For a long time, women in science have been a rare breed. But here at Science Boffins, we’re on a mission to help change that. This year, the theme for British Science Week is all about celebrating the diverse people and careers in the fields of science and engineering. So here at Science Boffins, to coincide with International Women’s Day on 8 March, we’re taking a look at the current women in science who are smashing the stereotype of white men in lab coats. Here are three shaking up the status quo.
DR PRIYANKA JOSHI
Biochemist Dr Priyanka Joshi is a research fellow at UC Berkeley and University of Cambridge. Her groundbreaking research into Alzheimer’s will help with early diagnosis and eventual prevention of the disease.
“I believe everyone has an innate potential to excel in the field they truly love, if they work and focus hard towards it, and seize the opportunities they are presented with,” says 31-year-old biochemist Priyanka. Her research focuses on understanding the molecular underpinnings of Alzheimer’s Disease, the leading form of dementia. Currently 50 million people across the world are living with dementia, with these numbers only set to double in the next 20 years. Priyanka’s research will therefore not only help millions of people, but also help inspire a generation of girls into medicine as she leads the charge as one in a the wave of young women in science shaking up the community.
“The world of science primarily just sees good science, and that is what the focus should largely be,” says Priyanka. “But a research environment that encourages good science will provide equal opportunities and not discriminate based on gender. We must have better policies to support women and ensure that they stay in the game to reach higher positions. Shared parental leave, childcare benefits at work, conference childcare bursaries are just steps towards this support. And yes, alongside, we must cheer on for women and make their notable achievements more visible. We have so many remarkable women role models; the belief should be: if they can do it, so can we.”
DR EVELYN TELFER
Dr Evelyn Telfer is a reproductive biologist and a professor at the University of Edinburgh. She is first scientist to ever grow a human egg to maturity in a laboratory.
As well as smashing stereotypes like other women in science, Dr Evelyn Telfer has been working to help women by finding a way to preserve fertility. By growing a human egg in a lab from ovarian tissue, her research opens doors for women dealing with premature fertility loss – such as those undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy. This is key in the fight for equality as many would argue that until women aren’t limited by a time frame on their fertility, there’s no chance for gender parity.
For Evelyn, the research process has also been one which has demonstrated not only the ability for women to support each other, but also their willingness to help each other when asked. “During a visiting professorship in Sweden, I worked with a Finnish clinical scientist called Outi Hovatta,” recalls Evelyn. “She had an ethically-approved programme which asked women at the time of caesarean section if they would donate a small piece of their ovarian tissue for research. I was surprised by how many did – it’s probably the last thing on your mind as you’re about to give birth. It was a humbling process because we couldn’t have done any of this work without women donating and making such a supportive, selfless decision.”
DR FAITH UWADIAE
Dr Faith Uwadiae is an immunologist for the Francis Crick Institute – a biomedical discovery institute with a focus on the biology underlying human health.
As a woman of colour in science, Dr Faith Uwadiae is smashing stereotypes. But she’s also well known for campaigning for Black scientists to receive more recognition in their fields. During Black History Month in 2018, she committed to highlighting a different success story from a different Black scientist every day to help raise awareness of their achievements.
“Black scientists are clearly underrepresented by do exist, and we need to hear more them,” she wrote in a blog post for Imperial College London. Speaking out about the need universities to encourage more students from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds into STEM subjects, she also believe institutions need to offer more people of colour positions on their staff.
“Sadly I’ve never been lectured by a Black scientist,” she writes. “When I attend scientific conferences or events I am frequently one of the few Black people in the room and often the only Black woman. In fact, Black professors are heavily underrepresented making up just 0.6% of UK professors, of which only 25 are Black female professors.”
However, she remains hopeful for the change to be affected for Black women in science in future. “I can’t wait until I am no longer waiting for the First Nobel Prize in Science to be awarded to a Black person.”