Three Malaysian women look back at their past work that won them the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Award 2022.
The L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards was created in 1998 with the aim of improving the position of women in science. By recognising outstanding female researchers who have contributed to scientific progress. The awards are a result of a partnership between L’Oréal and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and also carries a grant of USD100,000 for each laureate.
Awards are presented every year to outstanding women scientists and, for its 2022 edition, three Malaysian scientists were picked as winners. Here are their stories.
Dr Allison Wee Kim Shan believes that society, especially here in Malaysia, has gotten over the stereotype that women in science take a back seat to the men. “But I am still not entirely convinced just yet, though,” cautiously adds the geneticist perhaps most renowned for her research focusing on using environmental DNA, or eDNA, and the metabarcoding of fish to detect overfishing and pollution in mangroves.
However, she already sees changes happening within society. And, for the scientific community at least, the gender gap, she feels, is narrowing. “Science is highly competitive. There are still many rigid systems in place that somewhat penalise work-life balance. And you know what? Self-doubt is another big challenge for some. But that’s only natural in any scientific endeavour.
This is because we are always venturing into the unknown! The best way to get over this, I feel, is to have a mentor as a guide or role model. Thus, I’ve been fortunate that my mentor during my PhD years was a postdoctoral fellow in the same lab, Dr Annika Noreen. She was very invested in my success, and was exceedingly generous with her time and advice!”
On the flipside, she sees the competitive spirit among scientists of the two genders as a key driving force in the quest for knowledge. “As such, I hope to see environmental DNA take off as a routine and widespread biomonitoring tool in South-East Asia. I also hope that, together with the scientific community and government, we can halt (and reverse!) the degradation and destruction of important mangrove marine habitats around Malaysia,” she continues. “I hope that my work encourages the younger generation to take interest in environmental protection. And develop a meaningful relationship with nature.”
The Winners Are
As a winner of the L’Oréal- UNESCO For Women in Science Award 2022, she believes that she’s now even more confident that her efforts thus far. And that of her fellow scientists from the feminine gender, have come a long way in showing that women can excel in environmental science, too. “I hope that this motivates more girls and young women to begin pursuing a career in environmental science and sustainability.”