Scientists and Rei Jaume I Prizes laureates advocate more experimentation at school to raise awareness of STEM among girls.

12 | 03 | 2024

07 | 03 | 2024

Four women from the world of science and technology, two of them laureates of a Rei Jaume I Prize and the other two successful entrepreneurs, are committed to giving visibility to female role models and introducing more experimentation and a practical approach in schools from an early age so that girls can learn more about STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers and awaken their vocations.

The neuroscientist Guillermina López-Bendito, winner of the Rei Jaume I Prize for Medical Research; the marine scientist Carlota Escutia, awarded with the Rei Jaume I Prize in Environmental Protection; the director of MSD Spain Cristina Nadal, specialist in Oncology, and the CEO of the Ascires group and engineer dedicated to personalised precision medicine, Lorena Saus, have discussed how to motivate young women to study STEM careers during the conference ‘Women, Science and Business’ organised for the eighth consecutive year by the Valencian Foundation Rei Jaume I Prizes.

Watch the video summary here and read on:

The speakers agreed on the importance of girls and young women “working in what they like” and argued that women are sufficiently “powerful” to conquer traditionally male-dominated fields.

However, under the premise that “to know that you like something you have to know that it exists”, Guillermina López-Bendito pointed out that action should be taken “from the beginning”, at an early age, from three years old, “when the brain is plastic”, and explained that her vocation for science was awakened during trips to the countryside with her father.

For this reason, she called for “a change so that schools have more subjects that allow experimentation”, “touching” and “knowing”, so that girls “do not find themselves with the monster of ‘what am I going to do for a living’ when they are 18”. As an example, she explained that through experiments on flight, her son has discovered physics.

Cristina Nadal regretted that there is “a certain hypocrisy” because is talked about “women can do it, but on the other hand we have no role models”, and role models for young women are often “other” and not linked to science. “There are many things to do, and you can choose all the paths you want, but you have to let them know a little bit more that these possibilities exist,” she said.

Lorena Saus argued that “women have to go out more”, “speak out” and “be seen” to “be an example” and that girls “should not think about whether they want to be leaders because they won’t be able to”. She told her surprise when, at a summer school with highly gifted girls, a little girl who was able to meet women scientists commented at the end of her experience she realized she was intelligent and could be a scientist. “How can a highly gifted girl think she is not intelligent,” she wondered.

“We have to inspire” and also “the way universities are set up should evolve and have a more practical approach to science”, because when they start to work, graduates see “a distance between university and business”.

The geologist Carlota Escutia added that, despite the presence of women in universities, their talent “is lost” in post-doctoral stages because in Spain  it is very difficult to achieve stabilization in research positions, and before this stabilization is achieved, women usually reach the age they have to decide on motherhood.

Another aspect on which the scientists agreed was that the greatest professional difficulties were encountered at the moment they decided to become mothers and had to combine their professional careers, so they have emphasized the importance of having the support of their partners and their environment.

“This world is very absorbing, it requires absolute dedication. Women often want to do many things and our personal life works against us, not because of our ability but because of our choice, and men could choose the same  but they don’t do it”, commented Cristina Nadal.

The experts also focused on the importance and difficulty of believing in oneself. For Guillermina López-Bendito, “the greatest recognition one can achieve is to realize that one can do things”.

Carlota Escutia, who has spent some time in Antarctica on expeditions in which she was the only woman, said that “you have to do what you like and not let yourself be stopped by fears, and if it doesn’t work out, change it, because one should not be afraid of failure and not everything is success in life.