Women in Science
A fact sheet published in June 2019 by UNESCO estimates that worldwide 29.3 percent of research scientists are women. As International Women’s Day occurs in March we decided to look more closely at the experience of women in the sciences. The IMPACT team consists of more than a few women, including some who have newly embarked on their career as emerging science researchers, so we asked them for their thoughts on the matter.
Manisha Khatri is a computer scientist who is currently completing her master’s degree. Giving the fact sheet a moment of silent contemplation, she noted that the numbers seem quite promising in certain regions such as central Asia and Latin America where more than 40% of researchers are women. However, she made clear that the situation is far from ideal:
Although I do feel at the global level, there is still a long way to go — the figures are encouraging — but I would certainly like a more balanced ratio.
From a different angle, Camille Woods — an Earth scientist with a M.S. in atmospheric science — sees the data as evidence that young women need support systems and encouragement to nurture their love for science and engage them throughout their schooling and career:
If anything, that statistic makes me want to work harder to encourage more women to pursue careers in science, even if it is not in a research role. With technology advancing more and more every day, we need women who can apply researchers’ findings in operational settings and other capacities.
When asked about what inspired them as women scientists, Camille shared a story about a childhood fear of thunderstorms and the comforting calm that professional meteorologists conveyed even through the medium of television. Reflecting on the recent tornadoes that struck the middle Tennessee region, Camille demonstrated how science has a deep human side:
It makes me wonder, what else can we as research/operational meteorologists and scientists do to help cap the loss of life during events such as this one? How can we better predict them before they happen, and how can we give more lead time to the public to allow them more time to adhere to our warnings? That is something I feel all scientists in this sector, including myself, grapple with on a daily basis and these are questions we all aim to hopefully have an answer to one day.
Manisha indicated that it was the challenge of problem solving that drew her to computer science, a field that “can help resolve or come up with innovative solutions for problems in other fields.” In particular, she is interested in exploring ways in which data science and AI artificial intelligence can address problems in the health industry.
Both Manisha and Camille had thoughts on inspiring the next generation of young women who aspire to a career in the sciences. Manisha encourages young women, stating:
Don’t be afraid to experiment. It’s like a whole other world of possibilities in computer science. Don’t limit yourself to one technology. It’s always possible to find something to your liking if you look for it, and who knows, you may have more than one favourite!
Camille stresses the importance of perseverance and persistence for any young woman looking to enter a field of science. Just as critical, she points out, is self-confidence:
Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself. I’ve always been told, it’s not always what you know (although that is very important), but who you know counts as well. So go out there and meet others in your field. Be willing not only to learn from them but also to teach them when the opportunity arises. And most importantly, show them that you are more than capable at excelling at any and everything you undertake. In other words, “You got this girl!”
Camille Woods - Research Associate I - The University of Alabama in Huntsville | LinkedIn
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