Eureka! : For women in life science
Croatian molecular biology
Updated 08:56pm (Mla time) Sept 10, 2004
By Queena Lee-Chua
Editor's Note: Published on page B10 of the September 11, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
SCIENCE cannot exist in a vacuum. In today's world, where research cuts across nations, gender and disciplines, active collaboration among the academe, business and government is essential.
For the past six years, the cosmetics company L'Oreal has tied up with Unesco for the "For Women in Science" project to recognize the work of almost 100 outstanding women scientists from 45 countries to date, support their research, and raise their profile globally.
Last March, the latest batch of Award Laureates, one from each continent, were honored in Paris, each receiving $100,000. They come from cutting-edge fields in the life sciences, such as T-cell research, agricultural productivity, neuroscience, genetics and parasitic disease.
Jennifer Thomson (South Africa) works on transgenic plants resistant to viral infections and drought. Nancy Ip (China) studies the synapses and processes of the nervous system. Christine Petit (France) researches on genetic defects in deafness and
other sensory disorders. Lucia Mendonca Previato (Brazil) works to treat and prevent Chagas disease. Philippa Marrack (USA) delves into immunity and super-antigens.
They were chosen by an international jury of 15 eminent members of the scientific community, led by Christian de Duve, Nobel Prize in Medicine awardee and founding president of the awards.
Aside from the Laureates, 15 promising young women (at most 35 years old), three from each continent, were given grants of $20,000 each to support high-level research projects to be conducted outside their country of origin. They were chosen by the Fellowship Selection Committee in Paris from a list of candidates proposed by Unesco national commissions.
The roster of fellowships gladdens my heart, for they represent science done in a truly diverse world: microbiology (Mauritius, Yemen, Indonesia), virology (Nigeria), marine biology (U. R. of Tanzania), chemistry (Lebanon, Pakistan), biotechnology (Syrian Arab Republic), medicine (New Zealand, Romania), molecular biology (Croatia, Turkey), ecology (Argentina), developmental biology (Mexico) and cellular biology (Venezuela).
Why focus on young women scientists? Although I have not personally felt in my profession (mathematics) any stigma arising from gender, international research reveal that women are underrepresented in science, and that women scientists receive less support and fewer promotions than their male colleagues.
A recent Unesco Institute of Statistics study reveals that in New Zealand and Japan, only 15 percent and 18 percent, respectively, of science postgraduates are women. (The best news comes from South America, where the percentages are 59 percent and 60 percent for Argentina and El Salvador, respectively.)
In 2001, the European Commission noted that women made up less than seven percent of professors and five percent of academy members in Europe.
In 2002, the Greenfield Report commissioned by the British government reported that fewer than 10 percent of senior research positions in any country are held by women.
Wealth of women talent
How about the Philippines? Discrimination against women in science may not be as rampant (although I don't have data to back this up), but then again, our scientists often creatively toil in adverse conditions.
Our country has not yet won any of the above grants or awards, but with our wealth of women talent in the biological sciences, I don't see why this trend cannot be reversed.
Application forms can be downloaded from the site www.forwomeninscience.com. Click on fellowships, then selection process, then candidate applications. Deadline for submission of applications is Sept. 15. For inquiries, call or e-mail Leica Carpo, L'Oreal public relations manager, at 632-0280 local 103 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Although L'Oreal is best known for its cosmetics, it relies heavily on R&D, with almost 3,000 people working in 14 research centers in France, Asia and America, focusing on studies about antioxidants in skin care, characteristics of Asian and African hair, optics in makeup, among others. And more than half of these scientists are women--more than any other company in the industry.
As for Unesco, it has helped design science curriculums specifically for girls, and has set up academic linkages among women scientists around the world. Currently, it strives to measure women's access to science training to develop appropriate policies in its member-nations.