Yes We Can! Celebrate International Day of Women and Girls in Science

This guest post was written by Tamika Sims, Director of Communications, International Food Information Council Foundation and originally appeared on the organization’s website.

I am woman, hear me roar … about science!

If you haven’t heard, women are pioneers in the world of science. To celebrate International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we wanted to shine a light on some women we see continuing this great legacy, enhancing our scientific world, and positively influencing humanity, as well as the world of agriculture.

Haven’t heard of International Day of Women and Girls in Science? Well, here are some background details: The declaration of Feb. 11 as International Day of Women and Girls in Science by the United Nations (UN) marks a much-needed acknowledgment of the disproportionate number of young girls and women not receiving the same educational and scientific career opportunities around the globe as their male counterparts. Gender equality and science are among the top priorities of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development established by the United Nations. The UN firmly believes that both gender equality and science contribute immeasurably to the creation of a sustainable world.

Young women all over the globe are ready to be the world’s next great scientist. Loving science and biology as a young girl isn’t weird. Yes, I wear a dress under my lab coat … and no, I am not odd.

Just ask Professor Neena Mitter, PhD, an agricultural biotechnologist at the University of Queensland in Australia. Dr. Mitter and her research team recently published a paper on their discovery of “BioClay,” which is a non-pesticide topical treatment for plants to encourage protection against viral infections. This can reduce the need for the use of pesticides and is noted to be safe for the environment due to its quick degradation.

In a recent interview with MyScience.org, Dr. Mitter noted, “The use of BioClay offers sustainable crop protection and residue-free produce – which consumers demand. …The cleaner approach will value-add to the food and agri-business industry, contributing to global food security and to a cleaner, greener image of Queensland.”

For Dr. Mitter, the drive to be an agricultural biotechnologist came from wanting to learn how agricultural research could combat hunger and poverty in India.

“I [soon] realized that science could play a key and vital role in addressing the issues facing the farming community,” Dr. Mitter said. “The roots are grounded in my Indian heritage, which recognizes the significance of agriculture in shaping the world, economically, socially, environmentally, and politically.”

Dr. Mitter also hopes that she can inspire other young girls and women to be scientists.

“I am passionate to develop the next generation of young scientists as foundations for the future,” Mitter said.  “I encourage them to deliver excellence through an innovative mindset, global opportunities, and industry connections. One of my favorite quotes is, ‘The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them’ (Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Nobel Peace Prize Winner and first female elected head of state in Africa as president of Liberia in 2005).”

We also caught up with Stacey Kigar, PhD, president of the executive board of Graduate Women in Science (GWIS). GWIS is a national organization founded nearly 100 years ago that supports science education and scientific careers for women by providing endowments, fellowships, professional development, and networking opportunities for their members. GWIS also does a substantial amount of mentoring, outreach, and leadership development.

When asked about her thoughts on inspiring and supporting others to be a scientist, Dr. Kigar reflects on her college days.

“Larry Summers [then Harvard president] gave an infamous speech suggesting that women are perhaps less capable with respect to math and science,” said Dr. Kigar. “The university Women in Science group quickly organized a panel to push back against this idea, managing to secure several women faculty members, the Provost, and several deans from science departments as speakers. In today’s parlance, I suppose this would be when I ‘got woke’ to the nuanced issues women face which can stymie their careers—e.g., taking on the primary role of caregiver for young children in the absence of university-provided daycare.”

GWIS has also set its sights on supporting women and young girls internationally who face roadblocks in pursuing education.

“We (GWIS) have submitted grants to ensure girls are given desks in rural Nigerian schools; we would also like to obtain funds to purchase journal access for university researchers in South America,” Dr. Kigar said.

We certainly salute the efforts to further scientific research and support of women in science, of Dr. Mitter and her research team, and Dr. Kigar and the GWIS team. I can remember being a young scientist in graduate school and appreciating the support of my family and friends, and being grateful for having strong women scientists to look up to.