Women in Science: Researchers Contribute to Fighting the Pandemic

International Day of Women and Girls in Science emphasize the importance of women in scientific and technological research

11/02/2021 - 10h32

Photo: Bruno Todeschini

There are still a number of challenges to be overcome for women to achieve equality and consolidation in science. Gender divide and lack of visibility are barriers that need to be broken broadly and consistently in different areas of society. In an effort to continue making more achievements than those already achieved in recent decades, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, on Feb 11, marks a moment of appreciation and encouragement to work in science.

During Covid-19 pandemic, science and research became even more relevant, not only for the development of vaccines, but for the development of society in different areas. At PUCRS, 144 women in our faculty also work as researchers. And even amid social distance, they continued their research and scientific helped to fight the pandemic.

PUCRS’ Dean of Research and Graduate Studies, Dr. Fernanda Morrone, highlights the importance of women in scientific production in all areas of knowledge. “Today, at our University, we have outstanding female researchers doing their research in many different areas aimed at addressing pressing problems of our days, such as Covid-19. We are proud to see that, over the years, we have produced new generations of excellent scientists working both in academia and playing leading roles in society”.

Science on the frontline

According to Dr. Magda Cunha, professor and researcher at the School of Communication, Arts and Design – Famecos, science is the only way possible to ensure the preservation of our lives with quality: “It has brought us all the way here and will certainly take us forward”, she says. She coordinated a research project that analyzed society’s and media’s narratives about the pandemic. “The findings allows us to draw a behavioral timeline in view of the crisis caused by Covid-19 in each city. An example of this behavior was the perception that cities became living organisms getting sick: that was a common point in all cultures under study. We can see that cities are not prepared, from the perspective of information, to face these crises. And we can also see a narrative effort by the media, in an attempt to raise awareness of the population”, the researcher explains.

For Ana Paula Duarte Souza, professor and researcher at the School of Health and Life Sciences, Covid-19 has raised awareness of society to science, even though the

pandemic is a challenge for scientific research. “We are ready to deliver quick responses to society and many important steps have already been taken. However, there are still many questions to be answered. I think society now recognizes how essential scientific research is”, she comments. Souza coordinated a study, published in the journal Nature, with the aim of testing therapies that improve the response to respiratory virus infection. “We believe that our findings can contribute to a better understanding of the pathology and development of new therapies or interventions”, Ana Paula highlights.

According to Soraia Musse, School of Technology professor and researcher, the interdisciplinary nature of research has been a turning point for facing society’s current problems. “For me, science is the answer to many questions. We are facing a serious pandemic and several scientific areas have joined forces to contribute. This shows the power of science to point out to solutions, but also an incredible potential for unity to solve complex problems”, she adds. Soraia coordinated the development of the LODUS platform, a crowd simulation tool that maps out the population of Porto Alegre and projects lockdowns, events in the city and estimates of Covid-19 transmission.

Existing barriers

Photo: Bruno Todeschini

Even though many researchers stand out amid the pandemic, there are still many barriers for women in science. Dr. Ana Paula Duarte de Souza points out that juggling being a mother with research is one of the biggest challenges. “Being a mother and being a researcher is a difficult task. Scientific research requires continuous development and study, not to mention that it is a very competitive career. Motherhood demands time and dedication, and that ends up having consequences on the career. It was a challenge for me to leave my young daughter at home while I came to work, I thought about giving up many times”, she says.

In areas such as the Exact Sciences, lack of women and difficulties are even more evident. “I once heard from a Computer Science student that the main problem with being a girl in groups dominated by boys is the discrimination in relation to women in this area. I think this simple example is a good representation of how girls usually feel when they get into scientific and technological research arenas in some areas of Exact Sciences”, Dr. Musse points out.

Future perspectives

Júlia Zamora, a graduate student in the School of Health and Life Sciences’ Graduate Program in Psychology, helped coordinate the handbook Isolamento durante a Covid-19 e violência dentro de casa (Isolation during Covid-19 and violence at home). The purpose of the material is to help people identify violent situations, understand their effects on health and quality of life, and get access to protection and assistance services.

The student emphasizes that opportunities such as Undergraduate Research help students get into scientific research. “At PUCRS I had the opportunity to be a research assistant and an undergraduate researcher. I can say that a carrer in research can start even while we work on our undergraduate program at graduation experimenting with it is part of the process in different ways”, she points out. Like her, around 64% of undergraduate researchers at PUCRS are women. Out of those responsible for the investigations, 48% are faculty members.

As a young researcher, Júlia emphasizes that to consolidate the place of women in Brazilian science, society and institutions need to fight gender violence and to provide decent working conditions and recognition. “Science is historically built according to the interests of those who make it. Because of that, it is essential that women increasingly occupy places in science, as they will directly or indirectly influence the development of a more egalitarian society.”

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