Published 12 January 2023 by Daniela Thiel
Science is Our Common Language
Paola Libertad García Medel, a biochemist with focus on plant DNA, participated in the 71st Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. Here, she reports on her career as a female scientist and how she experienced the meeting in the summer 2022.
How would you describe the situation for women in research?
We all have different realities, depending on the countries we live in and the environment we are from, so I may only describe the perspective of a Mexican woman working in science. In my view, today, the number of women in natural science has increased due to COVID-19 in my country. Especially women regard it as important to contribute to society and the pandemic proved the importance of science. Science was an emphasised topic in the media and got a lot of attention. That’s why more and more women chose to study natural sciences and pursue a scientific career, I guess.
How have you experienced the role of female scientists in Mexico so far?
When I started studying ten years ago, the number of female Principle Investigators was small. It was difficult to meet a woman in a PI position. I was lucky to work in a team led by a female PI during my Bachelor’s. And although she was working very hard, contributed many ideas, and was an inspiring advisor – she had the smallest laboratory, less equipped than the labs of the – male – other scientists at this career stage. Today, I realise these differences. Women do not have the same opportunities in science. 80 percent of funding is spent on projects led by male scientists. But it is changing now. Meanwhile, a quarter of the PI positions are held by female scientists. Half of the students are female, so the proportion is growing.
Personally, I was always able to do everything I was interested in. I would recommend building a strong network and checking your own perspective on diversity and inclusion. Everyone is part of the problem, and everyone is part of the solution. Working in science is such fun, it should be open to everyone!
From my own experience, during the last six years that I’ve been in the Advanced Genomics Unit (LANGEBIO-CINVESTAV, Mexico), my advisor, Dr. Luis Brieba has given me a lot of teachings. He works as a natural mentor, he has taught us (my lab mates and me) how to read a manuscript, how to submit an article, how to write a proposal for funding, and so on. From my point of view, he has allowed me to make my own way as a young scientist, giving me confidence through opportunities that, probably, other PIs would not trust their doctoral students, for example how to write a project. With this, I mean, no matter if your advisor, boss, etc is female or male, the most crucial activity they should perform everything is to generate an equal, confident, and secure environment during the time that we will spend in the laboratory as students.
With which expectations did you travel to Lindau?
I expected to meet the next generation of scientists related to the field of Chemistry in Lindau. The next Nobel Laureate maybe was among us. That’s why I wished to meet every participant of #LINO22!
I was excited for knowing other points of view about topics related to discrimination in science, and gender inclusion, and to learn how difficult or easy it is in each country to do science.
Additionally, I expected to hear the Nobel Laureates’ personal stories about the difficulties to be a scientist or to be a good mentor.
To what extent were your expectations met?
My expectations were exceeded, it was an indescribable unique event. It was so inspiring to meet all these young scientists. I was able to extend my network and ask for advice for writing my thesis. Before the start of the meeting, I was concerned that my English wasn’t good enough. But people understand you – we are speaking the same language, the language of science. No matter where we are from, here is no limitation as we can communicate via scientific methods – the week in Lindau was a great opportunity to practice my English skills. And I had an inspiring conversation with Venki Ramakrishnan – in Spanish. This moment was one of my highlights.
What is your impression on the aspect of diversity in regard to the meeting?
I think the aspect of diversity was complicated in several ways and diversity should be improved in the future. But as mentioned during the diversity panel: We are a diverse community. And we, the Young Scientists, will change the system.
I was so proud to see that the other Young Scientists were also aware of topics related to diversity and that they dare to complain if something is wrong in the scientific system. For example, I hope that the peer review and the funding system will change. Not everyone can publish in the top journals, not because of the quality of research, but most of the time because the funding is not on time.
Coming back to #LINO22, the Bavarian Evening was an amazing moment that proved the diversity of the participants. So many cultures and so many different perspectives in one place!
Are you in contact with other participants?
I continue communicating with other Lindau Alumni I met last summer. As mentioned before, networks are important for my career and the meeting was a great chance to span contacts across the whole world. We need to keep in touch with the friends that we made during this Lindau week. And now, we have digital alternatives for doing that.