Sunday 21 April, 2019

February 11 is International Day of Women and Girls in Science

Research Scientist at the International Centre for Environmental and Nuclear Sciences (ICENS), University of the West Indies, Leslie Hoo Fung. Photo contributed to JIS.

Research Scientist at the International Centre for Environmental and Nuclear Sciences (ICENS), University of the West Indies, Leslie Hoo Fung. Photo contributed to JIS.

In observance of ‘International Day of Women and Girls in Science’ on February 11, the Ministry of Science and Technology will undertake a social media campaign to highlight the work of female scientists throughout its divisions and agencies.

Chief Research Officer in the Ministry’s Planning, Development and Evaluation Division, Zahra Oliphant, says the campaign also aims to highlight the many options through which they contribute to national development.

“The ministry is designed to drive the science agenda of this country, and I think it is important that we as female practitioners of science know that we can play an important role in national development,” she said

Oliphant argued that “female scientists are equally important, and from where I sit, I think it is a privileged position to do research that affects national development”.

“There is a place throughout the Government for other persons like me, to make an impact outside of the laboratories and the field, where your skills and expertise can still be beneficial,” she added.

Oliphant said she initially planned to pursue career in cardiology, but changed course midstream to fresh water ecology, encourages other females to follow their dreams and passion, even in the face of naysayers’ discouragement.

She points out that despite the misconception that science is male-oriented, women accounted for 55 per cent of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Science Faculty’s enrollment, up to 2017.

Research Scientist at the International Centre for Environmental and Nuclear Sciences (ICENS) at the UWI, Leslie Hoo Fung, also shares her career journey which saw her starting out as an Environmental Analytical Chemist.

Her work has entailed research conducted on trace elements and heavy metals in the Jamaican environment, and exploring the implications on human health, nutrition, environment and trade.

These engagements have seen Hoo Fung, who also makes policy recommendations, working alongside counterparts in the Ministries of Health, and Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, as well as the Bureau of Standards Jamaica.

 

Having worked at ICENS for over 19 years, where she started out as a summer employee, Ms. Hoo Fung says she prepared for her career in Science by doing Chemistry, Physics and Add Math in high school.

She pointed out that the gift of a simple science kit from a relative, and the support of teachers at her alma mater, Immaculate Conception High School, helped to propel her career in the sciences.

She urged parents to encourage their children to pursue their dreams in the sciences, if they are so inclined.

Hoo Fung acknowledges that science is a male dominated field, noting there were occasions early in her career when she would be both the youngest person and only female at meetings she attended.

Against this background, Hoo Fung contends that ‘Women and Girls in Science Day’ is a positive development, citing as a misconception the belief that Mathematics and the Sciences are challenging subjects for girls.

She, however, expresses the hope that this view will change, and encourages women to seek and pursue careers in the sciences, emphasizing that there is definitely a place the field for them.

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