FROM: INSPIRING WOMEN SERIES
We sat down with Leonor Teles-Grilo Ruivo, one of our customers to talk about science, gender-based-hierarchy in the work-place, and how one grows to be a scientist.
6 MINUTE READ
Our founder, Lucie, had met with Leonor when they were both working on their PhD research. "She stroke me as a passionate and dedicated scholar, and I got immediately interested in what she was working on since I knew little about her discipline," Lucie recalls.
When she later noticed her name among our customers, she invited her to share with us her motivation to work in neuroscience and how she grew to be a scientist.
PB: "What was your early aspiration in life, and how did it change when you were growing up?"
Leonor: "When I was little, I just wanted to play," Leonor begins her story. "Then, as an adolescent, I went through a phase when I wanted to be a graphic designer and then settled for the vision of being a scientist and winning a Nobel Prize!" she laughs and continues. "The graphic design phase came from the fact that I love making things look visually harmonious - from physical space to text pages and data tables. I had a close relationship with Arts because both of my parents are architects, and most of their friends are artists. Also, I have always been a genuinely curious person who loved math, science, and philosophy."
"I think that the real change that led me to a career in science was when I read an article about HIV research and its impact on society. It was essential for me to feel that what I would do daily, whether it is my work or volunteering, had the potential to help someone."
Empathy and altruism are invaluable qualities for a scientist. Still, before one can have a positive impact, there are usually numerous tests, he or she has to endure. As such, our second question ultimately becomes about the challenges women face in science today.Leonor: "The most significant challenge was the loneliness experienced in the lab," Leonor begins. "It is hard to notice our contribution to the world when we focus on a niche project while it's easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. Eventually, one also notices the existence of ego in science and the delay with which the new knowledge reaches a wider audience to improve lives."
Here, we can understand her pain. Slow academic publishing can be outdated by the time it reaches its readers due to the long peer-review process. What was her solution to the problem?
"I decided to get involved in education and to volunteer," Leonor says. "These are the channels where I notice my contribution and see more immediate results."
What does the field of neuroscience look like today? And what is the position of women in it? We begin to ask the tough questions.
PB: "Are there many women in your field?"
Leonor: “There are many women. In fact, at the moment, more women are doing undergraduate studies and PhDs in biological sciences than men. Unfortunately, there is an issue of gender-based-hierarchy. The numbers of women decline the higher you climb on the ‘career ladder’. Most women leave academia after their post-doc. I have also learned that women have a harder time establishing their labs and becoming professors. It is usually because their work-place and policies are not equally supportive of everyone. It’s shocking that questions related to starting a family are a part of interviews and can determine the final decision.”
PB: "Can you tell us briefly about the women who influenced your life?"
“When I was a child, I was inspired by men and women alike. Only recently, I noticed that women tend to be remarkably determined and strong. Perhaps, the unequal access to opportunity and society’s deeply engrained gender-based-hierarchy makes them the determined fighters they are. I know many independent women in my life who are aware of the situation, and also inspirational men who struggle for a better world. They acknowledge the need for working together towards the task of equality no matter the gender.”
PB: "What do you find inspiring in women?"
“I find it inspiring when my female friends recognize the fact that we are all conditioned by society and manage to break free from social constraints. When we do that, beauty unfolds, we can connect deeply with one another, express ourselves at work and in relationships and make our lives our own.”
PB: "How would you advise someone interested in your profession?"
“Try to get work experience first as a lab technician before deciding to become a Ph.D. student that will lead you to a scientific research. See how you like it. Research can be much romanticized; thus, you must get to experience the day-to-day routine of the academic culture. Then you can make a well-informed decision on whether research life is well-suited for you.”
PB: "What advice would you give to someone who is in the field already?"
“Take the initiative. Do not wait to be told what to do. Curiosity and search for answers are the very foundation of science and as important as the ability to ask for help. No matter your profession, look after yourself and remember everyone has an agenda, no matter how nice they are. So work hard, but do not forget to have fun doing it. You need to value your work if you want others to appreciate it.”
PB: “Thank you, Leonor for your time. We are certain we will have an opportunity to talk again about science, women that inspire us, and life.”
Leonor: “Thank you Phaedra Botanicals for the interview and for sharing such great blog posts and the wonderful Ex Prūnīs oil with the world!
Photos: Louis Reed & Leonor Grilo
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