Inspiring the next generation of women scientists

08 Mar 2023


CEPI’s women scientists explore what changes are needed to inspire more girls and women to pursue a career in science

Last month we launched our #AskWomenInScience campaign on International Day of Women and Girls in Science. We invited aspiring girl and women scientists to pose their questions about what it is like to be a woman in science to a group of CEPI’s world-leading women scientists. To mark International Women’s Day, we’ve presented their responses to create an insightful three-part series that portrays an authentic image of what it’s like to be, and succeed as, a woman in science.

Part one explored the career experiences of CEPI’s women scientists, including their best and worst career advice. In Part Two, they shared some of the greatest challenges they have faced in their scientific careers and how to overcome them. And now, in this third and final piece, they explore what changes are needed to encourage more girls and women to consider careers in science.

Questions and responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

How can we inspire more girls and women to pursue a career in science, and what tools could help us to achieve this?

Arminder Deol (Head of Data Science and Advanced Analysis): We can inspire more girls and women to pursue science by having successful female scientists give talks at school and other outreach activities. And this is something I personally try to do myself because I know at that age, I had a lot of questions but nowhere to find the answers. I think just by having that availability and the exposure it already puts science in the minds of women and girls.

June Kim (Chemistry Manufacture and Controls Lead): I believe the educational and vocational environments encouraging diversity are getting better and better. Discovering more “hidden figures” in science and making media opportunities for them to speak out more could help to inspire more girls to join science and to educate men that science/engineering is advanced by humanity as a whole.

Renske Hesselink (Chemistry, Manufacturing, and Controls Lead): Inspiring role models are very important. This is one of the things I noticed when I first joined CEPI: there are many women in senior positions, who have their own leadership style, playing to their own strengths rather than trying to imitate men. These women are certainly role models for me, and I think this can help inspire girls to pursue a career in science as well.

Amy Shurtleff (Head of Animal Models): Emphasis on education in science from a young age in school, and encouragement that this type of study is not hard, but it is challenging in a good way. All of us can do this fascinating work, not just boys.

1.6 million

Did you know: data from 1.6 million students shows that girls and boys perform similarly in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.

What changes are needed at a systemic level to attract more women into science?

Valentina Bernasconi (Head of Laboratory Science):  Salary equality, equal work opportunities, family support and the strong belief that science is not something only for men.

Renske Hesselink: A different view of what is a true leader. Leaders do not necessarily need to have the (traditionally male) characteristics of being dominant and authoritative; there are other leadership styles that can bring different benefits. Women sometimes feel they have to adapt to progress in their careers, which leads to a loss of true diversity.

Melanie Saville (Executive Director of Vaccine R&D): What we need to think about is not just necessarily women in science, but women in leadership in science. I think there’s still a gap in women in leadership positions in science. So perhaps, it’s not just about the scientific knowledge and expertise; it’s about building leadership into that as well.


Just 25-35% of leadership roles at top STEM schools in the US were occupied by women.

What can men do to better support women’s equality in science?

Amy Shurtleff: Men should support women equally in all endeavors, not just science. Attitudes roll over from social, family, education or personal areas of life into professional areas, so if we start with regular equality in all concepts, science won’t lag behind anymore either.

Melanie Saville: I think men tend to put themselves forward for new opportunities far more than women. I believe that’s why women often don’t get into leadership positions because they’re more likely to be modest in their opinion of their own abilities. So what men can do more of is put women forward for these positions and encourage them to put themselves forward to advance their career.

If you missed Part One, click here to learn about the career experiences of CEPI’s women scientists, from the best and worst career advice to their most influential role models. Or, if you want to learn about what challenges they faced and their advice for overcoming them, read Part Two here


*Image credit: USAMRID

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