International Day of Women & Girls in Science

11 February marks the International Day of Women and Girls in Science and, since I’m fortunate enough to be a cancer scientist, I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to write a blog post on the topic.

International Day of Women and Girls in Science is a day that aims to encourage women and girls to engage with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) events. Historically, STEM subjects have been dominated by men, meaning that women’s voices have not been heard and their ideas not considered. Even now, women are under-represented in certain scientific fields. According to the United Nations, only 12% of the membership of national science academies is made up by women. It’s hard to believe that, despite increasing numbers of young women trying to pursue a career in science, they still remain vastly under-represented at the top levels of their fields.

I’m currently doing a PhD in Cancer Sciences. I’m very lucky to be funded by the charity Cancer Research UK. My interest is in the process of programmed cell death, with a focus on studying it in the context of breast cancer. Programmed cell death is something that our cells should be able to do in order to remove themselves from our body, once they become damaged or dangerous. However, if cells become unable to do this, there’s a chance of them becoming cancerous. Many chemotherapy drugs aim to cause cancer cells to undergo programmed cell death, though unfortunately these don’t always work. My research aims to uncover more detail about the process, with the long-term aim of being able to guide better drug treatments and clinical decisions for patients. I love talking about my PhD and feel very honoured that some of my Guides also like to ask me about it, alongside questions about having a career in science. As someone who did not know anyone in science growing up, I see it as a huge responsibility that I am that person for some of these young people.

In this blog post, I’d also like to share a few of the inspirational women in science that I admire. If you’ve never heard of them, hopefully this blog inspires you to learn a little more about some trailblazing women.

  • Marie Curie
    • A Polish and French physicist who did pioneering radioactivity research. She was the first person to win the Nobel Prize twice, and her research led to the first radiotherapy treatments for abnormal tissue growths.
  • Marie Maynard Daly
    • An American biochemist who did some of the first work investigating the relationship between diet and having a healthy heart. She was the first African-American woman to get a PhD in Chemistry in the United States.
  • Mary Anning
    • An English palaeontologist who discovered many fossils in Dorset and contributed to changes in how we understand prehistoric life. Sadly, she did not receive full credit for her discoveries, and she was not allowed to join the Geological Society of London.
  • Rosalind Franklin
    • An English chemist whose work demonstrated the double helix structure of DNA. The Nobel Prize awarded for this discovery instead went to Francis Crick, James Watson and Maurice Wilkins.
  • Sarah Gilbert
    • A British vaccinologist whose work led to the development of the universal flu vaccine and the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. There has been a Barbie doll version of her made.

One of the greatest things about guiding is that, for as long as I can remember, there’s been encouragement to do science. I can remember being a Brownie making a pH indicator using red cabbage, and I’ve made lava lamps with my Guides. The old Guide programme had a dedicated Science badge, and the Brownies had a Science Investigator badge. STEM subjects could further be accessed via other badges: Animal Active (Guides), Environment (Brownies), Fire Safety (Guides), Number Fun (Brownies), Stargazer (Brownies), and Survival (Guides). And that’s only naming a few. There’s no specific science badges in the new programme, but there are plenty of ways that young people can get involved in STEM. Guides can do their Investigating badge, Brownies can do their Archaeology badge, and Rangers can research the heart as part of the Feel Good Stage 6 Skills Builder. Even Rainbows can get involved by doing their Construction badge. And that’s not even beginning to touch on challenge badges, such as the fantastic Girlguiding North West England Clever Cogs Challenges, which have been lots of fun to do with my Guides.

International Day of Women and Girls in Science is a great opportunity for everyone to try and learn something new. Whether it’s finding out more about a trailblazing female scientist, or completing a STEM related badge, I hope everyone manages to feel inspired.