Lab Canada

Fellowships help to increase the number of women in scientific research

Ottawa, ON – In an ongoing effort to help increase the participation of women in scientific research, last evening, at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, L’Oreal Canada and the Canadian Commission for UNESCO awarded fellowships to four doctoral and post-doctoral students. The fellowships are part of a partnership program between the two organizations that promotes and supports women’s contributions to the scientific community.

Two research fellowships were awarded – they support major research projects undertaken by women completing post-doctoral studies in Canadian universities. The objective of these fellowships is to reward excellence and allow exceptional Canadian women researchers, selected by a panel of experts, to pursue and enhance their research projects. The 2007 research fellowships have been awarded to the following candidates in the pure sciences and engineering fields:

– Josephine Tsang, from Edmonton, who is leading a post-doctoral research project at the University of Alberta on the interaction and molecular structure of prions; and

– Rowan Thomson, from Ottawa, who has just accepted a position as research associate in the Radiotherapy Laboratory in Carleton University’s department of physics and who is conducting computer simulations of radiation therapy to develop a mathematical model able to optimize treatment dosages.

Two mentor fellowships were awarded — these are granted to women in doctoral programs and encourage them to continue their studies. These laureates also participate in the Actua mentoring program, where they share their experience and passion for science with girls aged 6 to 17 at summer camps and in workshops and clubs. They have been awarded to:

– Veronique Lecault, from Mirabel, who is preparing her thesis on haematopoietic stem cell regeneration at the University of British Columbia; and

– Erin Mazerolle, from Dartmouth, who, as part of her doctoral studies, which begin in January 2008 at Dalhousie University, will seek to enrich our understanding of degenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis by confirming certain hypotheses raised in her Master’s thesis.

During the five years since the partnership was formed, L’Oreal Canada says it has already granted close to $500,000. “Research and innovation are two pillars at the very heart of the L’Oreal identity, and we firmly believe that society cannot progress without science,” said Javier San Juan, president and CEO of L’Oreal Canada.

While the total number of women attending Canadian universities has increased, women nevertheless represent only 16% of faculty members in the natural sciences and engineering disciplines, according to a report from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). Moreover, representation by women is in direct disproportion to the academic ladder; women account for 23% of assistant professors beginning a career but just 9% of full professors.

“We need to promote a more inclusive science by encouraging participation from as many different groups as possible, notably young women,” added Michele S Jean, president of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO. “This is a global problem; in countries around the world, as one moves up the ladder in scientific research, the number of women diminishes. In undergraduate programs, there is parity in 76% of countries. For graduate programs, however, women represent less than 45% of graduates, and at the doctoral level, just 17% of countries reach parity. It is extremely disturbing to see that the imbalance becomes more pronounced as studies and careers advance.”

Ms Jean continued: “When the 2007 Nobel prizes were announced for science, not one went to a woman. Of the 521 scientific Nobel prizes awarded since 1901, just 12 have gone to women, and two of these were awarded to Marie Curie. Given these statistics, it is sad but hardly surprising to learn that less than 5% of science academy members are women.”

Internationally, the L’Oreal group and UNESCO joined forces in 1998 to found the program, which aims to promote women in the science domains in all regions of the world. Since 1998, 47 L’Oreal-UNESCO Award Laureates have been recognized for their careers, and 105 UNESCO-L’Oreal International Fellows have been encouraged to pursue their scientific vocations.