the schools’ clinical neuropsychopharmacological laboratory.
Sharpless published over 50 papers, authored 11 book chapters, was highly active in the scientific community, and served as a role model for the deaf community.
Written by Angela Goad