On the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, discover the experiences of three passionate scientists in different stages of their careers, who have received support from the NATO Science for Peace and Security (SPS) Programme.
Celebrated every year on 11 February, this International Day was established in 2015 by the United Nations to promote equal access and participation of women and girls in science and technology. NATO encourages women’s participation in science as not only a matter of equality, but also as an investment in greater and more diverse ideas that can help shape the future of international security.
The following stories bring forward the experiences of three women scientists from both NATO and partner countries who are collaborating with NATO in the framework of the Science for Peace and Security (SPS) Programme. Speaking from different stages of their careers, they share their perspectives and experiences as women in science.
Dr Ikram Ghouili credits her supervisors – women scientists with extraordinary skills and strong values – for motivating her in her career. “I feel really fortunate to be surrounded by such women scientists who are incredible sources of inspiration and support,” she says.
Dr Ghouili holds a Ph.D. in Neuroscience and has nearly two years of experience as a university instructor and researcher. She currently works as a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of Clinical Biology at the National Institute of Neurology in Tunis, Tunisia. She is participating in the SPS project “EnZIL”, which aims to create a new, efficient, competitive, feasible technology for the decontamination of chemical warfare agents (CWA) from the environment.
Dr Ghouili’s experience as a young scientist in her field has been mostly positive. “I have never felt discriminated against as a woman in science.” However, she also notes that “A career in research is not easy. It requires, apart from passion, a lot of work, patience, engagement and perseverance”.
“My advice to young girls and women scientists is to trust your gut, believe in yourself and that what you do can change society and science.”
Ph.D. student Dominika Capková praises the efforts of her supervisor, an inspiring woman scientist, in establishing a stimulating workplace and enabling opportunities to launch her scientific career. “Successful women scientists and role models can have such a positive impact on young women scientists and on girls who are thinking about a scientific career”, she says.
Ms Capková decided to study chemistry and physical chemistry at the Pavol Jozef Šafárik University in Košice, Slovakia after discovering her innate curiosity for science. She participated in an SPS project that investigated new materials for battery components with significantly improved reliability, power density and efficiency. In the next stages of her career, she plans to build on this experience to gain more skills in the field of lithium-ion and post-lithium-ion batteries, and to establish new collaborations with international colleagues.
“To be a scientist is to be full of passion, creativity, innovation and knowledge. Good mentors and colleagues are also important to keep you motivated to wake up in the morning and look forward to your work.”
Prof. Ketevan Kupatadze is a Doctor of Science and a full professor at Ilia State University in Tbilisi, Georgia. She has over 20 years of experience researching and teaching natural sciences, and is a shining example of the inspirational women who Dr Ghouili and Ms Capkova credit with motivating and enabling their careers.
She is determined to encourage and support other women and girls to pursue careers in this field. To this end, Prof. Kupatadze also emphasises education outside of lecture halls and has published popular science articles that inspire girls to follow a scientific path.
Prof. Kupatadze’s mother was also a scientist and set the example that piqued Prof. Kupatadze’s interest. “With each new study I become more and more convinced that I have found my place, because the endless search for something new is the drive of my life,” she says.
Prof. Kupatadze’s experience benefits her as the co-director of an SPS project that will develop an interactive, multilingual, multi-source platform to manage the diffusion of chemical and biological agents in real time. This platform will help to protect civilians and first responders in the aftermath of incidents and attacks involving chemical or biological agents, particularly in urban areas. She is grateful for the opportunity to engage in new research activities through NATO: “The SPS Programme is really exceptional in this regard, as it allows us to participate in new studies and explore new directions”.
How does the Science for Peace and Security Programme help?
The SPS Programme supports civil scientific cooperation to address emerging security challenges. It brings together scientists, experts and officials from NATO and partner countries who jointly lead SPS activities. Participation in these activities helps to build and expand international scientific networks between NATO and its partner countries, and is open to scientists and experts without gender bias. SPS projects provide stipends, learning opportunities and a platform for young researchers to work with mentors in the early stages of their career.