• Elaine Seale Mckend

International Day of Women and Girls in Science

Why is it that so many young girls and women do not see themselves in Science? Jean Fan (winner of the 2019 Inspiring Science Award) talks about the challenges facing women in a science career. Her experience of working with high school students demonstrated how many of them dismissed the idea of becoming scientists themselves. ‘I am not quite a maths person’ or would not see themselves as future scientists. Fan used her computer skills to encourage young women to see themselves in a variety of scientific careers via a customisable story book. She says ‘be yourself and when challenges arise, rise up to the occasion and meet these challenges face on and persist. It is what future generations of girls who look up to us demand of their role models.

One woman who is doing just this is Sharon Peacock FMedSci CBE the Executive Director and Chair of the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium. The COG-UK consortium has been created to deliver large-scale and rapid whole-genome virus sequencing. It is made up of an innovative partnership including Wellcome Sanger (a previous client of mine when they were working on sequencing the genome alphabet). This consortium has tracked the genetic history of more than 150,000 samples of Sars-Cov-2 virus which equates to about half the world’s genetic sequencing of coronavirus. Asked - what are you most proud of – she explains it’s been a busy year, we developed a COGUK and the sequencing network very quickly; really proud and grateful for the 300 and more people working in the consortium and thank health data research UK colleagues who were instrumental in understanding data flow and data capture and linking genome data with clinical and epidemiology (incidence, distribution and possible control of diseases and other factors relating to health) in the people in which the virus has been identified.

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In an interview Prof. Peacock explains, lots of situations are going to challenge you and force you to step up and become more than you thought you were and more than society did too. There is so much to say about our perception of women in science.

My own 15 year old daughter loves science and wants to study medicine but even at her age is wary of being seen as less able than a man working in the same environment. Why is it that these perceptions exist and what is being done to try and change the image of science to young female future scientists? What else can we do as parents, siblings, and wider society to encourage more to envisage themselves as scientists, to motivate them to work towards that goal. Perhaps sharing other attributes that make women great leaders in this sector, those of collaboration, partnering and sharing information for the good of a wider society? This pandemic has certainly demonstrated the huge value medicine and science has to us all.

Have you considered coaching to unlock potential not just in women leaders but in our female talent in schools, where individual and group discussions could tackle some of these myths? Please add your comments to the discussion.


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