The women who made me a scientist

​As we come closer to the International Women’s Day, let’s think about the influence women have in academic fields and in our lives as scientists.
Illustration of women

Gender stereotypes are part of a belief system that assigns a “gender” to clothes, activities, and other concepts like choice of career. It basically says that masculine things can’t possibly be feminine, and vice-versa. Following this trend, and after centuries of repression that led to men receiving the credit for most scientific advances, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields are commonly viewed as “male” careers.

Despite starting off from an unprivileged position in an already competitive area because of these stereotypes, many women have made themselves known for their brilliant work. Women have made life-changing discoveries and inventions such as chemotherapy, radiation, car heating, airplane mufflers, CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing and many others. Brilliant women like Hedy Lamarr (who was the mastermind of spread-spectrum radio, one of the principles on which Bluetooth and WiFi technologies were later based on, all the while being a Hollywood movie star) have demonstrated that women are capable to do so much more than what their gender stereotype limits them into.

It was women who helped me embody the woman that I am, and it was women too who inspired me to pursue a career in STEM: my high school chemistry teacher told me what it means to succeed in the workplace when you’re the only woman around, and my clinical chemistry teacher passed onto me her unique passion of working with microscopic beings as if they had their own personalities and needs. My mom (who is not only an awesome woman, but also an awesome industrial engineer) was also my calculus teacher for two years and I was lucky enough to get her to teach me about life and about triple integrals.

Another thing that they ingrained very deeply in me is my right to be treated with the same respect as my
male peers, and that someone’s gender is not an indication of their capability to work, irrespective of the subject. I have been lucky to work in a field where the people I’ve encountered along the way were influencedPicture of a female scientist by similar people as the people who have influenced me. This has helped me join a solid scientific community, where I have encountered both women and men whom I admire and respect. I was very happy to come to Chalmers and experience from my peers a similar respect for ideas and perspectives regardless of who I am or where I come from.

In a field with a relatively larger female presence such as Biotechnology and life sciences, where more than half of doctorates are women the story is, however, very similar to that in the fields dominated by men: it is the men who win the most grants and publish their results more often as first and principal authors and work by female scientists tends to be cited less than the work of male authors. This problem is also a centuries-old one: Jocelyn Bell, who discovered pulsars in 1967, felt the need to remove her engagement ring before going into the lab to maintain her reputation as a serious researcher, and most biographies of women in science carry on the perception that “women who go into science are venturing into an alien male world”.

As a female scientist and as a Chalmerist, it is my goal to inspire others as my role models have inspired me and to help the world to view science as a profession carried out by people rather than a field dependent of gender. It would be an honor if I could be even half of what I think about the women who made me.

Picture of Abril

Author: Abril

Page manager Published: Fri 16 Apr 2021.