Real Women Talk About Their Careers in Science

A year ago the Euro­pean Union launched a cam­paign to attract more young women into the sci­en­tif­ic pro­fes­sions. In Europe, women lag behind men in sci­ence and engi­neer­ing, mak­ing up only a third of sci­ence researchers. But the video the EU made was laugh­able.

You may recall. It was called, Sci­ence: It’s a Girl Thing! and fea­tured three young fash­ion­istas parad­ing around in high heels while a male sci­en­tist peers quizzi­cal­ly at them over his micro­scope.

Along comes sci­ence jour­nal­ist Ker­stin Hop­pen­haus to set the record straight. Hoppenhaus’s new series for the Ger­man sci­ence site SciLogs is called Sig­nif­i­cant Details: Con­ver­sa­tions with Women in Sci­ence. The inter­views are fresh, infor­ma­tive, and acces­si­ble.

It’s inspir­ing to see such a range of women explain their research and walk us through their process for doing it.

A recent inter­view fea­tured Dr. Kris­ten Pan­fil­io (above), an Amer­i­can biol­o­gist on fac­ul­ty at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cologne. Panfilio’s work focus­es on insect extraem­bry­on­ic devel­op­ment, which means she stud­ies how insect tis­sues devel­op into the bug’s ulti­mate shape by com­par­ing the process in two insects: the milk­weed bug and the red flour bee­tle.

Each con­ver­sa­tion begins with a “sig­nif­i­cant detail” of the woman’s work. With the wry humor and pre­ci­sion of a true sci­en­tist, Pan­fil­io demon­strates how she pre­pares her favorite tool, a glass stick, by soft­en­ing the end with a cig­a­rette lighter.

Panfilio’s spe­cif­ic field is evo­lu­tion­ary devel­op­men­tal genet­ics. Along with her lab assis­tants she stud­ies how embry­on­ic cells know what role they should play in form­ing a spe­cif­ic organ­ism shape. How does a bone cell know it’s a bone cell?

The inter­view is about as much like Sci­ence: It’s a Girl Thing! as Meryl Streep is like Lind­say Lohan. This is a real per­son talk­ing about how she has built her career (she want­ed to be an artist when she was a teenag­er and stud­ied ancient Chi­nese his­to­ry at a small lib­er­al arts col­lege) and explain­ing her high­ly spe­cial­ized work.

She also touch­es on one of the most won­der­ful things about sci­en­tif­ic research: Some of the most excit­ing moments are when the results don’t align at all with expec­ta­tions.

Best of all, it’s just one of the won­der­ful inter­views in Hoppenhaus’s series.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

MAKERS Tells the Sto­ry of 50 Years of Progress for Women in the U.S.

No Women Need Apply: A Dis­heart­en­ing 1938 Rejec­tion Let­ter from Dis­ney Ani­ma­tion

Kate Rix writes about dig­i­tal media and edu­ca­tion. Fol­low her on Twit­ter @mskaterix and vis­it her web­site to learn more.


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