Sunday 11 February marks International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Here, we celebrate the wonderful women of our Department and hear from DPhil student, Lottie, as she passes on some #WomenInScience inspiration!
I am currently in the final year of my PhD, exploring the metabolic and biochemical changes that occur in crops after harvest. At this stage of my project I am close to identifying the underlying cause of a post-harvest disorder in potato crops called Blackheart. I’m hoping that by understanding the cause of the disorder, growers will be able predict and prevent its occurrence and ultimately reduce the huge amounts of crop waste that occur as a consequence.
Over a third of the food produced for consumption is wasted. Reducing this percentage of wasted produce could not only help meet the demands of a growing population, but do so without the need for additional agricultural land, fertiliser, herbicides and pesticides, human effort, carbon inputs, genetic modification, water, or large industrial and social changes… the list could go on and on! I’m hoping to continue to work on reducing food loss and waste in some way in the future; they’re issues that are all too often ignored, but offer an exciting potential to sustainably improve global food security.
Why I got into Science...
My parents are keen naturalists and they used to drag me on their outdoor explorations when I was younger. At the time I probably resented their tree identification quizzes, but some of their interest must have rubbed off during those hours bird-watching in chilly hides. On top of this, my school science teachers were hugely encouraging; their positive reinforcement transformed a background interest into exam results and enough confidence to apply for Biological Sciences.
My degree allowed me to specialise in Plant Sciences at lots of different levels (ecological, organismal and molecular) giving me a broad background which was helpful when perusing an interest in agriculture and food security. I clearly enjoyed the Plant Sciences department as I never left!
Women in Science...
Although much is being done to equalise the sex ratio (e.g. Athena SWAN, outreach events etc.) women in STEM subjects are still a minority. This creates continual under-representation of women at conferences, in lecture series, and in the higher levels of academia, sending an implicit message that women don’t “belong” in these spaces.
Additionally, there are frustrating stereotypes that surround being a woman in science, which are particularly evident in media. The Finkbeiner test highlights the different portrayal of female and male scientists. I’m yet to see an article covering the work of a male scientist that explicitly mentions their sex, how they juggle work and family life, or how they cope in competitive environments. These disparities in representation portray the research that female scientists do as secondary to their sex.
Therefore the International Women and Girls in Science day is hugely important and will remain so until female scientists are treated and represented by society in the same way as their male counterparts. Although there’s still a long way still to go, it’s really encouraging to see an international effort to improve equality within the scientific community.