“I’ve had the privilege of taking inspiration from successful and inspiring women”: celebrating the day of women and girls in science.
A historical gender gap at all levels of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics continues to persist in much of our society to this day. Although at Atlas Antibodies we have a diverse team of men and women at all levels of the organization, worldwide, women only account for less than 30% of researchers and male researchers often reach more senior roles or are paid more.
To help achieve the aim of greater equality in the sciences, we celebrate the day of women in STEM on February 11th. This year, we spoke to some female Atlas Antibodies employees about their roles, experiences, and what advice they would give to young people considering a career in life sciences.
Ulrika Qundos, Group Leader protein technologies
Could you start by telling me about your role?
I’m the group manager for Protein Technologies within R&D, where I make sure we focus on and deliver the goals we have as an organization in terms of product development. We use multiple different methods to focus on protein analysis and quantification.
When I work, I think about how we are addressing the purpose of advancing medicine and research by developing tools for protein analysis and also the well-being of my group.
A lot of what I do looks to the future and focuses on our growth and aims as a company, for example developing our heavy isotope-labeled MS standards for protein quantification or our monoclonal antibodies for neuroinflammation research.
Tell me a bit about your background, how did you get into this kind of role?
I was born and raised in the Human Protein Atlas project! It is where did my master’s thesis and directly after that my Ph.D. I was able to learn and perform research in a very collaborative and knowledge-driven project.
I joined Atlas Antibodies in 2017 after heading the autoimmunity profiling research facility at SciLifeLab to work on a new application of our antibodies.
For the first year I worked as a research scientist; then I came back from maternity leave as a group leader. The work culture here is great as we have very knowledgeable colleagues we can lean on and everyone is working towards the same goals for progress.
Have you experienced any gender-based barriers or biases in your career?
In my career, I have had the privilege of working with and taking inspiration from successful women. Although things are quite equal, we still see more senior levels going to men.
I think this in part is due to the preference, need, or expectation for many women to spend more time at home with young children, in this time men are building their careers, so they advance more quickly. For me, the family and life balance can be difficult. At Atlas Antibodies, my manager is also female.
What advice would you give to other women and girls in science to help them in their careers?
Find the thing that motivates you as an individual and chase that! Even though it is challenging, and a challenge I am experiencing right now, you should take the time to have a balanced family and home life if you want to. I think if more women demand this then things can improve. I would also give the advice to never feel afraid to ask the questions you want to ask, small or large.
Therese Brooling, master's student
Could you start by telling me about your role?
I’m doing my master’s thesis on a new Protein Analysis method. I’ve been here for three weeks so I’m still very new! The project is cool as I get to be in the cell lab and the IHC lab and I get to be involved in the process from start to finish. There are limited people who know this technology so cool to be part of this.
Tell me a bit about your background. How did you get into this kind of role?
After I finished school, I took two years out where I lived in London and South America. Then I studied biotechnical engineering at Linköping University. This summer I’ll be a full-blown engineer. I think it can be difficult to get the first step in the industry, so I feel lucky to be here now.
Have you experienced any barriers or biases in your career?
Life sciences labs in Stockholm seem to be very dominated by women, even manager positions are often women at both Octapharma, where I worked before, and Atlas Antibodies. However, at university, my course was the only engineering course that has an even spread of men and women, but I know other engineering courses have almost no women. I think this can make it intimidating for women to join these kinds of courses and go down these kinds of career paths.
What advice would you give to people interested in a career in research or life sciences?
There are lots of different paths to careers in life sciences. A good way to start is to keep up to date with what’s going on in the field you’re interested in. Most universities offer mentorship programs which is a great way to get in touch with alumni who have been in your shoes and to get inspiration.