DemographicsTechnology & Robotics

Women and science: Smashing glass ceilings and glass walls

The Pioneer: Prof Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Prof. Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell was also a lifelong proponent of females in science, famous for finding the first pulsar more than 50 years ago. In the 1950s, like other women, she was not allowed to study science as a college student in Northern Ireland until her parents (and others) protested.

“The boys were sent to the science laboratory and the girls were sent to the science room at home because everyone knew girls would only get married so they required to know how to create beds,” she recalls.

She is currently visiting astrophysics professor at Oxford University and was one of a group of female researchers whose efforts led to prizes recognizing dedication to promoting women’s careers in science. Universities and colleges are required by the Athena Swan system to tackle gender equality.

“That went slowly to start until some of the university funding bodies took notice and said that if you want our cash, you have to hold one of those Athena Swan prizes,” she says. “The gender gap in science is more cultural than anything to do with women’s brains, and some nations are doing much better than others,” she suggests.

Southern European countries such as France, Spain and Italy do much better in astrophysics than, for example, northern European nations such as Germany and the Netherlands. “The percentage of females in all these nations is rising, but the trend has remained the same, which is exciting,” she claims. “Progress is slow, things are gradually evolving.”

The research leader: Dr Nicola Beer

The interest of Dr. Nicola Beer in science evolved at an early era ; one of her earliest memories is to watch her teacher show the notion of sound waves using a rice-filled paper plate and a mobile primary school speaker.

Her biology degree at Bristol resulted to a PhD at Oxford and a Fulbright scholarship at MIT and Harvard in the United States of America from the first generation in her family to go to college before she left the study bench to lead a study team.

As Senior Head of Discovery Biology & Pharmacology Department at Oxford’s Novo Nordisk Research Centre, she is both Head of Department and Scientist. “It’s about setting the strategic direction, helping individuals mature their thoughts, delivering, and supporting them in their careers as well,” she says.

With fewer females in management positions, she thinks that females have a duty to help each other as mentors, to pass on information, or merely to be “generous and to open the door.”

“I believe that’s something we should do across the board, whether it’s females, whether it’s younger individuals, whether it’s individuals on their career path. We have a duty to pave the way for how it should be rather than defending our own situation, and generosity is very essential in that,” she says.

She notices as a woman leader that individuals often attempt to suggest a standardized way for females to be leaders in a scenario, such as being louder or more assertive or responding to things in a fixed manner. “I believe we should work together to encourage females to be the greatest leader they can be, rather than a stereotype of how we believe it should be,” she says.

This implies, for her, avoiding the preconceptions that we can have about one another, such as limitations on what we can accomplish and what we can do. “I’m passionate about crushing glass ceilings and glass walls, and I think we should really break down silos between us and boxes and preconceptions,” she says.

The trailblazer: Gladys Ngetich

When a meeting told Gladys Ngetich,’ You don’t look like an engineer,’ she came back wondering what an engineer should look like. She has been used as a study student studying mechanical engineering to fight stereotypes and as a trailblazer. She was one of eight females in a class of 80 who studied mechanical engineering in Kenya for a degree.

“Most of the guys in our class thought we wouldn’t do it,” she tells of her first year, but she graduated with a first-class degree. She is currently completing her PhD in aerospace engineering at Oxford University and has just won a 2019 Schmidt Science Fellowship to investigate technologies in space science that support sustainable development.

She wants to assist encourage a fresh generation of technicians, inspired by females like Prof. Bell Burnell. “The fact that someone has to write a fresh route is what keeps me going, someone has to begin walking to pave the way for someone else,” she says. “I hope a trail of women will come after me-and I hope they won’t have to demonstrate themselves that much.”

Pushing boundaries: Dr Megan Wheeler

How do you solve the world’s major problems? Science retains the alternatives, but only when you look through various lenses at issues. That’s the view of Dr. Megan Wheeler, who is on a mission to train the next generation of science leaders as executive director of the HSchmidt Science Fellows program.

Dr. Wheeler holds dual PhD in neuroscience (Oxford University) and clinical psychology (America’s Catholic University). She is now leading a program directed at harnessing the brightest and best in science to address worldwide challenges Efforts such as the human genome project have demonstrated the importance of working across traditional scientific limits to advance exploration, she claims.

“I believe it’s critical for us to have researchers who both have a true depth of knowledge, but who can also cross those limits,” she describes. Today being a scientist means being able to step outside the laboratory and communicate why the job is essential, she claims.

This requires a wide range of skills to engage the public, funding agencies and policymakers, but also to work with scientists from other disciplines to “see solutions to problems one of you couldn’t see alone.”

The rising star: Elina Aino Johanna Pörsti

Elina Aino Johanna Pörsti, the daughter of a physics professor and a medical physician, grew up in a household in Finland where there was second nature to science dialogue. Her dad would explain the physics behind it when there was thunder, while her mom would explain the body of the human being. When she set up her own pharmacy on the beach, she showed her entrepreneurial spirit as a kid.

“Stones were the various drugs-and then individuals had to come to me and say what’s wrong and then I’d give them the correct medicine,” she tells. She did a gene editing biology course at college, setting the course for her future career. “It’s incredible that you were able to obtain DNA and work in a laboratory, and I thought it sounded super cool and I could do something,” she tells.

“For me personally, I’m fascinated by science because I like to comprehend and there’s always more to comprehend and there’s always more to read and learn.” She researched molecular science at Helsinki University and graduated from Copenhagen with an MBA. She is now a scientist working on discovering fresh diagnostic instruments at the Novo Nordisk Research Center Oxford.

She claims everyone has been treated the same at college in Finland, which is critical to improving the role of women in science. “In usually thinking about how we can improve the situation of women in science, I believe the job should begin soon,” she says.

Article originally featured in BBC.

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