- Associate Professor Melissa Fullwood (MF) (Life Science Fellow, 2009)
- Associate Professor Lui Bin (LB) (Material Science Fellow, 2011)
- Dr Carolyn Lam (CL) (Life Science Fellow, 2012) (Read more)
- Associate Professor Sierin Lim (SL) (Life Science Fellow, 2013) (Read more)
Is the L’Oréal Women in Science fellowship only meant for already established women or even for people who are probably doing their PhD or post doctorate work?
MF: I was just finishing my PhD when I was awarded with the fellowship and one of the winners of the 2015 fellowship, Dr Neo Mei Lin, is also a research fellow (Read more). So the award is definitely not only for established women in science but also for those who are emerging.
Would you attribute your success to your family apart frm your hard work/mentors etc.? How understanding is your family, your parents, your husband, your kid(s)?
CL: If you look at me I am most certainly thankful to my family. For example, I lost my nanny, because she had some passport issues and my parents are like no problem, we are here to take care of our grandchild. It is quite funny because my dad himself is a PhD and my mom is a medical doctor, and my dad is the one who always taught me, don’t you ever become a doctor! He told me to be in private practice. He has always been my inspiration and my role model even though he tried not to be, so, I am very grateful to my parents.
SL: Sometimes I have seen women feeling like they are cheating on their science because they do not have a good support system around them. If your husband himself does not support you, then it is a big problem. Even if the female is extremely successful in her career, then how would she come forward, because everybody wants a baby. I mean you can put it off for only a certain period of time; you either decide not to have a baby or you decide that you want one, but you can postpone it till you are 35 or 40, but after that you have to decide at some point. But if you are extremely successful in your career, but you have to let it go, just because you had a baby, or your family is not supportive, then I think that’s also a reason where a lot of people drop out of full time jobs, so, that is the thing that I have seen in my experience with a lot of my friends who I have worked.
Another thing I have noticed is that women are afraid of re-entering the workforce after being away. Its very scary and intimidating because everybody does not know what is ahead for them.
MF: I have seen couples who are in sciences and they both graduated at the same time; but the guy ends up going ahead in his career and the lady has to give up due to family ties. This is quite sad.
What is that one aspect that is stopping women from being a part of science?
MF: I think women discriminate amongst each other or themselves; there have been some cases where I have noticed a top level female professor would trouble one of her employees and justify it by saying, “I have gone through all these hard ships, so you should also go through and learn”. I feel this is not right and this is not the mindset that we women should have.
SL: It is true; I also feel that women themselves have a bias against against other women.
Another problem is the lifestyle that we have adopted for ourselves. So I actually had the pleasure of listening to one doctor who worked in the Netherlands and when she came for one of the women in science events, the question that came up was, “How do you balance life and work?”. She answered saying she is from the Netherlands where if you are a mother you are allowed to work for half time, and then you go back to your family and be with them, and you will still earn the same amount of salary. That was so amazing! (Laughs)
Then when she came to Singapore, she had to hire a nanny and she said I feel very liberated that I could work full time and I could produce so much more. So my thought was whether there can be a stage like that which will come in Singapore where you can actually allow the men to work part time but earn the same amount of money.
I think Asia as a whole does not have that outlook right with regards to work and family life. Here, every employer thinks that you can be productive only if you are physically present at work; which is not true. Of course if you are a scientist then you do need to be present in the lab to get work done. But for example, if you are writing a manuscript, then you should be able to do that from home.
Why do women have to struggle to reach top positions in science? What are some of the problems faced by them?
CL: There is a lot of room for self improvement among women; we tend to underestimate ourselves a lot.
Another aspect is the way we write: there was a study done to look at how men and women write grant proposals. Eventhough they are the same projects and in English, there are subtle differences in the way women think and write when compared to what men put down in the proposal.
Men write as if they are pioneers in their field and with utmost confidence, while women give more of a personal touch to it. This is not liked by many.
Since all of you agree with women being biased against other women; if tomorrow, a lady who is 5 months pregnant comes to you seeking work and her resume is impressive and she is perfect for the job vacancy that you have, would you hire her?
SL: As long as she is confident that she can work and she does not havehealth issues, I will be fine to hire her. In fact, I recently hired a lady who just had a baby and was back from her break.
MF: Yes, I would definitely hire anyone who I deemed fit for the job.
But I have heard of bad stories; one of my friends got a job at a lab in the US just after she got married. By the time the paper work for the hiring was done, she came to know she was pregnant. So, of course, she informed this to her new boss and he blatantly told her to leave as he felt she will not be efficient anymore. Can you believe that?!
So, what did you use the fellowship money for?
LB: I used it to hire a nanny! (Laughs) I had just given birth to my daughter and the greatest support system I needed was a nanny to take care of my baby while I went back to work. It is great that this fellowship money given by L’Oréal can be used for anything that you want and not only for your science.