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Julie Gould 00:09

Hello, and welcome to Working scientist, a Nature Careers podcast. I’m Julie Gould.

This is the second episode in the series about female scientists in Latin America.

In the previous episode we heard from Monica Stein, the vice rector for research, partnership and collaboration at the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala, based in Guatemala City, about the infrastructure, or lack thereof, to support female scientist in Latin America.

One of the barriers that she mentioned was that there is little or no encouragement for women to do STEM, (science, technology, engineering or math subjects) at a school level.

Monica Stein: 01:02

If you want to do science you have to start inspiring people and demonstrating to people that that’s achievable from a very young age.

In general, many Latin American countries have trouble inspiring vocations in science and technology, because math is an issue.

And that is very disparate between men and women in Latin America and in the entire world.

So there’s cultural norms and perceptions.

Julie Gould 01:31

When Carolina Brito started out at university, (she’s now a physics professor at the Federal University of Rio Grande de Sul, Brazil), she realized that she was one of few women in her cohort.

Carolina Brito 01:44

As a woman, of course I knew when I was young that there was few women in physics. But for me, it was not a problem. It was just a fact.

You know, and then I’m gonna start to read the statistics. And I started seeing that the women was losing position along the career, and that was quite universal.

I said, “There is a problem here.”

You know, it’s not because women, not that every single woman on earth, goes to work to succeed.

Julie Gould 02:10

So about 10 years ago, Carolina started working with a colleague on a project called girls in science, or Meninas an Ciencia. Sorry if I butchered that.

Carolina Brito 02:20

And the idea at the beginning was to attract a woman to do STEM fields. Let’s say engineering, physics, or chemistry or computational or computation, informatics.

And to do that, what we do, we several reactions. What we do we bring girls into the university, you know, we bring them to several meetings, and they go there to visit the labs, to talk to women.

And this is an action that is quite interesting, because we realized that the problem, the social economic problem in Brazil, is quite strong.

Because when we do that there are several girls who have never met someone who have been to university.

So many of them, they don’t know that there is a public university in which they could, they could enter. So we see that. It’s beyond a gender problem.

Julie Gould 03:16

They also go out into the public schools to show experiments and experiences where current students and professors from STEM subjects share their stories with the young students.

Caroline Brito: 03:27

It’s a model, you know, to make women know that it’s possible to follow such or such career.

Julie Gould 03:32

And although it’s hard to measure impact directly….

Caroline Brito: 03:36

We are now starting seeing that we can make some difference in more group of girls that that’s what we believe now.

For example, last year, we have, we put out the university, and now we have two girls who decided to do physics because of that.

Julie Gould 03:54

One of those girls is Jessica German. Jessica is 19 and is about to start her undergraduate physics degree.

Her fascination with physics started during the COVID 19 pandemic, when she was in lockdown.

She started watching science YouTube videos to get a better understanding of what was happening with the virus.

But it was the physics and astronomy videos that really caught her attention.

Jessica Germann 04:16

That was the beginning for me in science.

Julie Gould 04:20

It wasn’t until she was asked by her Portuguese literature teacher to write an essay about anything she wanted.

Jessica Germann 04:24

So I started to think of the subjects we studied, and on that year at a physics class. And I had an interest in particle physics. So I wrote an article about it.

And later and the professor, my literature professor, she talked to me and emailed me and said that I should try to publish your article.

So I talked to my physics professor and we rewrote the article, and we tried to publish it. But we couldn’t finish because of pandemic and everything.

And the school calendar was all messed up. But during this process I learned that I really like to study and to write about when I’m studying, and I really liked physics.

I figured that I just wanted to do it, the same thing I was doing for the rest of my life.

Julie Gould 05:26

Jessica was lucky to have such support at a school level from her teachers. As we heard from Monica Stein and Carolina Brito, this isn’t universally available, which is why Carolina started the girls in science program.

And Jessica took part in this program. She found the Girls in Science via social media and applied to participate,

Jessica Germann 05:45

I was at an event to visit the federal university from our state, Rio Grande de Sul.

The program consisted of five meetings at the university, where I and the other participants, (all participants were girls about same age and same school year), we could meet the staff in earth science institute, and we met several women working in the fields, such as professors, researchers, and also other students.

Julie Gould 06:17

And what was it what was it like to see and meet all of those people at the university?

Jessica Germann 06:23

And this was a great opportunity for me to learn more about the careers in science, and to meet other girls who share the same goal as me.

More individually, it was an important experience to discover what the future would hold for me if I decided to pursue a career in science.

Julie Gould 06:44

So what did you learn? What does the future hold for you?

Jessica Germann 06:49

I can be a lot of things being a girl in science. I could be a math teacher or a maths researcher.

Or a physician who works in particle, quantum physics field, or anything, I think I was really inspired by the people I met there.

Julie Gould 07:11

Jessica took the opportunity to speak with current students and professors to really figure out what she wanted to do, because she did have some doubts,

Jessica Germann: 07:20

Will I have support if I choose to pursue a career in science?

Because I know structurally, mostly in Brazil, that women are not very supported.

And also if I wanted to be a teacher, professor or a researcher, so I think what was more important was they could see many examples of successful women in science at this university.

And I also experienced a little bit of the welcoming community of students, girls students, in the university.

So this inspired me and made, and made me feel that I belonged that place, too, because it’s something very hard for women, I think, to feel that they belong in these places.

Julie Gould 08:13

After the course Jessica took some time to reflect on what she learned.

Jessica Germann 08:17

And I came to the conclusion that, “Okay, this is going to be hard. This is going to be a challenge. But also I think it’s going to be great and a great experience.”

And seeing so many examples of women in this career that are acquiring some things and great things. I think it’s made me feel like I also can do it.

Julie Gould 08:42

So although Carolina Brito is excited that Jessica and the other students are starting their career in physics this year, when she looks further into the future, she finds it hard to see a clear path for women to become more visible in science in Latin America.

Carolina Brito: 08:56

I’m positive in one sense, in the sense that I see, and it’s very clear that the new generation, they have much, much more feminist, they understand much more the place in the sense that they know that women they can do whatever they want.

However, deeply in the society, I don’t know how much it’s gonna change. Because I don’t know how much of this discussion we will transform the society in the sense that how much they will make an action to transform?

But from the other side, which is quite worrying, is that we elected a fascist guy last the last election, which was Bolsonaro.

And we had guy for four years in the in the power, I have mixed feelings about that, from one side, an optimist from the other side, things carry on with what’s going to be the future of Brazil.

But I cannot make any clear prediction for the moment to see if it’s going to be better or not. And just just observing that people are getting more conscious about this minority issues, which is quite nice.

Julie Gould 10:08

Political instability has an impact on a lot of science in the region, not just the female ones.

But in the next episode we’ll hear from two young paleontologists who are really feeling the pressure. Thank you to Carolina Brito and Jessica Germann for sharing their stories with us.

And thank you to you for listening. I’m Julie Gould.

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