FEBS Working Group on Women in Science (FEBS-WISE)
WISE Workshops at the FEBS Congress in Warsaw, Poland
Workshop 1: A career in Science?
Prof. Stepana Petrescu (Director of the Institute for Molecular and Cell Biology, Bucharest, Romania)
Prof. Alexandre Quintanilha (Director of the Institute for Biochemistry and Molecular Cell Biology, Porto , Portugal)
The session was chaired by G. Wallon, who introduced the subject by pointing out the difficulties that women encounter when wanting to make a career in science. Prof. Steines reported about her experience in Denmark and how she handled the “all men world” around her over the years. She told the audience that she had been very much “alone” as a woman, during her long and successful career.
The next speaker, Prof. Quintanilha gave a short overview of his career. Born and educated in Mozambique, he spent the majority of his scientific career in California (USA) and is now working in Porto, Portugal. He told the audience that in his Institute the majority of the group leader positions are occupied by women and that most of these women have been hired from “outside” the institute rather than having made their way up through the institute’s organisation. He mentioned that Portugal (and the institute) might not represent a “typical” place when it comes to Women in Science, as there are relatively many women in senior positions. Directors of Institutes however are usually men.
His talk was followed by Prof. Petrescu, who described a totally different situation in Romania, where one finds many women in science and also in senior positions. She herself is the head of the Institute. It seems that the social structure in Romania is helping women to make a career in science since it is common that when both partners work the grandparents take care of the (grand) children. Such structures do not exist in many of the other European countries and hence women (and men) are faced with a lack of social support, which has a more dramatic effect on the career development of women than of men.
The presentations were followed by a lively discussion with the speakers and the audience of which the majority (~80%) were women, mainly young scientists.
The following topics were subject of discussion were:
Applying for a high-raking position in science
The importance of a supporting partner
The importance of the social environment
The workshop was attended by about 80 participants
Workshop 2: A career in Science: “What made the difference”?!
Chair: Prof. Saskia van der Vies (Head of the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, Free University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
Three female speakers talked about important factors that had influenced their careers. Dr. E. Arimondo, and Italian National, recipient of a Marie Curie Excellence Award and group leader in France gave an account of how the managed to obtain a permanent position in France.
Prof. Saskia van der Vies (Dutch National) told the audience how she became a professor in Biochemistry, having started as a research assistant. Both speakers gave their views and “advice” on what they thought were important factors that had an effect on their careers. Prof. Van der Vies discussed also who made the difference, as in order to reach her goals support for her ideas from senior scientists had been crucial. Mrs. Steiner, a Danish National and President and CEO of Zealand Pharmaceuticals, Denmark, had moved from a scientist position to being the head of her own company. She is now at the end of her career and told the audience that four telephone calls had made the difference for her. Interestingly it turned out that the three stories had a number of things in common:
Mrs. Armondo and Mrs. van der Vies both had studied and worked in different countries. They both had had “unusual ideas” about the things they wanted to achieve. It meant that they set a precedent in a number of cases e.g. Mrs. Arimondo was the first to get accepted by the French system with an Italian training background. The same happened to Prof. van der Vies who had been trained in the Dutch system and had to be accepted at a British university. Both of them obtained their PhD outside their home country.
It seemed that all three speakers had had an open eye for opportunities that occurred in their surroundings, were clear about what they wanted to achieve and had encountered hurdles on the way. All three speakers had “moved about” and did not make their career in one institution or company only.
The presentations were well received and a lively discussion followed. Points and conclusions that came out of the discussion:
The workshop was attended by about 100 participants
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