Photo: Anna Thomas, Nicole Andenmatten, Fiona Macintyre, Nada Abla Geiser, Helen Demarest, Isabelle Borghini-Fuhrer, Alice Neequaye, Wiweka Kaszubska, Mélanie Rouiller, Antonia Wolff, Cristina Donini, Aline Fuchs
This month, in celebration of International Women’s Day, MMV women in R&D discuss childhood heroines, progress that has been made for women in science over the course of their careers and inspiring young women to follow a science path.
Who did you look up to as a female role model in science and why?
Wiweka Kaszubska, Vice President, Head of Product Development: The heroine of my childhood was the first woman in space, a Russian cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova. She was an engineer by training and was selected to pilot the space capsule for almost 3 days. She set a new ‘high’standard in terms of the places women of my generation could reach.
Helen Demarest, Director, Clinical Operations: I had two early female science heroines: Dr Jane Goodall, eminent primatologist and anthropologist, famous for studying chimpanzee behaviour in Tanzania and Dian Fossey who studied the behaviour of Rwandan mountain gorillas. Both scientists contributed enormously to the disciplines of the day, firmly establishing the study of animal behaviour and primatology and shaping our understanding of our primate cousins.
Anna Thomas, Senior Director, Regulatory Lead: I have always been impressed by the iconic Marie Curie who pioneered research on radioactivity. She had to fight hard to be able to first, study, and then teach at university at a time when neither was permitted for women. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person to win it twice and the first person to win in two categories (Physics and Chemistry).
Alice Neequaye, Quality Officer & Archivist: I couldn’t choose just one female role model, as I’ve been lucky to have many! I’ve always had many women in my surroundings to look up to that I’ve found charismatic, great at their job, as well as able to keep a work-life balance and pursue interests outside of the workplace.
What progress have you seen for women in science since you’ve started your career?
Cristina Donini, Senior Director, Translational Medicine: In a field that was at one time very much male driven, it’s refreshing to hear conversations on gender balance and gender equity. We see more and more female scientists presenting at conferences, leading symposia, workshops, and being considered leaders in their field compared to say 15 years ago.
Nada Abla Geiser, Senior DMPK and Modelling Scientist: There are more female professors today than when I started my career. Some universities, like the University of Geneva, encourage applications from women and the Swiss National Science Foundation offers grants dedicated to women who would like to obtain a professorship. So progress is being made!
Fanny Escudie, Senior Project Coordinator, Drug Discovery: Most of the time, in project meetings, more men are present than women. I enjoy the idea that I am helping tip the balance towards 50/50. Work is still ongoing to reach real gender equality but I see more and more conversations around the approach and the contribution of women being important, or even essential, for success in many projects.
How would you inspire young women to follow a science career?
Isabelle Borghini-Fuhrer, Senior Director, Product Development: I took part in the very first mentoring programme for young female scientists organized by The University of Geneva. Sharing my personal experience and my network with bright and motivated young scientists, and providing advice and occasional reassurance was a rich and rewarding experience that has turned out to be quite successful for them (at least from the very nice thank you notes I received).
Mélanie Rouillier, Senior Project Coordinator, Drug Discovery: I would encourage young women interested in science by giving them hope for the future–much progress has already been achieved and there is more to come. I would tell them to follow their passion, no matter what people say, as my mum did for me.