This blog comes from Donna Speed, CEO of We The Curious, on International Women in Science Day.
Professor Sarah Gilbert was heralded in November 2020 as “the woman who designed the Oxford vaccine”. This was a moment for celebration, after almost a year of intermittent lockdowns; constant alarming news coverage and a rising death toll, finally we have some cause to celebrate. The existence of a vaccine is a ray of light in a dark time.
Understanding a bit about the process required to develop a new vaccine makes this achievement even more impressive. The speed in which the scientific community has come together to develop, test and take vaccinations through clinical trials to delivery, has been nothing short of incredible.
Science has never been more important than right now. You read about it in the news every day, and people have become interested in (and armchair experts on!) the virus, and the vaccines that will combat them.
Media coverage has helped to open up public perception of the scientific process – something that we’re always keen to explore at We The Curious. The process of testing, failing, reshaping, and refining that is required in any new scientific development has become more a part of the media landscape now, with celebrations as the first vaccines were rolled out.
And yet, despite being a Professor of Vaccinology at the University of Oxford, it was the fact that she was a female scientist that became a lead focus of the story about Professor Gilbert. Some headlines were subsequently edited after complaints that suggested her scientific achievement should be the focus, but that fact remained. So what’s the problem?
Of course, female scientists should be highlighted and celebrated, but it feels like it shouldn’t really need to be done in this day and age. Of course, there are brilliant female scientists (as there are brilliant female everything), but all scientific achievements should be celebrated.
So what is the place of science centres in this? We have a role to play, both now and in the future; it’s our place to continue to raise awareness of these amazing scientific endeavours. We also want to encourage and inspire the future generation of scientists, who will help to combat the World’s wicked problems into the second half of this century and beyond. Finally, we want to hold space for the tricky conversations to happen: the importance of gender equality in an industry that is historically male dominated, and to be fierce advocates of the change needed to make that gender equality a reality.
Science centres are having a tough time at the moment: as we’re neither a front-line charity or a museum or arts venue, we’re falling through the gaps in terms of support and funding. But we have to survive for our future generations, and we are determined to do so. Science is a creative, and collaborative process for everyone, and one that we can play a part in by bringing together and encouraging brilliant minds (of all people) to work together.
Photo credits: We The Curious/Daniel Watkiss