By Teresa Lambe
Tomorrow (11 February 2023) marks the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, a day set aside by the United Nations to promote, ‘the full and equal access and participation of females in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.’
Why diversity matters in science
Over the last decade of research on pandemic sciences, I’ve seen time and again the value of diversity – of all types and going beyond personal characteristics – in the teams where I work.
There is significant evidence that diverse groups, including people with a variety of life experiences, lead to different approaches being taken and a more innovative work culture.
In science, this not only leads to a broad range of solutions to the complex global health challenges we are facing in 2023, it also encourages all opinions, experience and beliefs to be valued and fosters collaboration.
Building successful, diverse and creative STEM research teams will only be possible if we can encourage a wider range of voices and perspectives into STEM careers.
And developing a more diverse pipeline of young scientific talent starts by enthusing and sparking young minds.
Advice for young scientists
So to mark this day, I’m reflecting what advice I wish someone had given me, as a teenager who was interested in a career in science.
- Plans are great, but being adaptable is better. In science, not everything is going to go to plan. But that’s OK, and in fact our plans failing is even better. Without mistakes, how would we ever improve? Getting everything right all the time kills innovation, kills flexible thinking and kills originality. It is through failure we really learn.
- Follow where your curiosity leads. Vaccine science prior to 2019 had long suffered from years of disinvestment. Scientists frequently had funding refused as vaccine development was not deemed significantly important, particularly for devastating infectious disease in low- and middle-income countries, such as Ebola virus disease. We persevered, and only through this painstaking, relatively unappreciated (at the time) work, were we able to rapidly pivot when COVID-19 hit. Working at the things you love shouldn’t be hard… but sometimes there will be obstacles and overcoming these challenges helps us truly value what can be achieved.
- Choose a role model carefully. Having a role model, coach or mentor is really important. They can be from any walk of life. Look for the best in people but remember no person is perfect. Most of all, remember to be yourself. I’ve often looked to those around me for inspiration and a catchphrase I’ve especially warmed to is: ‘Be Bold, Be Brilliant, Be Kind (especially to yourself!)’
Professor Teresa Lambe is co-developer of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine and has worked for more than a decade on vaccine development for infectious diseases including Ebolavirus, Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever virus (CCHF) and MERS.