Research is a growing field and a hot topic in today’s world — it is the research conducted by scientists that helped us understand this pandemic and gain access to vaccines. However, according to UNESCO Institute for Statistics data, less than 30 per cent of researchers in the world are women, and the statistics are even lower for BIPOC women, indicating a significant gender gap in the field.
We hear young girls say, “I want to be a doctor/lawyer/pilot,” but we don’t hear them say “I want to be a researcher.”
Shailini Iyer is a neuroscience MSc candidate, program assistant at Let’s Talk Science, and the co-founder of the Coffee and STEAM Podcast. Iyer says, “I have loved science for as long as I can remember, but I didn’t know I wanted to be a researcher until halfway through my undergraduate degree.”
“Since I was little, I have had an unbridled curiosity to learn about everything,” says Aisha Nasim, a BSc alumna from York and a clinical research assistant at the Opportunities to Understand Childhood Hurt Lab. “I wasn’t satisfied with surface-level explanations, whether it was learning about clouds or how the heart pumps blood throughout our bodies. As the years went on, scientific research felt like my calling.”
A career in research is exciting and allows women to not only contribute to cutting-edge solutions for scientific problems, but also to learn about concepts and skills that can’t be taught through books or lectures. Nasim describes research as “solving a puzzle without knowing the final picture,” and Iyer says it is like “taking on the role of being a detective and putting the pieces together to answer a question that has never been answered before.”
So, what steps can be taken to support BIPOC women entering the field of research?
Iyer suggests, “If we are not exposed to seeing BIPOC women in the field starting from a young age, it becomes difficult to imagine ourselves pursuing that career as adults. To support BIPOC women and bring more representation to the field, I believe it is crucial to facilitate relatable events for youth and growing scientists where they feel represented. This can include networking events, career panels, and other workshops featuring BIPOC women who can share their research journey, the obstacles they have faced, and how they overcame it.
“Additionally, I think providing more resources to help with applications, interview processes, and financial aid can also assist in breaking some barriers that may prevent BIPOC women from pursuing the research field,” adds Iyer.
Nasim says, “You need to start promoting science very early on, especially in the elementary school stage. That’s when most students’ foundation in science gets built. Young girls need to meet and get mentored by older role models — women who look like them in the research field.”
More women deserve to experience the beauty of a career in research and further action needs to be taken to reduce this gender gap.