8th March - International Women’s Day - Testimonials of Female Researchers

2021/03/08 16:10:00 GMT+1

 Itziar Alkorta, Principal Investigator of the UPV/EHU Research Group on “Molecular strategies to control the dissemination of antibiotic resistance (CONJURA)”, and Lucía Gallego, Principal Investigator of the “Acinetobacter baumannii Research Group”, reflect on the role of female researchers today.

 

"The role of women in science has been essential and continues to be essential. Without their contribution, we would not be where we are"

Promoting gender equality is a priority mission for UNESCO, which endeavours to foster access for women and girls to all sectors of education and training, remove the barriers that curb their personal and professional development, and enable them to be better represented in culture, the media and science[1]. 

At Euskampus, we want to celebrate this 8th March with testimonials of female researchers that reflect on the long path that still lies ahead to achieve gender equality in certain areas. Euskampus joins this promotion of gender equality on International Women’s Day, supporting the work of female researchers.

Let’s raise its visibility!

[1] Message by the Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, on the occasion of International Women's Day.

 

When or why did you consider becoming a researcher?


Itziar Alkorta (IA): There was no specific moment. It was more of a process. It is still a process! After graduating in Chemistry, I had the opportunity to do a PhD thesis and a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley. Both experiences opened the door to research and gave me a technical and scientific base. However, this was just the starting point and over my career of 30 years, each project, each PhD thesis directed and, above all, each setback has taught me to become a better scientist.

Today, my main motivation is to be useful to society, not only by contributing to the advancement of science, and biomedicine in particular, but also by giving our students the best education I can and society all of the information required to make decisions affecting their welfare.


Lucía Gallego (LG): The truth is that from the moment I entered the Microbiology Service at Basurto Hospital when I was a third-year Medical student, I was fascinated, so much so that I have never considered any other speciality. I was captivated by the possibility to experiment, search for solutions to health problems with a major impact on society and on people’s health and well-being, and the fascination of discovering and contributing to knowledge. Without forgetting that this entire process is carried out in conjunction with other people, not only from your own environment, but also from other parts of the world, and this enables you to grow as a scientist and as a person. Finally, another thing that hooked me was the opportunity to work alongside the new generations, who are the driving force of all scientific work thanks to end-of-degree projects, Master's or PhD Theses. This task of passing on knowledge is extremely rewarding as well as a challenge.

How do you see the role of women in this world of research?

 
IA: The role of women in science has been essential and continues to be essential. Without their contribution, we would not be where we are today. Unfortunately, this is not reflected in the figures shown in all of the studies carried out in this respect in recent years. Therefore, although there are similar numbers of women to men in the early stages of the research career (pre and post-doctorate students), the number of women falls dramatically to a meagre 22% of professors as the scientific career advances. The glass ceiling continues to be a verifiable reality. The worst thing is that the figures are not improving and inequality remains.

LG: Vital. Science and the entire scientific community needs a different perspective without gender bias. However, at the same time, I have a contradictory feeling. On one hand, we are many female scientists, yet, on the other hand, we have not reached the same level of recognition as our male colleagues. Indeed, we are called women "in" "from" or "with" science, but I have never read men "in", "from" or "with". They are always scientists. We also find it difficult to recognise that the inequality we are subjected to is the same as that for all women from all social levels, and our struggles should be in parallel and we should not think that we are not subjected to certain violence just because we are in academia or research centres, as this is not the case. It is not just the case of encouraging girls and women to produce science, but we must change science so that it is a place where women and girls feel safe and are able to develop all of their skills. A great deal of world talent is going to waste, without which the full development and well-being reflected on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals roadmap cannot be achieved.

What is the future of women in this world? What claims do you think are necessary to improve it?

IA: This situation will not change unless there is a sincere desire for this to occur. For that to happen, decisive institutional actions must be taken which include specific programmes to promote the careers of young female scientists. As well as changes to research groups and how to manage them, giving them opportunities to lead research projects in the early stages of their careers, in the presentation of results to the scientific community, etc.

LG: We need to be taken into account in science as active knowledge generators, and as people under study in clinical trials, in the development of treatments and diagnostic tests, etc. Not doing so is generating biased knowledge without much scientific evidence in its conclusions. Research projects must include a different perspective remote from today’s competitive male-oriented model and change towards a more collaborative vision open to all social, cultural, gender, racial, etc. realities. Only in this way will the findings of research studies obtain real scientific evidence rather than stereotypes, which eventually cause serious damage to society.


What about the future? It is built in the present with everyday actions. The focus is on us, but it must also be placed on men getting involved in the change and acting to do so. They cannot continue looking the other way…


Research Group: Molecular strategies to control the dissemination of antibiotic resistance (CONJURA)
PI: Itziar Alkorta Calvo

Researchers: Emma González Peral, Ana Rey, Sara Arrieta, Nagore Santos,

Research Group: Acinetobacter baumannii Research Group

PI: Lucía Gallego
Researchers: Sandra Sánchez Urtaza, Arrate Prado

 

 

 

 

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