Nobel laureate sheds light on how inadequate support continues to beleaguer women

Emmanuelle Charpentier also gave insights into work-life balance


Nandini Sircar

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Published: Wed 25 May 2022, 5:18 PM

Lack of family, society and institutional support continues to beleaguer women in science today, as also a renewed focus on the requirement for work-life balance.

These were the thoughts of Emmanuelle Charpentier who depicted this dismal truth while giving insights virtually from Berlin, into her journey to receiving the Nobel Prize in Chemistry and her scientific breakthrough, CRISPR-Cas9.

The online event was part of the Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative (NPII), a global programme designed to help Nobel laureates share their inspirational stories.

It was held in partnership with AstraZeneca and provided a unique experience for students and scientists at the University of Sharjah and beyond.

Talking about her challenges along the way, Charpentier explained, “Getting into research as a career choice is not only a concern for women but it’s also a concern for men these days. That’s because priorities have changed. Especially, in this part of the world, young European males wants to spend more time with their family. They think more of the so called ‘work life balance’.

"But for me, I think life is work so the balances will work out. But having said this, it ended up actually being a concern for everyone…even young men for sure. During my career, I always felt that I understood on multiple occasions that I obviously was a woman because things were maybe not happening the way it could have happened. During my journey, I’ve felt let’s just be professional and actually focus on the fact that I am a scientist.”

Charpentier reiterates while a lot of support is being extended by countries and their governments to bridge gender disparities, but she still feels intrigued by the myriad reasons why not only young women but even men are ditching their careers in science.

“I think there is a lot of effort nowadays to support women, at least in Europe. But I feel sorry to see a lot of young women leaving the field. But it’s also the case with men because they think it’s going to be very difficult to balance your professional career in academia and family. The only advice that I have is to really focus on the science. What I tried in my life is not to see too much on the left and right, and to ignore certain situations and instead focus on what was my ultimate goal. This goal initially was very humble I just wanted to stay in academia. Staying in academia and having a career in it required a little bit of fighting. But I wanted to be a part of the system,” she added.

In 2020, Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna became the first all-female team to win a Nobel prize for their breakthrough research on CRISPR technology.

The technique is apparently now used to genetically modify organisms for everything from routine laboratory research to agricultural uses and even cancer therapies. Talking about success, she said, “There is no set recipe. The journey is different from one person to another because the conditions are always different. Sometimes, women don’t support one another. Men tend to have a close network, but women always don’t have that advantage. Therefore, I feel the mix of men and women for (any team/collaboration) is good. I think men realise now that it’s also nice to work with a woman. This brings out different ways of thinking, different ways to approach a situation. Multiculturalism and gender balance are key for creativity, development, progress, and innovation,” Charpentier added.

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