NATURE CAREERS PODCAST

Podcast: A winning team of innovators who promote women in science

The Association of Hungarian Women in Science (NaTE) has won Nature Research's inaugural Innovation in Science Award.

Hear about the winning achievements of the Association of Hungarian Women in Science

In this episode

01:20: Julie Gould talks to NaTE president Katalin Balázsi about the organisations's achievements and its success at inspiring women and girls to develop careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Balázsi was one of ten women scientists who founded the association ten years ago.

A companion prize, the Inspiring Science Award, was presented to Mirjana Pović, an astrophysicist at the Ethiopian Space Science and Technology Institute in Addis Ababa.

The prizes were launched in partnership with The Estée Lauder Companies and presented at a ceremony in London held on 30 October 2018.

11: 34 Many of the women helped by NATE juggle their careers alongside family commitments.

Nana Lee, a mother of three and an assistant professor in biochemistry at the University of Toronto, concludes this episode with some advice on how to strike a balance between the two competing pressures.

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Transcript

Hear about the winning achievements of the Association of Hungarian Women in Science

Julie Gould:

Hello, and welcome to the Nature Careers Podcast. I’m Julie Gould. This month, the Nature Careers Podcast is celebrating women in science, and we’re doing that by showcasing the first winners of two annual awards set up by Nature Research, in partnership with The Estée Lauder Companies.

One award focuses on innovation in science while the second one on inspiration. The Inspiring Science Award goes to an individual while the Innovation in Science Award goes to a team, and the ceremony to award both prizes took place earlier this week in London.

For this episode, I caught up with one member of the team that won the Innovation in Science Award.

Katalin Balázsi:

Career orientation is almost lacking in Hungary in the STEM field. Teachers or parents have very limited information on paid opportunities and potential future jobs, and this is why the key core of our programmes, of our association, is to take high school students into real-life environments.

Julie Gould:

What could be a better tenth birthday gift than being internationally recognised for your efforts in supporting women in science? For the Association of Hungarian Women in Science this is exactly what happened. In 2008, ten female scientists came together to found what is now an international group supporting thousands of young people – mainly young women – in science, technology, engineering and maths related subjects. They run events, mentoring sessions, shadowing days for secondary school goers, all the way up to tenured scientists. All age groups can benefit from what the association does, and its aim is to ensure recognition in scientific fields is based on professional competencies, rather than on gender.

Dr Katalin Balázsi from the Centre of Energy Science at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences is the current president of the association. She’s been involved from the very beginning and has shared with me some of the exciting things that they’ve been doing, but also why she thinks mentoring is one of the most important things the association can offer.

First of all, congratulations for being awarded the Nature Research Award for Innovating Science. It must be very exciting.

Katalin Balázsi:

Yes, thank you. We are really happy for this award.

Julie Gould:

Katalin, what are some of the challenges that young women and girls face in STEM subjects in Hungary?

Katalin Balázsi:

I think career orientation is lacking in Hungary in the STEM field. Teachers or parents have very limited information on paid opportunities and potential future jobs, and this is why the core of our programmes, of our association, is to take high school students into real-life environments.

And on the other hand, young women and girls also need role models they can look up to and who we can use to popularise scientific professions, and it shows that the woman can be successful in so-called men’s professions.

Julie Gould:

And is science still very much a male-dominated career field in Hungary?

Katalin Balázsi:

Yes, it’s true. For example, in my lab, I’m working in the Centre for Energy Research, and we have only 10% female researchers. In universities the situation is the same. When I was a student I studied at the Slovak Technical University in Bratislava and when I started my first year in this university I had 1,200 male colleagues and only nine female. It was a shock for me.

Julie Gould:

You run events mainly for young women and girls in STEM subjects. Can you describe some of the type of events that you run for these girls?

Katalin Balázsi:

We have a lot of events and not only for the younger ladies, but for the real researchers after their postdoctoral study, and one of the very important programmes in the association is International Girls’ Day. This year we had 3,000 young ladies participating in this programme. The next one is Shadowing Day. It’s a very exciting way to give students a real picture of the scientific job. During this day, the students follow a female researcher which is very important and they shadow her also in her work. And on the other hand, we have some programmes for the STEM female researchers. We have a special award – the Excellence Award for Women in Science. These awards can be won year by year by young researchers after their PhD study for the most outstanding performance in their STEM fields.

Julie Gould:

And what impact are these kind of events having here locally in Hungary on some of the young researchers and young secondary school students?

Katalin Balázsi:

The success of the girls, the events, and the effectiveness of our years of work… the number of girls enrolling in the faculty of, for example, Electrical Engineering and Informatics at the Budapest University of Technology and Engineering – this is one of the most prestigious technology universities, not only in Central Europe but in Hungary as well – doubled between 2012 and 2018. The ratio of female freshmen increased from 7% to 14%.

Julie Gould:

So tell me a bit more about how and why you became involved in the Association for Women in Science in Hungary.

Katalin Balázsi:

I had a very good mentor. It was an old man, and I studied the transmission of electron microscopy. And it was a lot of energy from the side of my mentor and he pushed me, ‘Please make your PhD because you are excellent, you will be a good researcher,’ and it was the first moment in my life I created the first step in my research career, but I needed a mentor. And this mentoring is my main role in this association and showed that the young women may be these very good researchers as the same older man. But in the real time, I’m leading a group with 40 researchers, 40 people in the physics department, and then every year I’m organising for the young ladies, for example Girls’ Day. It’s very famous. One hundred young ladies come into my lab and they may check the different projects, the different equipment, and they have a real idea of what is a scientist. But my most important role in the association is showing that young ladies can have scientific careers and a family at the same time because of my leader position and I’m mother of two small sons, 8 and 10 years old.

Julie Gould:

So what are some of the challenges that young women who are also mothers or who want to be mothers face when they want a research career?

Katalin Balázsi:

So in Hungary, the maternity leave is usually three years and in the life of the researcher, three years is an extremely long time, and during these three years the research in your life is very close to zero. It’s not so easy because during the three years, you have a totally new project, totally new __. I don’t know, in material science because I’m a materialist scientist, during those three years, you have all the both of different technologies, more materials, more nanomaterials, more technologies. If you are not active during these three years, you will be a technician after the PhD and not a real researcher because you are out of this new field. Yeah, it’s not so easy. But I would like to have something for the mother staying at home for three or more years with the kids to be a researcher during this time, but it’s not so easy. But if you have a mentor or help in this field, you may make your career during your maternity leave as well.

Julie Gould:

Three years maternity leave is a really long time. How is a mentorship programme helping these mothers stay active in research?

Katalin Balázsi:

One of the opportunities of the younger female researchers during the maternity leave or after the maternity leave is a part-time job. They may work only a few days during the week and they may prepare during this time the publications or they may participate in the different projects. And working from home to prepare the publications, they may prepare the database from their results, and these works do not need equipment and they stay at home and work from the home, and during these three years they will have a publication. They will still be active researchers.

Julie Gould:

So with the mentorship programme, does that mean that you have mentors within academia who partner with these women who are staying at home to look after the children during their maternity leave, and in that way they help each other?

Katalin Balázsi:

Yeah, we are preparing for these ladies special conferences or programmes, one-day programmes with a kindergarten because they need some help with the kids. Yeah, I hope it will be better and better in this field.

Julie Gould:

Katalin, thank you very much for speaking to me and congratulations again on being awarded the Nature Research Award for Innovating Science.

Katalin Balázsi:

Thank you, Julie, for your call.

Julie Gould:

Thank you, Dr. Balázsi. You can find out more about the winners at nature.com/careers, and if you want to find out more about the awards – perhaps to enter next year – you can go to the awards website.

As Dr Balázsi made clear, one big challenge that many women in science face is juggling parenting and work responsibilities. I’ve asked Nana Lee from the University of Toronto to share her top tip on how to make it work, but I’ll let her introduce herself properly.

Nana Lee:

Hello everyone, my name is Nana Lee and I’m the Director and Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream for Graduate Professional Development at the University of Toronto. I also have some experience in industry before I started this position so I have both experience in and out of academia. So a top tip that I want to provide today is this concept about moving in and out of academia and industry, and also balancing a career with having a family because I have three children. And both of these concepts can actually be answered under the same category of career transitions. Whether you want to move into industry, move back into academia or integrate children, they all require the essential three competencies of flexibility, actively seeking mentors and creativity. For example, transitioning from an academic postdoc to industry requires being flexible with the research and team environment, making connections through informational interviews, networking, and being creative and finding a market need which aligns with your interests. Having children also requires the flexibility to integrate more responsibilities with career goals, which themselves could change after, actively seeking other mums or dads to ask for their advice, and being creative to fit the existing job or even propose a modified or a new job to integrate your changes. So to recap, the top three tips are flexibility, mentorship and creativity.

Julie Gould:

That’s it for this episode, but for an extra treat we’ll have another episode this month where I’ll be speaking to the winner of the Inspiring Science Award, Dr Mirjana Pović. Otherwise you can follow our adventures on the Nature Careers website (www.nature.com/careers), on Facebook and on Twitter. Thanks for listening. I’m Julie Gould.