Molecular biologist and mom Richa Tiwari talks about who inspired her to pursue a career in science plus how she now plays it forward inspiring other women in science, fellow moms and her kids
To celebrate the International Day of Women in Science on 11 February 2022, Molecular biologist and cancer researcher Richa Tiwari talks about why we should care about inspiring our daughters and fellow women to pursue careers in science. Richa is a great role model herself given she has had a 10-year career in Pharma helping develop and market life-saving cancer medicines. Here she shares about who inspired her to pursue a career in science, and how we all can motivate our young girls (and boys) to love science at an early age.
Women have historically been underrepresented in science and other related fields (technology, engineering, and math). This lack of gender equity, diversity, and inclusion doesn’t just hurt women, it hurts everyone. Numerous studies and reports have shown that ensuring access for women in science and other STEM fields has far-reaching benefits in economic growth, environmental outcomes and social change.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where long-standing biases and gender stereotypes are steering girls and women away from STEM fields. To share a few eye-opening stats, less than 30% of researchers worldwide are women. Only around 30% of all female students select STEM-related fields in higher education. Sadly, even TV shows reflect similar biases where only 12% of on-screen characters with an identifiable STEM job are women. Societal infrastructure also creates barriers that limit the participation of women in the workforce.
How can we as individuals contribute to a positive change? I believe we can achieve this in two ways: strong role modelling and inspiring young girls (and boys) to love science at an early age.
Strong female role models
It’s important to me to be a role model to other girls and women as someone who has pursued her dream of working in science. My career spans over 10 years of being in Pharma where I helped develop and market life-saving cancer medicines. Three years ago, I joined a Big Tech company (Google) where I apply artificial intelligence (AI)-based solutions to solve healthcare challenges.
According to UNESCO’s 2021 Science Report, only 22% of professionals working in AI are women. Through the application of a medical breakthrough or innovative technology, I have actively contributed to enabling a cancer patient to live longer or save a patient from blindness. I love what I do because I get to directly make an impact in scientific and medical advancements, that too in a male-dominated field.
All through my school, college, and working years, I have had supporters, mentors, and female role models who spurred my passion and buoyed my confidence that I am not any less capable than a man. My earliest “woman in science’ role model came in the form of my high school Anatomy & Physiology teacher.
Mrs Walker was that teacher who made science cool and quirky. She taught us mnemonics to learn the names of all 206 bones of the human body, had us reconstruct the skeleton of a mouse using its real bones, and took us on field trips to get hands-on, outdoor learning. I’ll never forget the time she taught the class about the discovery of DNA. While the credit for the discovery goes to two male scientists, there is a female scientist (Rosalind Franklin) who played a pivotal role in the research and is often overlooked in the textbooks. Mrs Walker made sure to give a fellow woman in science her due credit, at least in her classroom. Needless to say, Mrs Walker’s passion for teaching inspired a whole generation of kids like me to further pursue the sciences.
Women empowering women
In highlighting the representation of women in science, I now try to pay it forward – I’m part of professional organizations and meetups where women in STEM share career advice. I also use my social media platform to talk about my journey as a woman in a STEM field, in the hope that it inspires other women out there to keep going despite the odds!
Mothers inspiring their kids
Secondly, as a mother, I’m passionate about fostering a love for science in my children early on. Children are innately curious so why not channel that into something tangible?
It started a few years ago when my son was 4 years old and asked me a question about rainbows. That led to me buying a $2 prism from Lazada and using that to create rainbows at home for a real-life demo!
My Instagram page is an extension of this real-life interest – I often share easy science activities that one can do using items easily found at home. In doing so, I hope to make science approachable and fun for other moms and their kids out there.
The International Day of Women in Science aims to highlight many of the systemic issues that prevent equal access and participation in science for women and girls. In my own small way, I want to smash the stereotypes and empower women and girls to follow their dreams!