On June 15, women scientists from Skoltech took part in the online conference on the environmental platform of the Council of the Eurasian Women’s Forum (EWF) as part of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF). The speakers included women researchers working on scientific and entrepreneurial projects with the focus on sustainable development. The participants discussed the latest technological developments and ways to enhance women’s representation in science and technology.
The session was moderated by Irina Gayda, an expert at the Skoltech Project Center for Energy Transition and ESG, a project coordinator at the EWF Environmental Platform Council, and Chairperson of the Board of the Association of Women in Energy. “Russia is famous for its traditionally strong innovation spirit and technological leadership among women: taking up the lead form the first female cosmonaut and the first professor of mathematics, a lot of women in Russia have excelled in various fields of science since the early 20th century. Yet, we still see fewer women than men in the most challenging areas, such as computer technology, AI, physics or chemistry. While globally, women’s average representation in science is about 25%, in Russia the percentage varies according to academic background but always stays below 50%,” Irina says.
Tatiana Podladchikova, an associate professor at the Skoltech Center for Digital Engineering, spoke about how AI enables more accurate prediction of dangerous space weather events. “Beauty is an important factor in scientific research. I am deeply fascinated by the beauty of the Sun, the focus of our studies. Yet, the Sun is not only the source of life, light, warmth and comfort, but also the source of powerful emissions that directly affect people, technology, and infrastructure, both in space and on Earth.” According to Tatiana, a single solar eruption generates a hundred thousand times more energy within minutes than all power plants on Earth can produce in a year, which greatly affects our lives and infrastructure.
Tatiana believes that networking and synergy are essential for science to move forward. Also, people should be aware of how important science is: “A society that has a clear answer to the question “Why do we need science?” – and science is essentially a stepping stone to the future that humankind needs in order to move forward − is capable of creating ideals that we would admire and put our faith in and building a comfortable and safe environment for both women and men.”
Another speaker, Skoltech PhD student Julijana Cvjetinovic, studies carbon dioxide capture using diatoms. Women account for a quarter of her research team. She believes that women’s inclusion in science can be enhanced by building strong horizontal ties and encouraging mutual support in women’s scientific communities, as well as designing targeted programs to help women scientists fulfill themselves both in science and family life. “Rather than choosing between family and career, I wish to be both a mother and a fulfilled scientist, and I suppose support should come from both the family and the state,” Julijana notes.
Anastasia Ivanova, a Research Scientist at the Skoltech Center for Petroleum Science and Engineering, talked about how nanoparticles help enhance oil recovery and develop unconventional hydrocarbon reserves. “Our research team has proved that using the nanoparticle technology as an add-on to existing commercial solutions has enormous potential. It’s highly inspiring to know that my scientific ideas can make a difference and serve a useful purpose in real oil fields. That’s what keeps me going.” Anastasia adds that many components from the petrochemical sector are widely used in other industries, such as cosmetics, which makes life easier for scientists. In the oil sector, women by tradition account for only 20% of employees. Anastasia believes that it is very important to talk more about career opportunities for women in the oil sector with its numerous branches of activity. She stresses that at Skoltech, one can fulfill oneself in any area of STEM.
Katherine Vilinski-Mazur, a Skoltech PhD student and founder and CEO of Spheroid Revolution, deals with a very specific kind of software and hardware for 3D bioprinting of medical tissue and related tasks. “My fellow students at MEPhI said that 3D bioprinting is science fiction, but I have always been intrigued by semi-mystical stuff that evokes associations with the books I read as a teenager. Also, I am driven by the desire to do something good for people so that they could live longer,” Katherine says. Currently, her startup is aiming to create a full-cycle bioprinting software and hardware complex. At the discussion, Katherine raised the issue of attitude towards the role of women in society. She thinks it is important to beat gender stereotypes which still get in the way of women’s professional growth. “With proper support, you can achieve a lot, no matter whether you are a woman or a man. And much depends on how supportive your environment is,” Katherine says.
Polina Morozova, a Skoltech PhD student and CEO of K-Plus, was among the speakers at the session. Her startup is developing next-generation post-lithium potassium-ion batteries in order to stop using expensive and scarcely available lithium in large vehicle batteries. Polina says that Skoltech offers a wealth of professional development opportunities for both men and women: “Chemistry is a fascinating science. Yet, in chemistry, research project leaders are mostly men, while the majority of the development staff are women. We have quite a lot of smart women at Skoltech, and this is inspiring.” Polina believes that employers should create an infrastructure with kindergartens, schools and children’s leisure centers at their organizations to provide a better work-life balance for women scientists.
The participants were unanimous in their view that shattering myths about gender differences, removing barriers that may not even exist any longer, raising the society’s awareness of the importance of science and securing support from the state are essential in order for women to advance in science. Irina Gayda concluded the session by saying: “Now is an exciting time in history when you can change the world by focusing your effort on any leverage point.”
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