Women in Science
Professor Francesca Spagnoli
I am a Professor at King's College London where I lead a research group working on stem cell therapies for curing diabetes. After graduating from Medical School in Rome, I received my Ph.D. in Genetics from the Pasteur Institute in Paris, France. I then did a postdoc at The Rockefeller University, New York, USA. In 2008, I established my research group at the Max Delbrück Center in Berlin, Germany, where I initiated new lines of investigation on the control of pancreatic cell identity. More recently, I relocated with my laboratory to London to join the Centre for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine at King's College London. I am also the coordinator of a European consortium on bioengineering pancreatic tissue and the Director of a Wellcome Trust PhD programme.
About my personal experience as ‘woman in science’: when I was young, I didn't think much of being a girl in STEM. I wasn't different or unusual. I had working parents (one is an academic) who raised me as there were no distinction between men and women—both genders are equally driven by their passion. So, I consider myself as a scientist who happens to be female.
That said, there is no doubt that being a woman in science nowadays is much better than before. When I look at group pictures of old conferences, I am always shocked by the number (very few!) of women in those pictures. In the past 2-3 decades, the situation has improved and evolved dramatically, nevertheless there are still challenges to overcome. These obstacles and prejudices are more global, systemic and apply not only to gender but also race, ethnicity, nationality, class, language, disabilities. I believe the only recipe is to bring in diversity and increase openness into academia - this will eliminate sexism and gender bias and other forms of discrimination.
I have never thought much about the ‘imposter syndrome’. Never had to cope with it. I recently read a very interesting article about it in the Harvard Business Review magazine. In this piece, the journalists suggested to stop misdiagnosing women with ‘imposter syndrome’. We have the tendency to misinterpret confidence with competence and with leadership. This is wrong and women / scientists who may have a different style in talking in public or answering questions, which do not conform with the typical very self-confident-biased social styles, might be told they have ‘imposter syndrome’. So, using this misdiagnosis of ‘imposter syndrome’ we direct our efforts toward fixing women at work instead of fixing the places where women work. I think the solution is not to fix individuals but to create a diverse environment that fosters a variety of leadership styles.
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