Skip to main content
09 Feb | 2024

We join the celebration of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science

The Pasqual Maragall Foundation and the Barcelonaβeta Brain Research Center (BBRC) we join, once again, in the celebration of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science on February 11, declared in 2015 by the General Assembly of United Nations. The aim of this commemoration is to promote the full and equal participation of women and girls in education, training, employment, and decision-making processes in science, and to eliminate all kind of discrimination against women in the spheres of education and employment. This year, we talk to three women from the BBRC about their careers in the field of research and access to the scientific world: Ana Fernández Arcos, Researcher and Neurologist; Esther Jiménez, Laboratory Technician; and Andreea Rădoi, Clinical Life Cycle Project Manager.

On the other hand, on February 14, Dr. Ana Fernández Arcos will take part in a talk for primary school students at Escola Parc del Guinardó, coordinated by the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB). On the same day, Dr. Natàlia Vilor-Tejedor, leader of the BBRC's Genetic Neuroepidemiology and Biostatistics team, will also offer a talk to primary school students from the Bora Gran Serinyà School, as part of the #100tífiques initiative, organized by the Catalan Foundation for Research and Innovation (FCRI) and the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology (BIST), and to secunday school students of the Arnau Cadell School.

What prompted you to undertake a scientific career?

Ana Fernández Arcos: Since I was a child I have liked the sciences, studying and discovering that the more I delve into a subject, the more curiosity and more questions arise. It was very clear that I wanted to work in contact with people, so I studied Medicine and then Neurology, because I find the brain fascinating. When I specialized in sleep disorders, I realized the possibilities of researching something that we all do, since we spend a large part of our lives sleeping, but which still has many unknowns.

Esther Jiménez: While I was working as a clinical analysis technician in a hospital, I was offered a position as a research technician. I threw myself into it and thus discovered my vocation. I met dedicated people, willing to work very hard to find answers that can help a lot of people. In research there is no time to be bored, it is constantly changing, and you always have to learn new things, ask yourself new questions and be creative.

Andreea Rădoi: I have always been curious to understand how the mind and brain work, how people think and feel, what makes us act in one way or another. These questions can only be answered from science, especially from neuropsychology. Research is what has allowed me to approach these issues and contribute in my own way.

What advice would you give to young people who want to be scientists?

AF: The scientific career is long, and you have to be patient and put in a lot of effort. It can get sacrificed. That is why I would advise them to enjoy the journey, to find what they like best and have an interest in it.

EJ: I would recommend them to look for the scientific field that most excites and motivates them, since science requires a lot of commitment. You have to persevere and not give up, it's a challenging career, but very rewarding when you get results. It is also important to find a good mentor who will help you in the process of developing your skills and know how to take advantage of all opportunities.

AR: I would tell them not to be afraid to make mistakes and to look for situations that allow them to continue learning. Above all, they should choose a good team that will support them and at the same time challenge them to outdo themselves. Science is a long-distance team sport. Good projects are collaborative and together with their colleagues they will go further.

Can you tell us what your task is at the BBRC?

AF: On the one hand, I work within the Clinical Operations team and make visits with our volunteer participants to collect clinical data that will serve us for research. It is fantastic to be part of this team and the opportunity to maintain direct contact with the participants. On the other hand, I am also part of the Clinical Research team, where we investigate different factors that could pose a risk of suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Specifically, I collaborate in the interpretation of sleep data in the Alfa Sleep study, where we look at the relationship of different sleep variables with Alzheimer's disease.

EJ: I am a Laboratory Technician for the Fluid Biomarkers Platform. In my day-to-day, I analyze biomarkers in the different types of samples we have, using tools like SIMOA or MSD. We are also working to develop other techniques that allow us to analyze new biomarkers. In addition, I am in charge of the maintenance of the equipment and materials of the laboratory.

AR: As a Clinical Project Manager in the Scientific Coordination team, I deal with projects involving participants from all BBRC research cohorts, from design to closure. Above all, I try to harmonize their execution when several projects require the implication of the same participants at the same time, and to increase the value of the results of different projects that can be complementary.

How do you think equal access for all people to the scientific world can be guaranteed?

AF: It is key to provide quality public education so that boys and girls can have the same access to a training base that will then allow them to choose what they will do in the future. On the other hand, boys and girls must be stimulated in the same way from an early age, allowing them to choose games and activities within their personal preferences and avoiding imposing gender roles throughout parenting. I also consider it very important that there are references in the media of women scientists of all races and ethnicities, and that they appear there not only for their achievements, but also giving opinions on technical and research aspects.

EJ: I would start by promoting inclusive education from childhood, ensuring that science training is accessible and quality for all, from the earliest stages, providing adequate resources and eliminating gender, ethnic and socio-economic biases. It is also important to improve scholarship programs and project funding, and to encourage collaboration between centers.

AR: My answer to such a difficult question can fall short. In terms of career access, educational and employment policies in academia and the scientific industry are very disparate globally. In my opinion, the problem is not so much university access, but how to retain less privileged people and how to push diversity towards the higher stages of research careers and scientific bodies. For example, even in fields where the number of women graduates is similar to that of men, the proportion that accesses research careers is, at best, 30%, and with worse contractual and salary conditions. In addition, open science requires the transparent and democratic dissemination of scientific results and a popular communication accessible to all audiences. In this sense, it is necessary to give fair visibility to the female contribution to scientific results.