Whilst there are exceptions to the rule, according to the UNESCO institute for statistics, less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women. In even rare cases, such as in Bolivia and Argentina where they make up ~63% and ~50% of all researchers respectively, there are far fewer female researchers in private companies than in government or non-profit organizations compared to their male counterparts.
At Fluidic Analytics we pride ourselves on hiring from a wide range of backgrounds, including a higher than average percentage of female researchers. In this article we sat down with some of them to find out what drew them to pursue a career in science and what hurdles the have overcome and still face.
To get a well-rounded picture of what it is like to work in science, we interviewed women at the start of their careers in research; Alison and Anisa who are both application scientists. As well as women who have been in the field for a while, Maren (Principal Protein Scientist), Viola (Lead Applications Scientist Clinical) and Heike (Director of Clinical Markets).
Why/When did you choose to become a scientist?
[Viola] I was always interested in science, even at school, but I also wanted to help people. During my pharmacy studies, I became fascinated with lab work and the vast network of molecular interactions that make up life.
[Anisa] I enjoyed studying biology and chemistry at school, so therefore studying biomedical science at university came naturally to me. I was particularly interested in how medicines work in the body and the effect of diseases.
In ten years, what do you hope to have accomplished in terms of your work?
[Viola] I would like to further combine the development of ground-breaking new technology into the clinical space, where I feel I can have a direct impact on drug development as well as clinical diagnostics.
[Alison] I would hope to have a contributed to science and human health through my work at Fluidic Analytics.
What is the most memorable thing that has happened to you while working in science?
[Heike] The first time I was made aware that my research contributed to the diagnosis of a patient.
[Maren] I always loved interdisciplinary discussions when people asked questions and you realised you just took something for granted. Following up on these questions allowed me to create new experiments that helped me answer questions I thought I could not address. So, thanks to all my co-workers and team members that challenge me to rethink what I think I know.
If you had the option to give advice to a younger version of yourself, what would that be?
[Alison] Failures happen, accept it, pick yourself up, learn from the failure and move on.
[Viola] Stay optimistic and never give up. Science is not always easy, it takes a lot of time and resilience, you constantly have to question yourself and try to improve. But in the end, if you stick to it, something good will come out!
[Maren] Stay curious, talk to people, listen, learn and start creating your own path. Make whatever research project you are given your own. If you are not engaged, what’s the point. Have fun.
What were the biggest obstacles you had to overcome?
[Anisa] Moving from university to the “real world” or industry is a challenge.
[Viola] As everywhere, the scientific community is full of different people with different opinions and convictions, some more supportive than others. Naturally, it can sometimes be hard work to find common ground and earn some people’s respect.
[Maren] Proof that previous data was wrong and that the basis for my research was not existent and I had to start from scratch. That was quite a frustrating time.
What kind of prejudices, if any, did you have to face? How did that make you feel? I Were you able to overcome these?
[Heike] In my career I was always supported by managers who saw my potential and capabilities, and guided and mentored me accordingly, something that I am very grateful for.
[Maren] I was once frustrated that someone seem to not understand my argument, but if a level higher male co-worker repeated what I said everything was crystal clear. Well, his loss. But otherwise, I personally haven’t really experience prejudice. But when I chose a workplace the team is always a crucial factor for me.
In your opinion, which changes, if any, are needed in the scientific system to be more attractive to women in science and possible future scientists?
[Heike] Flexibility to juggle family and work, though with the current COVID-19 situation we are seeing this more and more, and perhaps this is one element of learning we can take away from the current crisis.
[Viola] I think, any interest in science should be nurtured from the very childhood, irrespective if you are a boy or a girl. In my experience there is no lack of women studying science, but rather a lack of women in higher positions, which still tend to be male dominated. It is inspiring to experience women in leadership positions, who lead with competence and make a real difference. In the end, this is the best advertisement!
[Alison] In the developing world there is a shift in focus on STEM for women but there is a lack of workplace opportunities once your studies are completed.
Would you say the environment has changed for women since you started working in STEM?
[Viola] Coming from Germany, a very science and technology focused country, I never felt out of place pursuing a career in science, and I am still very happy in my job. Nevertheless, I know women that experienced otherwise and are still fighting for their opportunities and careers in science. This is why I feel very privileged to always have had inspiring and mostly supportive environments during the course of my career.
[Maren] Probably. There is still a way to go, but we are on the right track, I think.