Entrepreneur, scientist, and mentor are only some of the ways to describe Katharine Bossart. From her cutting-edge work at her biotechnology company, to her profound commitment women’s empowerment, Katharine embodies what it means to be a “Hamlin girl.”
I spoke with Katharine about her path from a plaid dress in McKinne to a lab coat in San Francisco, Boston, Australia and now Marin County. As we spoke, she reflected fondly on her time at Hamlin, mentioning some of her most memorable teachers and experiences. Her times in the science labs with Mr. Fandal and in math classes with Ms. Lister (later Mrs. Mohan) were amongst some of her favorites. Instilled in her from her earliest moments at Hamlin, she believed she could do anything. The people Katharine encountered at Hamlin and the opportunities she was given continue to shape her to this day.
“When I was there we had some of the very first Apple computers and they had little turtles on them; I'll never forget that. That was around 1983 — Hamlin was pretty on it. When I saw the Rosie the Riveter Lab for the first time I thought, ‘Good on them for pursuing the latest and greatest technology, with no limitations for girls.’ I think that's one thing that Hamlin excels at, no matter when you were there or when the changes happened.”
Hamlin’s mission of educating girls to meet the challenges of their time is something that Katharine carries with her and deeply values about Hamlin. After leaving Hamlin and graduating from the University of California in Santa Cruz with a major in Biochemistry, she eventually found herself in a Microbiology and Immunology PhD program at the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Maryland. Many of the faculty were women who inspired her with their ability to balance families, their work and the military. When she finished her program, she moved to Australia to complete her post-doctoral work. Despite having an incredible experience there, she missed those strong female role models.
As her career has progressed, Katharine notes that she sees a gender gap in the work. “I've definitely run into a lot of issues with [being a woman in this field]. Not so much on the surface, it's deeper … The people in charge are not women a lot of the time.” However, she is not discouraged. Throughout our conversation, Katharine kept circling back to the importance of mentorship. She is embracing her passion for women’s excellence and representation in her field and has become the mentor to others.
Integrated Research Associates, the biotechnology lab Katharine founded, is not only women-owned but the employees are all women as well. Katharine believes that this is a true testament to the work ethic, dedication, and passion of women.
“I don't have anything against men,” she says. “It's just that certain women have stepped up to help pro bono and men haven't. It’s the nature of when you're running a startup and you're an entrepreneur and you can't afford to pay everyone, you look for help from where you can get it. The help that I've been able to get has all been from women. I just think that says something.”
Katharine’s lab is currently working on groundbreaking projects creating vaccines and therapeutics for viruses, including Zika virus, hepatitis C virus and the enteroviruses that cause polio-like diseases in children.
Inspiring the next generation of leaders in STEM fields, she has come back to Hamlin on multiple occasions to speak with students who are curious about careers in science. Her words of wisdom echo past Hamlin school year themes, “Be a go-getter!” Katharine encourages girls to ride the wave of life and prepare for unpredictability, but always have grit and passion. Stick to what you love, be a good person, live with integrity and it will take you far. Most importantly be bold.
“Don't be afraid to be a little crazy. [Taking a risk by starting my company] has been crazy and stressful and difficult. I'm on this crazy new learning curve and, you know, that's what life is about.”
Profile written by Molly Kehoe ‘14
Posted on December 2, 2020