When Mara Dierssen started her career as a neuroscientist, she often encountered gender discrimination. Working in a male-dominated field, she had to combat stereotypes about passivity and leadership. Lacking a female role model, she now realizes that she was unaware of many of the scientific community’s “unwritten rules,” like how to receive funding for projects, do interviews, and publish findings.
Years later, Dierssen’s strong drive to succeed, intense passion for neuroscience, and work ethic have helped her become a senior scientist at the Centre for Biomedical Research, president of the Spanish Society for Neuroscience, a member of the European Dana Alliance, as well as a mother of four children. Dierssen, who recently talked about gender and neuroscience in an interview with the Society for Neuroscience (SfN), has become a role model for today’s young female neuroscientists, not only because of her achievements as a neuroscientist, but also through her dedication to public outreach and gender equality.
Dierssen was the Dana/EDAB Neuroscience Outreach Champion in 2014 and has been an active Brain Awareness Week partner for many years. As head of SfN’s Professional Development Committee’s Women in Neuroscience subcommittee, she helped produce a webinar for women neuroscientists titled, “In First Person: Tips to Survive and Excel in Neuroscience” to help female scientists overcome the same kinds of discrimination she once faced. The webinar covers topics like, “implicit gender bias, recruitment in academia, workplace climate, and promotion and tenure issues,” as they relate to women neuroscientists. Presenters give advice on topics such as how to find a good mentor, how to choose a lab, and how to make intelligent career choices.
Dierssen describes why fighting for gender equality is so important to SfN:
There is still hard evidence of continuing bias against women in the sciences. I believe we are still vastly underrepresented — especially in leadership positions — in academia. Whether women are just starting their science careers or have already achieved success, they have possibly faced serious obstacles. As a result, they may have experienced a lack of self-confidence or a difficult work-life balance, leading to sometimes difficult decisions. Gender bias has also led to an attrition of many talented female scientists. It is therefore important for the next generation of female scientists to learn and initiate successful strategies to overcome these challenges.
– Ali Chunovic