What is it like to be a woman working in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) fields?

February 11, 2024

In the realm of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM), the contributions of women have historically been undervalued and underrepresented. However, as the landscape of these fields continues to evolve, so too does the role of women within them. At INL – International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory, we believe in fostering an inclusive environment where all voices are heard and celebrated.

To gain insight into the experiences of women working in STEAM fields at INL, we reached out to some of our esteemed female researchers. Their perspectives shed light on the challenges they’ve faced, the triumphs they’ve achieved, and the evolving dynamics within their respective disciplines. From groundbreaking scientific discoveries to innovative engineering solutions, these women are driving progress and shaping the future of STEAM.

Join us as we celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, celebrated on 11 February, implemented by UNESCO and UN-Women and delve into the stories, insights, and aspirations of the remarkable women researchers at INL, highlighting their invaluable contributions and inspiring journeys in the world of STEAM.

So… what is it like to be a woman working in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) fields?

Alexandra Teixeira
Associate • Medical Devices

It means facing a dynamic life, full of diverse opportunities and amazing experiences. Although it is often rewarding, it also takes courage to overcome the challenges that come with it. However, I believe it will be even greater when there are no gender distinctions. Optimal progress will occur when the strengths and unique contributions of all individuals, regardless of gender, converge harmoniously.

Beatriz Costa
Research Fellow • Ultrafast Bio- and Nanophotonics

Being a woman in the STEAM field is a daily challenge, yet highly rewarding. With a master’s in biomedical engineering, I balance roles as a researcher at INL and a PhD candidate at UVigo, contributing to the ‘Diamond4Brain‘ project—dedicated to merging 3D scaffolds with nanodiamonds to create photonics platforms. My determination pushes me forward in the photonics field, where the male presence prevails. While challenges persist, fostering equality requires collective efforts among scientists. Proactivity, through internships and networking, can significantly shape our path. In the face of challenges, I persistently strive to achieve more and make a significant impact on my scientific journey.

Filipa Lebre
Research Fellow • Nanosafety

Being a woman working in STEAM fields can be both rewarding and challenging. I was fortunate enough to have a remarkable female role model in my childhood, and a strong female mentor who encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and take challenging opportunities, so I could channel my love for science into a fruitful career. As a woman in STEM, I do not feel that I have personally faced challenges specific to my gender, however, it is clear that women still face plenty of representation issues, especially in leadership positions, and lack of institutional support to foster a healthy work-life balance. My goal is not only to excel in science but to engage and encourage young women to also follow their passion and enter STEAM fields, and to help them grow and develop in these areas.

Maria Relvas
Research Fellow • Medical Devices

I come from a background in Physics and Mathematics and even in primary school I already was more at ease with numbers than words. When a mathematical problem is solved correctly there is no way of escaping it. I think this guided my mentality throughout life. As long as I was willing to learn and as long as I could defend my ground with sound knowledge I would be heard. Or simply ignored, but this often happens in the many arguments or conversations in life itself. With science, I feel thrilled and dazzled by the possibilities ahead (most of the days). Of course, I feel utterly frustrated, but I believe it comes with the territory of working with science and trying to break boundaries. Mainly I feel blessed to be doing what I enjoy and thankful for the many women who came before me and took the biggest toll on me. They stand by my side figuratively every day of my life and I am sure it’s because of them (as well as because of all the good humans around me) that I have not felt different from any other person accompanying me in this job, way of life, I chose for me. At least so far. And I will do everything in my power for this to continue as
such, for the generations yet to come.

Nicoleta Nicoara
Staff Researcher • Nanostructured Solar Cells

My journey in the STEM field began with my decision to pursue a career in physics. Subsequently, I had the opportunity to enrol as a PhD student in Condensed Matter Physics. Nowadays, I continue my journey as a researcher, focusing on the development and application of advanced scanning probe microscopy tools and methodologies in the field of energy materials, including solar cells, batteries, and hydrogen. This journey has been challenging and rewarding, requiring hard work and perseverance. However, it has also provided opportunities to collaborate with experts in the field, utilize cutting-edge equipment, and engage with individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds, enriching me both professionally and personally. I have been fortunate not to be impacted by societal stereotypes regarding gender roles in science. Nevertheless, I am aware that gender gaps persist, and it is crucial to create more equitable environments and opportunities for women.

Natalia Spera
Research Engineer • Nanochemistry

Working in STEAM means being able to follow my curiosity and work on what I’m passionate about. The freedom to raise numerous questions and experiment to unravel the answers is incredibly fulfilling. Besides that, I can contribute to finding solutions for a more sustainable environment. As a woman, we may face subtle biases, stereotyping, or a lack of representation. These are challenges we actively confront but aim to change. Driven by our resilience and determination, we continue to break barriers and infuse the world of science with colours and tenderness, as being role models for future generations!

Olesia Dudik
Research Fellow • Water Quality

I have always been fascinated by the creative and innovative nature of scientific work. Working in STEAM allows me to realize my professional potential. In science, in the research process, I mean, there is no routine. Every day I discover something new and learn something new. Science is creativity, and I consider myself a creative person. That’s probably why I’m here.

Sara Oliveira
Staff Researcher • Food Processing and Nutrition

Along my journey, I have had the opportunity to graduate and work in various fields within STEM: biomedical engineering, bioengineering systems, tissue engineering, and food engineering. Perhaps an uncommon and challenging path, it nonetheless enriches me with diverse perspectives, knowledge and values, shaping my understanding of what transitioning from science to creating value for society means. My beliefs and passion for creating meaningful impacts drive my dreams, the formulation of ideas and the research. With resilience and adaptability, I chart a path that is not consistently free of ‘stones’. To my fellows Girls and Women in Science: let us construct a fortress from the stones we encounter along the way!

Patrícia Rodrigues
Research Fellow • Food Processing and Nutrition

Thriving in the world of STEAM, I’ve conquered challenges without letting gender hold me back. I’m steering my journey with confidence, embracing inclusivity, and fueling a passion for pushing boundaries in this dynamic field. Nonetheless, I am not only aware that I am fortunate to not have faced significant gender discrimination but also conscious that gender hierarchy discrimination is still prevalent and that all should strive to minimize it to promote true gender equality.

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Text and Photography by Gina Palha, Corporate Communication and Marketing Officer