On 8 March 2019, with the support from the members of Bio-IT, Staff Association, Equality and Diversity Committee and LGBTQ+ committee at EMBL Heidelberg, I co-organised a skill-building and networking event under the title “International Women’s day: ‘TheyForShe’ Networking and Skill-Building Event“.
On March 7th, the event was launched with an Inspirational Seminar by Edith Heard, the EMBL Director General, who shared her career and life story in her talk “Life with two X chromosomes”. This seminar was organised by Sofya Mikhaleva from EMBL Equality & Diversity Committee and chaired by Cristina Viéitez.
“Life with two X chromosomes…requires some navigation and courage. - Edith Heard.”
Photo Mosaic Of Marie Curie Created With 1,807 Images Of Utah Women In Chemistry
Inspirational seminar events aim to present personal stories of women researchers who in their own words share how they followed their career path. In her talk, Edith talked about drawing her inspiration from Marie Curie, who, besides being a double Nobel laureate, was an inspirational scientist and a feminist role model in science. With a strong emphasis on mentorship, Edith gave credits for her passion for science and knowledge to all the people who encouraged, inspired and mentored her. Edith also presented her work on understanding X-chromosome inactivation (XCI), the epigenetic process that silences one of female’s two X chromosomes during development. When asked “If she feels that it’s an extra workload on her to be a role model for women?”, she responded that she sees it as her duty and requested everyone, both women and men researchers, to consciously support their students and colleagues.
On the International Women’s Day, on 8 March, we wanted to show our gratitude towards the brilliant women researchers and colleagues and offer them a platform to meet with each other and pick a skill (or two) on the way. This event was attended by 70 participants from both scientific and non-scientific domains at EMBL.
What is in the name ‘TheyForShe’?
TheyForShe is a non-binary take on HeForShe, which is a solidarity campaign for the advancement of gender equality, initiated by the United Nations. This is to imply, that even though the event is to celebrate for our female colleagues, we invited everyone interested in joining one or multiple sessions at the event.
Sponsored by Bio-IT and EDC, we ran 5 sessions: guided discussion on Ally Skills, transferable skill in Project Management, technical skill in GitHub for collaborative Documentation, hands-on storytelling skill, and group discussion on Open Science for gaining visibility. The different sessions were attended by participants from varying backgrounds and interests.
The Ally-Skill training is originally developed by Valerie Aurora in Frameshift Consulting. A Intentionally kept as the first session of the day, Ally-Skill session invited participants to understand the terminologies and basic skills of being an ally. A one-hour session was delivered by Paul Sanchez, Sofya Mikhaleva, Katja Ovchinnikova and me.
A number of scenarios were given for the group discussions and discussed together with everyone. With a combination of informative presentation and interactive format in the group discussion, participants were exposed to general situations where they can step up as an ally to their colleagues and extend support to people from socially marginalised groups. Our participants appreciated this session and showed interest in organizing a longer version of this training. Read this a blog by Katja for more detail.
The Project Management session was one of the most popular sessions of the day. Project management is the practice of initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing the work of a team to achieve specific goals and meet specific success criteria at the specified time. This session was conducted by the professional project managers Simone Bell (Huber Group) and Ulrike Trojahn (Bork/Zeller). This hands-on transferable-skill session introduces participants to the main principles and practices of project management that they can use in their work.
The GitHub session for open and collaborative document development was run by me. Working with many people on a single project involves many challenges in both planning and running a project that requires the collecting and analysing of data, co-development, sharing, and updating documentation. The process of “version control” to manage contributions on shared working documents is made easy by using the web-based application of GitHub. The participants learned to use GitHub to create documents related to their projects, involving collaborators, record their contributions, track all the versions of documents and make their resources available for public/publications ( Reference Mozilla Science).
The last two sessions Open Science for visibility and Storytelling in Science ran in parallel. The former session led by Tobias Wenzel, Ioanna Ydraiou and I, focused on the practical ways of making research outputs more publicly visible and independently assess-able, in order to make researchers less dependent on reference letters (more information see here and here). The later session was led by Adam Gristwood, who designed a session to inspire how each of us can become a storyteller of our work by using some key techniques that engage our audience.
The event included 4 networking sessions, including the EDC supported “Women in science lunch” session. Prof. Dr. Paola Picotti from ETH Zurich from the Department of Biology Institute of Molecular Systems Biology was the speaker at this lunch. Attended by ~30 attendees, this session included a number of questions about work-life balance, personal challenges that women are prone to face (lost time during pregnancy), prioritizing projects and navigating through the different scientific paths. Paola, who is an extremely successful researcher in the field of protein-metabolite interaction. For her success, she gives credit to her supervisors who gave her challenging projects because they believed in her and coached her to run her own lab. She encouraged us to gain experiences by collaborating with different labs, be in as many places as possible when in the early career stage and be confident of our own skills.
Among the casual networking sessions, we also had a chance to meet the various EMBL colleagues who offer training opportunities to EMBL researchers in the evening networking session sponsored by the Staff Association. Elizabeth Zielonka, the manager of external scientific courses represented EICAT; Rone Pawson, the training and development officer, represented Human Resources; and Eva Haas, the Education Officer represented European Learning Laboratory for the Life Sciences. Antje Keppler and David Puga hosted a table to represent the LGBTQ+ community at EMBL, and Adam gristwood and Ayesha Asif hosted a table to represent Staff Association. They exchanged ideas on what their services and communities have to offer to EMBL members and how they plan to improve the visibility of their respective work within EMBL and beyond.
Overall the event was a success and was well received by the participants. Unlike other events that I had organised at EMBL so far, this event allowed me to bring non-researchers in the same space as sponsors, instructors, and learners. People liked the short formats of these sessions which did not demand their full workday, however many requested us to offer a longer version of a few session that we could offer in a 1-2 hour sessions.
The main motivations behind this event were 1) to openly talk about the nature of support women need in science, 2) how one can become an ally to their colleagues who face certain disadvantages, and 3) how to engage with the underrepresented minority groups, including women on campus and encourage them to exchange technical skills. Given the participation, engagement, and feedback, the event was a success. However, there are some existing issues that pose challenges to organise such events. For example, I had asked the event attendees if they would like to be involved in EDC activities on campus, to which only less than 25 percent participants indicated their willingness which makes it hard for us to gauge the interest of people in participating at such events.
Other challenges include lack of low-barrier funding to pay for basic requirements of the event, availability of EMBL staff as trainers, topics of interests for the networking and skill-building sessions, and lack of support in organising such events. Over the next month, I will be exploring these issues with the different communities at EMBL and I hope to host similar events in the future. You can check the official page and a complete schedule of this event is available on the official page.
If you are interested in getting more information on any of these sessions, feel free to drop me a line by emailing email@example.com.
Header image of the hosts from the evening round-table networking session: Picture by Sandra Correia