Women dominate rice scientist awards

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  • At least 75 per cent of the female winners aged 35 and under were Asian
  • The winners were chosen on the merit of a paper they wrote as the lead author
  • A study however shows young women are still overlooked in scientific circles

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[MANILA] Women scientists recently got a boost as 16 women, aged 35 and under, won the new and highly coveted distinction of Young Rice Scientist (YRS).

Women made up more than half of the 29 winners who were announced at the Fourth International Rice Congress (IRC) in Bangkok, Thailand (27 October to 1 November). At least 75 per cent of the female winners were Asian.

All the winners were chosen based on the merit of a paper they submitted in which they were the lead author. Their names, work affiliations and other identifying characteristics were withheld from a panel of judges composed of respected members of the rice science community.

“It is high time that women scientists, especially Asian female scientists, were recognised and applauded for their scientific capabilities and contributions,” Bruce Tolentino, the deputy director general of communications and partnerships at the Philippine-based International Rice Research Institute, the main organiser of the congress, tells SciDev.Net.

“That the majority of the young scientists recognised at the IRC are women ensures that more and more women will be enabled to achieve their proper role in science and society,” Tolentino says.

Winners were given an all-expenses paid trip to attend the IRC where they presented their work and were given an opportunity to make valuable contacts.

Christine Jade Dilla-Ermita, a 31-year-old Filipina geneticist, says she probably would not have been able to afford to go to Bangkok had it not been for the award.

“At the beginning of the year, it's my supervisor who decides who goes to which meeting,” says Dilla-Ermita. “Not everyone can go to all of them because of budget constraints.”   

The YRS award comes at a time when research shows that young women continue to be overlooked in scientific circles.

According to a 2012 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), biologists, chemists and physicists will give preferential treatment to young men over their female peers even if they share the same qualifications. Those who did hire women, offered a salary generally US$4,000 less than for the men.

Mark Lynas, a visiting fellow at Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and one of the speakers at the congress, says that young women, just like all young scientists, could feel slightly disconnected from the larger science community so it is important to recognise and embrace them.

“For the next generation to see themselves as part of that bigger picture, to give them the drive and the belief that what they’re doing is potentially going to change the world, that’s what’s being celebrated [with this award],” Lynas tells SciDev.Net.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South-East Asia & Pacific desk.