Brussels, 01 Nov 2005
The European Life Scientist Organization (ELSO) has established a 'database of expert women in the life sciences' in order to try to give more visibility to female European researchers in the field.
Although women make up around half of all students and postdocs in the life sciences, they are still chronically under-represented in senior research positions, according to ELSO. The same is true at conferences, where the number of speakers rarely meets the 35 per cent target set by ELSO's career development committee.
'There are a few truly remarkable women who are now routinely on the radar screen, but many women doing good science still remain invisible compared to their male peer group,' writes US biologist Susan Forsburg in the journal Women in Cell Biology. 'This matters, because the exposure on the podium can significantly affect careers by exposing the speaker to potential postdocs, collaborators, job opportunities, or prizes - and, of course, further speaking opportunities.'
ELSO hopes that the database will help to identify qualified female scientists, not only to speak at conferences, but also as candidates for professorships, to participate in advisory groups and committees, to review manuscripts and to serve on the editorial board of journals.
The database is open for applications from qualified women, and already has nearly 300 of Europe's top female molecular cell biologists listed. The database's creator, ELSO career development committee member Karla Neugebauer, says: 'Some senior women have told me they are reluctant to join the database, because they already get a lot of invitations and feel over-burdened. This reflects the fact that women who are already visible are asked over and over again. Paradoxically, senior women may actually receive fewer but more appropriate invitations as a result of the database [...]. Meanwhile, junior women will be happy to receive some of the attention they deserve.'
Commenting on the new database, Susan Gasser, director of the Friedrich Miescher Institute in Basel, Switzerland, said: 'From my point of view, it is extremely useful for identifying women from outside my field as speakers and to serve on committees. It's going to open the eyes of young women to just how many women are active in research, and it will help us to build a community spirit among women researchers who are often too few and far between.'