As part of our series on women in science, I contacted several prominent female scientists and asked them some challenging questions about their experiences as women in science.
This month we hear from Dr Lisiane Meira, lecturer in toxicology at the University of Surrey, has worked in research facilities around the world.
Below she discusses the challenges faced by female scientists.
What first sparked your interest in studying science?
Back in Brazil, I had excellent science teachers, especially teaching Biology and Genetics, more specifically. Genetics just fascinated me, it all just “clicked” and made sense.
When and how did you realise that you wanted to pursue a career in scientific research?
After I finished my BSc in Biological Sciences, I knew I wanted to continue learning about Genetics and Molecular Biology. Staying on for a PhD just seemed like the natural thing to do. Getting a scholarship to do part of my PhD in France also helped – I loved travelling, had never been to Europe and wanted to know more of the world as well.
Have you experienced or observed gender discrimination during your studies or career? If yes, what was your reaction?
I was fortunate to not have experienced ‘active’ gender discrimination. That said, I think as a woman scientist, you still have to deal with gender bias and the fact that more aggressive behaviour (not often seen in a woman) is often rewarded in the work place.
How do you feel about positive discrimination (in the form of scholarships/grants etc.) that aims to create gender equality in science?
I think it is important to encourage women to have families (if they so wish) and stay active in science – so all support is welcome in this respect. The biggest barrier I have had to face was to have the confidence to know that I could do both: have my kids and a fulfilling scientific career.
Just for fun:
If you hadn’t been a scientist, what would you have been instead?
Hard to answer. Probably a medical doctor or a pathologist.
Who is your favourite female scientist of all time, and why?
Not sure I have only one. From the ones that are no longer with us, I admire Rosalind Franklin and Barbara McClintock. Among the alive ones, I much admire my former mentor Leona Samson – for being a good role model: a woman doing sound and rigorous science who is also a mother and tries to keep a good balance between work and life.
Please give a brief description of your current research.
The major focus of my research to date has been in the field of DNA repair and in particular the molecular and cellular mechanisms for recovery from DNA alkylation damage and their role in disease and ageing. Alkylating agents represent one of the most potent and abundant classes of chemical DNA damaging agents in our environment. In addition, alkylation base damage can be generated endogenously as a by-product of oxidative stress and aerobic metabolism and some of the most toxic alkylating agents are used in the treatment of cancer patients. One of the most productive aspects of my post-doctoral work was the generation and characterization of a number of models where pathways for DNA alkylation damage recovery and repair were modulated by targeted deletion or transgenic overexpression. Phenotypic endpoints examined included molecular biomarkers of exposure and histopathology as well as genomic profiling of global responses. I now continue some of this work in my new independent position at the University of Surrey.