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  • Award encourages female scientists in developing world

An award for young women scientists in developing nations is helping to motivate female researchers and assist them in overcoming cultural barriers.

The 2011 OWSD (Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World) Award for Young Women Scientists from the Developing World recognised biologists, physicists, chemists and mathematicians from Argentina, Bangladesh, Cuba, Egypt, India, Jordan, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa; mathematicians and physicists from India and Mexico; and chemists from Egypt and Nigeria.

"[Winning the award] gave me a huge push forward to write research proposals, mentor new graduate students and spend more time in the lab," Lubna Tahtamouni, chair of the department of biology and biotechnology at the Hashemite University in Jordan, and a recipient of an OWSD award, tells Times Higher Education.

She says that, in Jordan, smart women are "labelled as unattractive, not feminine enough or even masculine," and told to prioritise their family and household, adding that "many times over the years I thought of leaving academia because of the frustrations".

The OWSD award, she says, "made all the disappointments go away".

The awards were presented at an international symposium, Women in Science and Engineering, in Malaysia, last September. They are supported by a grant from the Elsevier Foundation.

"It is important to highlight that women, even from developing countries, are doing great things: making breakthroughs, contributing to advances in medicine, science, chemistry and engineering — becoming leaders and experts in their fields," says another researcher honoured in the 2011 awards, Denise Evans from South Africa.

But, although such awards open many doors to women scientists, they often wish to stay in their home countries and advance science there, despite the difficulties they face.

"If I can make a change or impact the life of one student (especially a female student), then my work in Jordan and 'sacrifices' are worth it," says Tahtamouni.

Many of the winners already have international experience, which often helps launch their careers back home.

After completing her PhD in chemistry in Argentina, Silvina Pellegrinet did a postdoctorate at the University of Cambridge, only to return to a fruitful career in Argentina.

In addition to support from her family, Pellegrinet also highlights the government's role in enabling her career success "because I always attended public (and therefore free) educational institutions and because the national research council funded my PhD, my postdoc and my career as a scientist".

Link to full article in Times Higher Education

Link to SciDev.Net's Spotlight on Overcoming gender barriers in science

See below for an Elsevier Foundation video of the awards ceremony: