As a scientist I have fairly limited engagement with the arts as part of my day-to-day routine. Being part of Women on Walls is certainly a departure from analysing fossils and working in the lab. As such it’s been an interesting journey!
Sitting or rather, standing for the painting gives plenty of time to reflect on my career, the project, and about science more generally. I’m a geologist by training and I’m very lucky in that there is a good gender balance in my field at undergraduate, postgraduate and postdoctoral level, so I personally never had to consider the issue of gender in the earlier stages of my academic career. My academic tutors and mentors never questioned the ability or suitability of women to work as a geologist or palaeontologist.
However, as with most other scientific disciplines, female role models at more advanced career stages are relatively rare. This is pretty striking within Ireland in particular, almost all of the permanent academic staff in geology /palaeontology at Irish third level institutions are male. It’s not easy to explain why this is the case, but I think that family is a big issue for female scientists, when is best to take the time out to start a family, fears about the potential impact of maternity leave on your career, and your ability to keep up with research when you’ve got young children at home. I have two kids under five years old and it’s not easy to juggle family and work but I don’t perceive it as being any more difficult than for other, non-scientific jobs. In fact, my job affords me great flexibility, if the kids are ill, I can take the time to be with them and work back the time later, over a couple of evenings or a weekend. I’m lucky to have excellent peer-to-peer support within my research network, and with female colleagues working in other research fields at UCC.
All of us who are part of the Women on Walls project are doing really innovative and exciting science, and between us I think we capture a very broad range of research topics. My hopes for the project is that it will enhance the visibility of women in science in Ireland and as a result will both stimulate interest in scientific careers among girls and will demonstrate the viability of scientific careers for women.