Ross: The work that I presented in my poster at the ESDR meeting is a large part of the research I conducted during my PhD. The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted a large chunk of my final two years of my PhD, particularly in terms of presenting my data at international conferences and this is the main reason I wanted to present my work in-person at the ESDR 2022.
By the time of the conference, I had completed my PhD and was coming to the end of a short-term post-doctoral position in the same laboratory group, which had enabled me to further finish the research I had been conducting and put it together into a concise story. My supervisor and I had been discussing publishing the work and thought it would be a good opportunity to present it to an international audience and get some feedback which is what led me to create the poster. The ESDR is a great conference and one that I had been to during the earlier stages of my PhD, so it seemed fitting for it to be the conference where I presented this work at its almost completed stage.
Morressier: How long have you been involved with ESDR?
Ross: My PhD research was within the field of dermatology, therefore I was affiliated with the ESDR from the early stages of my PhD. I worked in the Cell Biology and Cutaneous Research department of the Blizard Institute, therefore many of my colleagues were also affiliated with the ESDR and their annual meetings were popular within the department. The first ESDR meeting I attended was in 2019 in Bordeaux which was great, and the plan was to attend the meeting the following year as well, however, this was disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Morressier: According to UIS data, less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women. Why do you think this is and how can we work together to fill this gap?
Ross: Since starting my career in scientific research, I have worked in two different research departments in two different institutes. At the junior levels, (i.e., PhD students, postdocs and research assistants) the majority of the researchers were women, however, this did not translate into the higher levels (i.e., Principle Investigators and Professors).
In both departments, the research being conducted would have fallen under the category of biological sciences, which is a subject popular amongst women at the undergraduate level. However, this isn’t the case for other fields of STEM. To fill these gaps, there needs to be a drive to get young girls interested in STEM subjects from an early age. This should involve educating young girls to all the different areas of STEM and STEM careers. Additionally, it's important to limit the reinforcement of traditional gender roles and attitudes through toys, games and clothes. Lastly, representation is important, and I believe that you can’t be what you can’t see, therefore more women need to be seen as scientists, doctors and engineers in media, films and books.
In terms of women not reaching the higher levels of scientific research, I believe a big contributing factor is the difficulties around a work-life balance particularly if they have a young family. There can be a lot of pressure in scientific research to work long hours and this can sometimes be incompatible family life. Additionally, childcare is very expensive, especially in the UK, and can make women consider whether it's economically viable to work full time in a career that isn’t always brilliantly paid and is very time consuming.
Morressier: Do you have any advice for women interested in pursuing a career in STEM?
Ross: If you like and enjoy STEM subjects then my advice is to pursue them. I am a real advocate for studying subjects that you enjoy, not necessarily ones that you think you should be doing. A career in STEM can be hugely rewarding but it can also be hard work so it’s very important that you enjoy it.
Reach out and connect with women that are already working in STEM to hear about their experiences and their careers. For scientific research, there are sometimes opportunities available to shadow scientists in the laboratory or do some laboratory work yourself - look out for these opportunities or send some emails to see if anyone is willing to give you the chance to see first-hand what a day in the life of a scientist is really like. Collectively, this could all help you decide whether a career in STEM is something you would enjoy.
Building diversity, equity, and inclusion within science requires holistic change at every corner of the research industry. When we use technologies, tools, and strategies that remove biases and create opportunities to democratize science, this goal can become reality.
When conferences went virtual, female participation increased 253%. As we look to the future, let’s explore, investigate, and discover how we can continue to embrace digital transformation and disruptive models to create a more innovative and inclusive scholarly system.