February 18, 2019
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Science & Technology

Challenge of being a female scientist shared among Antarctica tour members

Santiago, Jan 21 (efe-epa).- Feeling underappreciated, working in a very masculine environment and postponing motherhood are some of the experiences and challenges shared by female scientists participating in the three Homeward Bound expeditions on board a vessel sailing to Antarctica seeking to fortify and strengthen female leadership on matters of global import.

After returning on Saturday from the third expedition, which lasted three weeks and toured the southernmost portion of the globe, participants in each edition, including the Australian founder of the project - Fabian Dattner - told EFE in an interview about the difficulties of getting through the day to day responsibilities of their professions.

The project - which each year requires a year's preparation - was created to push the role that women play in the STEMM areas of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine.

Monica Araya, who in Costa Rica heads a renewable energy project, was on the first expedition - in 2016 - along with 66 other women.

"On this trip, I spoke with very outstanding professionals in their sectors, who said that they were not invited to conferences at their own universities to speak about an issue they knew very well because they were not considered to be 'real' experts," Araya said.

She added that during the 2016 expedition, she shared "painful experiences" regarding "sexual harassment" that are not usually discussed "in a laboratory or in the daily work environment."

The program has no research aim, but rather serves as a scenario in which a group of women can put their abilities together and learn about leadership, development, visible communication in science and other related areas.

Alicia Perez-Porro, a researcher and adjunct professor at New York City's Baruch College, said that what she most valued about her experience last year was not feeling "alone."

"I came to the boat at a complicated personal and professional time and I found myself with 76 women who had had the same experiences as I. That was very comforting," she said.

"First, because you don't feel alone and you notice the impact of gender on society and science," she added.

The Homeward Bound project includes women of all ages, and on the latest expedition they came from 35 different countries seeking to share their experiences to grow and continue as professionals who are leaders in their respective areas.

The criteria for selection, Dattner said, are very broad and go beyond their resumes.

"We're seeking women who explain that they've learned things beyond their academic training. And I would add that on their resumes it should be put what they've learned, that they've worked while pregnant, what's been their experience and what abilities they acquired," she said.

That is the case with Anna Cabre, an associate researcher at Barcelona's Institute of Marine Sciences and one of the five Spaniards who will participate in the fourth expedition that will set sail at the end of 2019 from Argentina's far-southern port of Ushuaia.

"Being a mother complicates your life; in the world of science it's impossible (to continue). My husband and I devote ourselves to science and when we had the baby we saw that both of us could not devote ourselves 100 percent to our profession and it was me who stopped," Cabre said, noting that she's seeking financing to be able to defray half the cost of her expedition ticket, although the other half will be paid by sponsors, including Spain's Acciona company.

According to expedition organizers, the program's aim within the next 10 years is to create an international network of 1,000 women interested in the fight against climate change so that they can work together on projects in various areas.

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