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      Meet the marathoner who is blazing a trail in the male-dominated STEM field

      Nina Raver-Shapira, Ph.D., loves a challenge: The Johnson & Johnson scientist persisted for years to develop an innovative surgical patch that helps stop problematic bleeding during surgery—and she’s also a record-breaking elite athlete. For Women’s Equality Day, find out how she got her start, what achievements she’s most proud of and where she finds inspiration.

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      Some people avoid challenges. Nina Raver-Shapira embraces them.
      A headshot of Nina Raver-Shapira, a Johnson and Johnson MedTech scientist
      When antisemitism forced her family to emigrate from Ukraine to Israel when she was 17, Raver-Shapira taught herself Hebrew, enrolled in Hebrew University in Jerusalem and earned her Ph.D. in biochemistry eight years later.
      After starting her career as a scientist more than 15 years ago, Raver-Shapira—the Research and Development Associate Director at Ethicon, a Johnson & Johnson MedTech company—leads the development of innovative products that help manage bleeding during surgery. One particular product took seven years to develop and test before getting FDA approval in 2016.

      Working for so long to perfect one product might sound daunting, but Raver-Shapira enjoys overcoming obstacles—both professionally and personally.

      In 2008, hoping to get back in physical shape after giving birth to her two children, Raver-Shapira decided to try running. Within the year, she finished her first marathon. Since then, she’s completed more than 80 marathons and several dozen ultramarathons across the globe, including the grueling Spartathlon from Athens to Sparta in Greece.

      This summer, she reached another milestone as an endurance athlete. Raver-Shapira was one of 100 runners at Badwater, a 135-mile ultramarathon that began in Death Valley, California, crossed three mountain ranges to an elevation of 14,000 feet and ended at Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous U.S.

      One of 40 women in the race, Raver-Shapira crossed the finish line as the first Israeli woman to complete Badwater. She also clocked the fastest time of any Israeli participant in the race’s history.
      “Just keep moving forward,” she would tell herself as she traversed roads across the desert and up mountains. It’s a philosophy Raver-Shapira relies on to power through and succeed in every facet of her life.

      In honor of Women’s Equality Day, Raver-Shapira recounts
      her journey from a university student in an unfamiliar country to an innovator in surgical healing—and she explains what it’s like to blaze a trail in the male-dominated STEM field and in an elite endurance sport.


      Growing up, what was the earliest clue that you would one day be working in medicine or science?


      As a kid, I wanted to be a surgeon. I hoped to save lives; all my dolls were “operated” on and sutured. In school I took extended courses in biology, chemistry and organic chemistry with this purpose in mind.

      After I immigrated to Israel at 17, I soon realized that research was more appealing to me. During my second year of college, I met an extraordinary biochemistry professor. I went to him and said, “I want to work in your lab and it doesn’t matter what I’m doing. I’ll wash dishes.” He was impressed with my passion and determination and let me lead a small research project by myself.

      During the last year of my Ph.D., my father was diagnosed with cancer. It was a very clear decision for me to focus my post-doctorate studies on finding a cure for the disease.

      I grew up as a feminist in a feminist family. I have two kids and I’m a single mom and I’m a career woman with a Ph.D. and in R&D management.

      But after a few years as a research fellow, I began looking for a job that could result in a more direct and immediate positive contribution to people. I joined a biologics company that became a part of Johnson & Johnson a few months later, and this position provided that opportunity.


      What’s it like working in the medtech space, which is very male-dominated?


      I grew up as a feminist in a feminist family believing that we are all equal. The fact that the medtech environment is male-dominated was irrelevant to what I wanted to achieve. I have two kids and I’m a single mom and I’m a career woman with a Ph.D. and I’m in R&D management and I’m an endurance athlete. But I just don’t feel any specific burden related to being a woman.


      How does being an endurance athlete intersect with being a scientist?
      Nina Raver-Shapira running marathon at night with headlamp


      I think the two are very parallel. At work, if there’s a problem and you don’t know the answer, you have to figure it out. That’s basically the same as tackling an ultramarathon like the one I just did. You start somewhere far from the finish line, the road itself is long and sometimes very unpleasant and you just continue moving step by step until you get to the end.

      Along the way, you struggle and feel the horizon isn’t getting any closer, and you feel lost. But you know that if you continue moving and continue the process, you will get there. That’s the kind of optimism we need everywhere in life and the motto that I use with my team.


      What part of your work do you enjoy the most?


      Seeing my team develop, grow and succeed is one part. The other is problem-solving and intellectual challenges. Sometimes it’s really easy, and sometimes something like an analytical assessment isn’t very straightforward, and then it might take months—or even years!—until we find a solution. It’s very satisfying when we finally get to that point.


      What is your proudest achievement?


      Usually when people ask me about myself, the first thing I say is “I’m a proud mom of two kids.” That’s my biggest achievement in life. My daughter is 21 and my son is 18. They’re brilliant and wonderful and beautiful and smart and every superlative that you can think of.

      Nina Raver-Shapira with her son and daughter

      But professionally, I’m very proud of my work. I was honored to present our findings to the FDA to get product approval. Surgeons I’ve spoken with have called it a game-changer when it comes to stopping problematic bleeding during surgery.

      I also advise having a role model who inspires you with a relentless positive attitude and finding an encouraging mentor, one whose opinion is important to you and who truly believes in you.


      Who inspires you to take professional and personal challenges?


      My father still inspires me—not just at work but in almost everything I do: His calm and balanced personality, his deep and rich intellect, his self-discipline and curiosity. His attitude was to never give up, and he strove to be a better person and bring good to the world every day. These are the inspirational values I try to live by.


      How do you spend free time when you’re not in the lab or doing practice runs for your next marathon?


      I love reading. I enjoy being immersed in another reality; it helps me refresh and reset my consciousness and mindset. I prefer novels and science fiction, and my favorite book is The Little Prince. It so precisely touches the deepest and the most important matters, like human connections, love, friendship, faith and compassion.


      What advice would you give young women or girls just starting out in STEM at work or in school?


      Be curious, open to learn from everything and don’t let other people or failures discourage you. Getting over these obstacles will drive you forward and make you better.

      Nina Raver-Shapira in lab coat and cap at work as a scientist

      I also advise having a role model who inspires you with a relentless positive attitude and finding an encouraging mentor, one whose opinion is important to you and who truly believes in you.

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