Women in science and vision research 2023
Closing the gender gap
3 February 2023
In recognition of International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we spoke to three remarkable researchers as a way to highlight and celebrate the roles of women across the field.
Throughout the years, women have experienced the same barriers and drawbacks in STEM - sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics - as they have in their everyday lives: lack of recognition, autonomy, support and, at times, educational opportunities.
Nonetheless, history is rich with examples of women who have made significant contributions to science. They established diverse and collaborative positions in a variety of fields, including vision research.
For this year, we wanted to spotlight a few more exceptional women in science that inspire us every day by the work that they do.
Dr. Silvia Dragoni is a senior research fellow at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and a Moorfields Eye Charity career development fellow. She is the teaching assistant lead for the Bioscience Entrepreneurship and the Research Pathways in Advanced Therapeutics MScs at the UCL.
From a very young age, Silvia has been passionate about science, with a specific interest in the biology of the vascular system. During her PhD at the University of Pavia (Italy), she researched how endothelial progenitor cells affect blood vessel growth in physiology and disease
She’s currently pursuing independent research on calcium signalling in the retinal vasculature, funded by our Career Development Award scheme.
Silvia draws her inspiration from women who never gave up and established themselves as leaders, regardless of the challenges they had to overcome.
I really admire those women who are fighting to change the world and to guarantee a better future for next generations… Those women have the courage to put themselves on the frontline, and they are literally risking their own lives just so they can access universities and be educated as their male counterparts.
Silvia believes it’s crucial to remember that not all places value women, despite feeling fortunate to have studied in environments where they are appreciated.
For the future of women in science, she hopes that research fields won’t be associated to a specific gender, and that women will be able to pursue their passions without being judged.
Professor Rebecca Shipley is the director of the UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering. She is also a non-executive director at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Trust and a trustee for the International Medical Education Trust 2000.
For the past decade, Rebecca has worked in healthcare engineering at UCL. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she co-led a team that designed and manufactured 10,000 non-invasive ventilators and distributed them to 130+ hospitals nationwide.
Rebecca has always found mathematics a useful tool to understand the world better. This has led her into working in varied projects, such as combining mathematics and machine learning to better understand the physiology of patients in intensive care.
The boundary between maths and engineering is very fluid, and I have been continuously inspired by colleagues who are purely brilliant – both in their academic discipline, but also in understanding what is needed to make a difference to patients.
Rebecca acknowledges she has been fortunate in receiving supportive opportunities during her journey. She believes that“it’s vital that women know that when barriers exist, they are because of outdated stereotypes” and hopes that in the future women can pursue their preferred career paths based solely on their interests and capabilities.
Dr. Jyotsna Vohra is the director of policy and communications at the Royal Society for Public Health. She is a trustee of Moorfields Eye Charity and a member of our grants committee.
Jyotsna has had a varied career. Since completing her PhD in molecular microbiology, she has moved to public health with a focus on improving population health through evidence-based policy and practise reforms.
When it comes to gender equality for women in science, Jyotsna argues that not enough has changed in the scientific fields across the years. Women continue to face discrimination and are still expected to conform to conventional gender roles and obligations.
She believes that the more we address and continue to have conversations about gender gap, the more shifts will take place.
Jyotsna suggests leading women in the sector should be championed and profiled frequently, so that the next generation of young girls with a passion for STEM, and who aspire to work in the research and science fields, have role models to look up to.
What’s the future looking like for women in science?
Ensuring diversity and inclusion is present in all areas of our society is what will shape the future of science and technology. It is important to cultivate supportive, nurturing environments and networks which will empower women and other marginalised groups. This will ultimately inspire the next generation of innovators and leaders.