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Of scientists and goals


Published in

Diario de Navarra

Ana Villarroya Ballarín

Professor at School and researcher at Biodiversity and Environment Institute of the University of Navarra.

Perhaps it is professional deformation (as a researcher), the almost unconscious habit of asking myself the why of things. An important date like this is no exception: why do we still celebrate the Day of Women and Girls in Science? Hasn't the time come yet when such a day is no longer necessary because its objectives have been achieved? It seems to me that the answer varies according to the place and cultural setting in which we find ourselves. Undoubtedly, in many places there is still a long way to go work, starting with ensuring equal access for men and women to Education. In other contexts, such as the one we find ourselves in today in Spain, the challenge may be different.

As a woman, I am deeply grateful to all those who have gone before me and paved the way for me. Thanks to their efforts, I have never been at a disadvantage with respect to my male peers when pursuing a degree program in Science. It never occurred to me to question my vocation to study Nature because I was a woman. I decided at a very young age that I wanted to study Biology, and I did not perceive my feminine condition as an obstacle. Probably my mother's example - a woman with two university degrees - made me assume that my sex was not a limiting factor in deciding my training. References such as Margarita Salas or Rachel Carson, whose biographies I got to know in my youth, reinforced the idea that my place, as a woman, was in the Natural Sciences. The relevance of continuing to make visible references of both sexes, and of creating a culture that respects the freedom of each person to pursue their vocation, seems to me today unquestionable.

While access to programs of study in science does not seem to be a problem for women in our country, pursuing a scientific or researcher degree program in general, is another matter. However, it does not seem so clear that the obstacles that a woman encounters on this path are associated with her sex, but rather with other vital issues, such as the decision to start a family or the need to care for dependents. These are roles that we women have traditionally assumed, although more and more men are taking on this subject of responsibilities and encountering difficulties that until a few years ago seemed to be exclusive to their female partners. How to keep up the pace of scientific production - i.e. publish a certain issue number of articles or develop research projects - while taking care of a baby? Or an elderly parent? How to keep up to date in the field of work and find time for family life? Can a researcher not work on weekends and achieve the objectives required by his or her profession?

In a society that is fortunately more egalitarian, these challenges, until now the preserve of women, are beginning to affect men as well. In a family, the research degree program of one of the partners depends more than we think on the support of the other (imagine how complicated things become when one of these partners is missing). Traditionally, women have sacrificed in this regard, abandoning their careers in favor of those of their husbands. Today we find more and more examples of men taking on a greater domestic burden and/or a less recognized but stable position so that their female partners can devote themselves to research. Together with the social progress that this new distribution of roles implies, new questions can be raised: Why are there still these difficulties of conciliation in the degree program researcher? Doesn't it seem contradictory that events that naturally occur in life (such as becoming a mother or father) slow down a degree program that is dedicated to studying life itself?

There are always things to improve and Science itself teaches us that. If anything characterizes any scientific discipline , it is that constant attitude of wondering, questioning, reviewing its own mechanisms and convictions. This is the basis of its progress, in assuming that there is always something to prove, in being open to correcting itself. Days like the one we are celebrating invite us to celebrate what we have advanced so far while at the same time questioning what the next step should be goal. issue We have more female representation in science and technology careers than in any period in the past, the number of women leading research projects and teaching in science careers is growing, and the whole society is benefiting from these changes. What will be the next goal to achieve an inclusive science?