11 February is the International Say of Women and Girls in Science. We met with biologist Gabriela Retamalas to talk about what it means to be a woman in the realm of science.
Picture a typical scientist or researcher in your head. What comes to mind? Perhaps an older, balding man with white hair and glasses, or maybe a younger "nerdy" man similar to those depicted in TV shows like "The Big Bang Theory"? While such scientists exist, Gabriela Retamales challenges this notion with a smile: "The Big Bang Theory is full of clichés. My living space is definitely not filled with neurons on blackboards."
Gabriela, born in Chile, discovered her passion for natural sciences at a young age. "I'm deeply interested in biology because I enjoy understanding how things work," she shares. "I think that in biology, there's a lot we don't know. I want to shed a light on those gaps and explain how things work."
In Luxembourg, the young woman successfully completed her Master's in Systems Biology, a field that blends mathematics, modeling, and biology. Currently, she is pursuing her Ph.D. at the University of Luxembourg, specialising in the field of biomedicine.
Gabriela finds herself surrounded by a diverse team of classmates, comprising both men and women spanning various age groups. For her, there is no difference between men and women in the realm of science.
D'Gabriela Retamales zesumme mat hirem Fuerschungsteam.
"I never felt any different only because I'm a woman scientist. I think I have to thank my parents for that; they instilled in me the belief that I can pursue and achieve whatever I wanted, and to never let anyone tell me otherwise."
During her studies, many of her classmates were men, but that was never a problem for Gabriela. She also believes that women have equal opportunities to men in science. However, she acknowledges that women might have personality traits that might make breakthroughs in the field more challenging for them. For example, she suggests, that they might shy away from recognition. However, Gabriela emphasises that women who are confident in themselves and their work are less likely to confront problems stemming from such prejudices.
In Luxembourg, one scientist out of four is a woman, while in Germany it is one out of three. In an effort to inspire and encourage more women and girls to pursue careers in science, the National Research Fund organises an annual campaign on 11 February. This campaign features accomplished female scientists from Luxembourg, showcasing their achievements and contributions. The aim is to provide role models and foster motivation, ultimately breaking down barriers and promoting greater gender diversity in the field of science.
A small piece of advice from a female biologist: "Just do it! This is not a 'man's world' as it is sometimes portrayed. You are smart. Men can do it, so why can't women and girls do it, too?"