By Tracy Pham and Silvia Moreno-Garcia, UBC
For centuries, women have been making significant contributions to science. Ada Lovelace wrote the first computer program in the 1840s. In the 1920s, botanist Ynes Mexia collected important specimens throughout Latin America, discovering a number of new species and a new genus. Hedy Lamarr co-invented spread spectrum and frequency hopping technology in the 1940s, which is now used in WiFi and GPS. Rosalind Franklin was the first to see the double helix shape of DNA in the 1950s. And without the work of mathematicians such as Katherine Johnson and Mary Jackson, we would have never made it to the moon.
Despite women’s contributions to science and technology, they have seldom been recognized for their efforts. Only now are we beginning to celebrate the work of many pioneering researchers. It is important to both look back at the women who have paved the way and to inspire the scientists of the future.
So, in honour of International Day of Women and Girls in Science, here are ten reasons why women are in science and why they love being a scientist!
For me, a great thing about being a scientist is rooted in the collaborative nature of our work. I get to work with and learn from colleagues with different perspectives, experiences and skillsets. When we’re open to the new ideas that we all bring, we come up with more exciting and sophisticated solutions to the problems we’re addressing. I also love that being a researcher brings the opportunity to impart values around curiosity, critical thinking, investigation, and scholarship to our students to help them to see that it is possible to change the world.
What can be better to be able to satisfy your own curiosity on a daily basis? Being a scientist allows me to discover how things work and to answer questions I am curious about by designing experiments to tease apart the underlying mechanisms. It also gives me opportunities to work with many young talents who share the same passion. Seeing their growth is of tremendous satisfaction.
I love the joy and excitement of exploring without knowing what is around the corner. I like puzzling over things that often seem intractable, and then teasing out bits of sense from an initially meaningless tangle. I enjoy sharing what I know with others, working together towards a solution and looking at the world of mathematics through many different lenses.
I love figuring things out, why a particular pattern occurs, or how a mechanism works. I also love being outside, and it’s pretty amazing to have the ability in my work day to tromp through rainforests looking at bugs and taking photos of jaguars. I love the independence in my work, and being able to brainstorm new ideas and then make them happen.
The most amazing thing about being a scientist is the fact that your job is to figure things out about the world we live in, and that is very exceptional. I can’t think of any other field where your job is to just learn things about the world around you and to prove them in a way that can convince other people.
Learning to understand the natural world. There is so much we don’t know about the ocean, but we do know that we need the ocean to live. There is so much mystery and allure and with every answer we get there are a thousand more questions, more discoveries to be made. That is why we have to protect and conserve our oceans for the future.
Maria “Deng” Palomares
I love doing research that improves people’s lives. In the case of fisheries science, if we have a better understanding of the impact of fisheries in fish populations, then we can propose mitigating solutions. If properly applied, such solutions have the potential to guarantee that people that rely on seafood as their main source of protein and micronutrients have access to it for many years to come.
I love being a scientist because I get to follow my curiosity. I also love it because I feel it’s a way I can contribute to confronting pressing global challenges, such as the climate crisis, air pollution, and improving health and well-being for all people. Additionally, science is social, and being a scientist lets me work with amazing and passionate thinkers: students in our classrooms and laboratories, other scientists at UBC and around the world, policy-makers, practitioners, and knowledge holders from frontline communities.
One of the most exciting things about doing this work specifically is that it’s both new and that there aren’t very many people in my sub-field. We only recently developed radio telescopes sensitive enough to detect ultracool dwarfs at all just because they’re so dim! In my work I feel like I’m really pioneering something — and because it does
have implications for planets, it’s easy to get people who aren’t necessarily into astronomy excited about my field.
I really love that every day is so different. That some days, you’re in the lab all day doing experiments. You don’t take your lab coat off all day. And then other days you’re analyzing data and you can sit in a coffee shop. Other days you’re teaching and other days you’re presenting or attending seminars. I just find it really refreshing.
I find that I never get bored. Or if I’m getting a little bit bored of something, I can just design a new experiment and that’ll solve that. It’s just constantly changing and different and fun.
This article is one of the many stories celebrating International Day of Women and Girls in Science, which takes place every year on February 11. Spearheaded by the United Nations, this day promotes full and equal access to participation in science, technology, and innovation for women and girls. The Faculty of Science is supporting this day by featuring ten inspiring women researchers who are making their mark at UBC and beyond. science.ubc.ca/womeninscience.