Today is March 8th – the day internationally devoted to women. And we in AMVA4NewPhysics are sensitive to the subject of raising awareness in the themes of relevance to this day across the world. Discrimination of people based on sex is just as bad as it is any other form of discrimination (based on creed, race, and other categorizations). And we know that women in practically all countries of the world suffer from discrimination that causes them to receive lower wages for the same job, to have fewer chances of career advancement, to have fewer job opportunities, to have worse access to education. On top of that there’s the oppression that some societies operate systemically on women, there is violence on women, there are hostile mindsets, preconceived opinions on alleged inferiority, and other psychological hindrances.
All of the above is everybody’s business. The first job in front of us, in order to fight this perverted state of affairs, is to recognize that it exists and that it is a problem for all of us. We do not have to be females to realize this: if we are males, it is our business because we have a responsibility and we can help change this; and we may have daughters and wish that they can live in a more equal society, one where they can enjoy the same freedom, the same safety as men, and one where they can be appreciated for their work and skills as much as our sons do.
In science, things are not any better than in society at large: there are discriminations everywhere we turn – from grading systems of our students, to hiring practices, to career progression. E.g., a study of European graders of math tests recently showed how female students got worse grades for the same kind of test than their male companions. Or we can quote the fraction of female physicists – since this is the subject of our research. This stays in the 10-30% range, depending on the categories we investigate.
AMVA4NewPhysics has been serious from the very start in striving for gender neutrality and in encouraging women to apply to our ESR positions. Three of the original eight beneficiaries of our network are female, and so is our Supervisory Board chair (Prof. Daniela Bortoletto, one of the highest ranked physicists in the world according to several different metrics – it does not take a gender neutral network to select her to lead us!). And we made an effort to encourage the application of female students to our positions – getting the very encouraging result that four of our ten ESRs are female! (pats himself on the back).
Now on March 8th we can ask ourselves what else are we doing for gender neutrality in Science, and a good way to also realize what is the situation and what are the prospects is to ask our own female students for a view of the issue. On the first topic: we are going to have a “soft skills” workshop next year when we will educate our students on gender neutrality issues. We are also going to try and facilitate our female ESRs in their career development plan – but hey, that’s something we do for the male ESRs too. What we certainly can do, I believe, is to keep this topic at the center of our attention and to keep thinking of ways to propagate a simple bit of information to the younger generations: being a scientist is cool, and it is a good service to today’s society, and being a scientist is a female job at least as much as it is a male job!
Below I attach a couple of quotes from two of our female ESRs, who were quick enough to provide input on the matter on a short notice (my inspiration for writing this post was an article I got to read this afternoon here).
Cecilia Tosciri, Oxford’s ESR in AMVA4NewPhysics, thus summarizes her thoughts on the matter today:
“I believe that nothing but science can give comprehensive and consistent answers to the deep questions of our life. For this reason I decided to pursue a career in particle physics. Today, as a member of CERN, I am involved in the most exciting working environment that a particle physicist could claim. I believe that every person can achieve major objectives such as this one, as long as there is passion, dedication and resolution. Regardless of gender. Women can leave their mark as much as men, in every field, science included.”
The picture on the right shows Cecilia giving a lecture to high-school students in Venice one month ago.
And here’s Ioanna Papavergou, our latest addition to the ESR pool, recently hired by IASA in Athens:
“It is very inspiring and hopeful that the scientific community has become a prime example of what can be achieved when aiming for gender equality.”
Ioanna (above) has impressed us by deciding to move to Amsterdam three years ago for a master in Astrophysics, a topic quite different from her laurea thesis topic in Athens. Now she is back to Athens and back to particle physics, and we expect a lot from her!
As for Alessia Saggio (right), our ESR in the Louvain node of the network, here is her take:
“At the age of 14 I was keen on literature and music. That was the main reason why I chose to pursue classical studies at High School, studying Latin, Greek and Italian literature and taking piano lessons in the meanwhile, with the perspective of becoming a writer or a perhaps pianist some day. The thought of physics never crossed my mind. Still today I can’t figure out if it was, unconsciously, because of the common stereotype that women are not good in science or because some other reason came into play. Anyway, as I started attending some physics lectures during my fourth year of High School, reading about the LHC and talking a lot with my teacher, I actually realized what my future life would be about: physics, science, research. I knew that only few girls decide to pursue a scientific career, but that didn’t stop me. Maybe because I don’t like stereotypes…
To be honest, I didn’t have to face many issues with the fact of being a girl and doing physics, so far. But my case could be a lucky one: stereotypes are hard to kill and it’s true that in general we are not considered as good as men at doing science. So girls, if science is what you want to do, please take a step forward and get your chance: science needs us as well!”
And to conclude, let me quote our Supervisory Board chair Daniela Bortoletto (right):
“I am passionate about my job. I have worked at particle accelerators all over the world probing higher and higher energies. I have participated in the discovery of the top quark at the Tevatron collider in the US and more recently in the discovery of the Higgs boson at the CERN Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland. These discoveries have led to the completion of the standard model of particle physics. Nonetheless the particles of this model explain less than 20% of the matter in the universe, leaving many open mysteries.
Being a particle physicists is amazing because we need to build extremely large complex detectors to study these tiny particles. I am currently working on ATLAS, which is the biggest experiment that mankind has built. Its construction and operation has brought together some of the most talented scientists from all over the world working peacefully and constructively to pursue this beautiful science.
I dedicate myself with passion to the development of strategies to increase the participation of women in physics. I have organized the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics in the UK which I hope will contribute to the creation of a new generation of women leaders in physics and help leveling the playing field in my discipline.”