Written by Joanna Hughes

The number of women working, studying, and researching in science fields has increased significantly over recent decades -- and they are playing a huge role in pushing science forwards. Let's take a look at five exciting things happening in the global community of female scientists.

1. Female researchers in the world are on the rise.

According to an Elsevier report, Gender in the Global Research Landscape, the proportion of women among researchers and inventors is steadily increasing across the globe. In fact, women account for between 38 percent and 49 percent of all researchers in 11 of the 12 countries and regions studied.

Still, the data also indicates there is plenty of work to be done. It was found women publish fewer papers, are less likely to collaborate internationally on research papers, and are generally less internationally mobile than their male counterparts.

However, one measure where women come out ahead is scholarly output in highly interdisciplinary research.

2. Research is on their side.

A growing body of evidence points to the value of diversity in the sciences. Smithsonian Air and Space Museum Director Ellen Stofan explains, “Individuals from different genders, races, backgrounds and experiences bring different perspectives that can lead to innovative solutions.”

As awareness about this grows, so does awareness about the gap in participation due to factors ranging from lack of encouragement to negative peer pressure.

Stofan concludes, “We simply cannot afford to have any less than our whole population engaged and contributing. [...] The answers are out there: give girls role models, teach them the skills they will need, encourage them, and show them that tech careers will help change the world for the better.”

3. Many organizations are getting on board with the effort.

As knowledge increases regarding the benefits of welcoming more women into STEM studies and careers, many entities are vigorously working to level the playing field.

From the National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP), which seeks “to bring together organizations throughout the United States that are committed to informing and encouraging girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM),” to Million Women Mentors (MWW), which harnesses the power of mentoring, these and many other groups are on the frontline of the push to spark more interest and confidence of girls and women in STEM studies and STEM careers.

4. A woman won the Nobel Prize in Physics this year.

Children’s rights activist Marian Wright Edelman said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” This applies no better to the fact that men have historically made up the vast majority of portrayals of scientists in movies and TV shows. Enter women like Canada’s Donna Strickland, who recently became the first women in more than half a century to win the Nobel Prize in Physics.

Heralded for her “groundbreaking inventions in laser physics,” Strickland encourages aspiring female scientists to follow their talents and passions. “If you have the ability and you want to do it, I think you should do it. [...] The real achievement will be when every single person gets to do what’s in their ability and what they want to do without anybody saying you shouldn’t do it,” she told BBC.com.

5. Doctor Who is now a woman.

Meanwhile, some good news about female STEM role models in the media: the modern version of popular BBC series Doctor Who now features a female Time Lord!

In declaring the selection of a female Doctor Who to be “the greatest science communication opportunity of my lifetime,” university senior physics lecturer Martin White explains, “In an age of binge watching, the coming generation will be awed by both the Doctor’s male and female incarnations. Can there be any better role model for budding young scientists?”

Despite all of these optimistic accomplishments, the fact remains that women make up just 30 percent of the world’s STEM students, according to UNESCO data. Will you follow in the fabled footsteps of women scientists like Marie Curie, Ada Lovelace, Rachel Carson, Grace Hopper, Katherine Johnson, and so many others by pursuing studies in science? In doing so, you will not only position yourself for a fulfilling career, but also to become a role model for future generations! 

ArticleEducationInternational News
Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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