International Day of Women & Girls in Science
Published on February 11, 2023
Did you know that women are typically given smaller research grants than their male colleagues? And that female researchers’ work is underrepresented in high-profile journals, and they are often passed over for promotion?
A significant gender gap has persisted throughout the years at all levels of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines all over the world.
Yet women have led ground-breaking research into public health, vaccines, treatments and innovative technology. History is full of women who made tremendous contributions to science. Some of them are rightfully well-known, like Marie Curie, Ada Lovelace and Rosalind Franklin. But others aren’t such household names.
Here is a list of women in STEM that deserve your attention:
The world needs science, and science needs women and girls. So, join us in celebrating those who are leading innovation and inspiration in the scientific world.
Here are just a few of the brilliant women scientists from Animal Free Research UK and around the country:
Dr Nguyen T N Vo’s, research fellow at the University of Nottingham
Nguyen is currently part of the Animal Free Research UK funded Mini Hearts Project at the University of Nottingham, where she is developing animal-free ‘mini-hearts’ by using human stem cells to help discover new drugs which could one day lead to ways to treat and help protect patients suffering from cardiac fibrosis – a prevailing cause of heart failure in the UK.
“Throughout history, women have pioneered research within science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects. Though at times these contributions have been overlooked and undervalued or even forgotten. I am incredibly proud to be a one of many women in STEM research today.
The human body has always fascinated me. I experienced the medical health care environment from an early age volunteering at my father’s practice. Seeing first-hand the patients that were coming in with debilitating conditions inspired me to pursue a career in research.
When I was given the opportunity to do my PhD in stem cell technology, it was a turning point for me. My PhD work focused on applying stem cell technology in studying heart disease and innovating new therapy. I am now working on a project funded by Animal free research UK focusing on using stem cell models to create ‘mini-hearts’ to help find new treatments and protect those with cardiac fibrosis, without animal suffering.
Initially, I faced cultural challenges studying in the UK and I have worked hard to change preconceptions of women from my culture and gain the self-confidence to become an ambassador for women in STEM from minority backgrounds.
During my research career to date, I am delighted to see the progress in Equality, Diversity and Inclusion for female peers and mentors in STEM subjects. Looking forward to the future, I am keen to improve the work environment for all women. I have joined the University-wide Project Period campaign where free period products are being made available across all campuses, and workshops are being set up to normalise the conversation around menstruation and menopause.
I will also be involved in running several activities for the International Women’s Month being celebrated at the University of Nottingham.
It is very reassuring to see the great efforts being made to ensure women can be supported in STEM subjects. From my experience, it is clear to me that having support from male colleagues has been a critical step forward for improving research culture for women. I look forward to seeing these positive changes continue.”
Dr Lorna Ewart: International advocate for predictive and human-relevant technologies
Lorna spent 20 years at AstraZeneca where she successfully established and led the Microphysiological Systems Centre of Excellence within the Biopharmaceuticals Unit prior to which she was the Director of Toxicology Projects within the Respiratory and Inflammation research area.
Lorna is now Chief Scientific Officer at Emulate Inc, the leading provider of next-generation organ-on-a-chip models, where she provides strategic guidance and oversight of the scientific vision, partners with government agencies to achieve regulatory acceptance and collaborates with key customers to advance adoption of this technology.
Also, Lorna is a first author of a landmark study published in December 2022 in Nature Communication Medicine, demonstrating that the Emulate human Liver-Chip model could improve patient safety and reduce small-molecule clinical trial failures due to liver toxicity by up to 87% (see our article).
“Just one year ago, almost to the day, I stepped into my new role of Chief Scientific Officer of Emulate. Over 20 years of therapeutic development prepared me for this position, but this new opportunity came with its own set of surprises. One of these surprises was just how many messages were sent my way, particularly from young women in STEM, who said how much they viewed me as an inspiration for their own careers. I had my own female role models in science growing up of course, but to now be in a position where I can mentor and empower the next generation of female leaders is an honor and responsibility my younger self never would have expected.
To those young women in STEM reading this I will just say this: be vocal, be visible, and advocate for both yourself and colleagues working to change your field. Right now a little under 30% of STEM roles are held by women. Changing this paradigm can be taxing, but by celebrating each other’s successes and fostering a more inclusive environment, we will little by little begin to transform STEM fields for the better.”
Dr Sarah Teichmann: the FEBS | EMBO Women in Science Award 2023
Sarah, Head of Cellular Genetics at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, and Director of Research at the Department of Physics, University of Cambridge, received the FEBS | EMBO Women in Science Award 2023. This Award recognises a female scientist for major achievements in the life sciences and for being an inspiring role model for women in science.
“I was incredibly excited when I heard the news—this award is truly an honour! I have been involved with EMBO and FEBS in different capacities for many years and have always tried to advocate for increasing inclusion in science.”
Sarah co-founded and co-leads the international Human Cell Atlas, an initiative of over 2,600 scientists from 86 countries that aims to create cellular reference maps of all human cells, as a basis for both understanding health and diagnosing, monitoring, and treating disease.
Since 2018, her group has published many cell atlas studies on different organs and systems including the placenta, immune system, skin, heart, lung, thymus, intestinal tract and liver, and has applied the comprehensive maps to gain new insights into health and disease.
Sarah has inspired a multitude of scientists and had a tremendous impact on science and society through her spectacular, bold and ground-breaking research.
Dr Lilas Courtot – Scientific Advisor at Pro Anima
“According to UNESCO, today, less than 33 per cent of researchers in the world are women. This clearly highlights a lack of diversity in science. Progress toward gender equality is underway, but it is slow, and many studies have revealed gender inequalities and biases in pay, publication, and recognition. Studies have also shown that women in the pure and applied sciences are more likely to suffer from imposter syndrome than their male counterparts.
I started my PhD in academic cancer research in 2016. At that time, I was a passionate, determined, and confident young woman, convinced that nothing could stop me from becoming a researcher. When I completed my PhD 4 years later, I was faced with these two main realisations: the research world is far from what I expected and even though my PhD was a great scientific experience, it was not entirely positive on a human/social level. Something broke in me during this period, and I think it was my self-confidence.
The question I keep asking myself is: would the experience have been the same if I had been a man? My answer is yes and no. Like many other female doctoral friends, we have been victims of sexual harassment. On the other hand, I have also witnessed and experienced bullying, which can be gender neutral.
I realize that this is not limited to academia, but if there is anything I know, it is that this field is far from being an example of gender equality and human rights more broadly.
That being said, there are reasons to be optimistic. In the UK, the number of women accepted onto undergraduate courses in higher education has increased by 50% between 2011 and 2020, this is a good thing! There is also a new awareness and more and more support and involvement from research stakeholders with for example the #MeTooSTEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) movement; let’s hope things will move in the right direction.”
Dr Stephanie Modi – Science Manager at Animal Free Research UK
“A diverse research community with a variety of skills and perspectives is essential to advancing scientific endeavour. Women and men are roughly equally represented within the research community at early career stages, but women are under-represented at professorial levels in all STEM disciplines (typically 17%). When I worked as a researcher, I was the only female in the team, sometimes didn’t get the respect and guidance I needed and so didn’t have a clear idea of what I could aspire to. Looking back, it would have been inspiring to see more women in senior positions as role models and to have mentors to provide guidance and insights on their experiences.
I think empowering women to have high aspirations, confidence and self-belief begins at a young age. Many schools are working hard to instil this in students, as well as teaching children about inspiring women in science and in other careers. Having taught secondary science, I was privileged to have been a teacher and mentor myself, helping to inspire the next generation of women in science.”
Professor Lorna Harries – Animal Replacement Centre of Excellence, University of Exeter
Lorna heads up the Animal Replacement Centre of Excellence and holds a personal Chair in Molecular Genetics at the University of Exeter College of Medicine and Health, and founder and CSO for SENISCA, a spin out company based on her research. She has interests in the regulation of gene expression and how this impacts human diseases such as type 2 diabetes and other age-related disorders.
“I am proud to be a woman in science. As long as I can remember I have been fascinated by how biological systems work, what can go wrong with them in disease, and what we can do about it. Although there have been improvements over the past decade, career progression in the scientific arena is still more challenging for women.
Gender disparities remain in STEM subjects; as recently as 2021, men were found to outnumber women 3:1. There are of course many reasons for this, but none of these are insurmountable with resilience, tenacity and support. My own experience I suspect, has bucked the trend somewhat. So much is dependent on the environment in which you find yourself working and I have been lucky in my career to have been surrounded by excellent female role models and supportive people who were invested in my development. Because of this, I have never considered that anything is out of my reach because of my gender. There have certainly been barriers – combining family and academia has been difficult at times, but this is where support and flexibility are paramount. It’s a wide world out there, and there is so much work left to do! We need everyone who is curious and motivated to help us find the answers, regardless of who they are or where they come from. My advice for women and girls who are considering a career in science is to follow that star. You’ve got this. ”