8 March is International Women's day and to celebrate the occasion we at EURAXESS China would love to bring the spotlight to some of the great women scientists based in China, both Chinese and European. All of the below quotes come from our Meet the Researcher series that can be found here.
Prof Zhihong Hu, Wuhan Institute of Virology, CAS and former MSCA Fellow
How would you describe the gender balance in your field?
Let me take our institute as an example. We have programmes for graduate students. Among 255 graduate students, 53% are female. Among our staff members, 47% are female. However, at higher level, males are dominant. Among 35 PIs (principle investigators), 7 (20%) are female. Which means that female has an equal chance to participate in graduate studies and be hired as a researcher, but somehow only a few of them end up at the top level.
Dr Marie Luce Chevalier, Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences and former MSCA Fellow
In your experience, how important is mobility for researchers' careers and how feasible is this for female researchers?
I think researchers' mobility is extremely important for one's career, as it fosters new collaboration and contacts. Not only can you get familiar with a new country with different working habits (and culture), but you can also gain new skills such as language. I've lived in 4 countries so far and I will most likely live and work in a few others in my life and career. Each experience brings new perspectives. For a female scientist with a family, it is of course harder to organize short or longer term trips abroad, but not impossible.
When I was little, my role model was Marie Skłodowska-Curie. At my college entrance exam, I chose nuclear physics, which as a field was on offer only at one university – so I didn’t have to think a lot. In my career, I followed nuclear physics, and then went on to high energy physics.
Prof Min Dongchao, Director of the Centre for Gender and Culture Studies at Shanghai University and former MSCA fellow
What sparked your interest in the field [Women's Studies], and research and academia in general?
When I was a kid, I liked painting. But during Cultural Revolution, universities were closed down and the society was upside down. I worked in a factory for eight years. All the workers had been encouraged to study philosophy, and I was the head of our study group. Every weekend we read works of Mao and Marx. We didn't have a lot of books but what we had sparked my interest in philosophy. In 1977, the universities opened their doors again, and philosophy seemed like the best option. My mum who was a professor at Tianjin Normal University certainly had an influence over me. I wanted to become a teacher at the university which is another reason why I went into academia. Thanks to my mother, I knew women can do as much as men, or more. I also learned a lot from interviewing women from the generation of the May 4th Movement thanks to my research - female doctors, philosophers, and film directors.
What could be done to encourage women to choose a scientific career and to help them progress?
We need role models. The media can have both a good and bad influence - before, the norm was news about strong women and what they achieved, but we don't see this today; now the emphasis is on their feminine side.
Women have to take care of family, housework, and need support services. Those now are not as good as in my time. We had a nursery right in our institute, so I could go feed my son during a break.
What do you think is the position of young female researchers in China?
I will tell you a story about a young Chinese graduate I met who completed her masters at Imperial College London and who then applied for and was offered a fully funded PhD studentship there. She turned it down on her father’s orders as he said that having a PhD would affect her marriage prospects. I was horrified. I talked about it with my students afterwards and they said it was unusual but not unheard of. There’s a saying in China that there are three types of people in this world: men, women and women with PhDs. The casualness with which this phrase is used to dismiss educated women frustrates me. The student I mentioned came back to China as a low level secretary. And these are the most highly educated, privileged women of their generation in China! It’s such an enormous waste of talent.