According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, women account for less than 30% of the world’s researchers. Reports also identify gender discrimination as one of the leading deterrents against women entering and excelling in fields relating to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). In honor of International Women’s Month, we wanted to hear from some of our past National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) fellows to learn their opinions on what barriers exist for women in STEM fields today, best practices to address those challenges, and how to alter the future of women in previously male-dominated fields by encouraging future generations to pursue leadership positions. Throughout the month of March, we will be highlighting these women and sharing their challenges and successes as equal contributors to the field of research.
“Don’t feel discouraged by the challenge of having a career and also planning to have kids. In my experience, motherhood makes you busier but also more efficient and creative. Your kids will be proud of your accomplishments.” – Dr. Avelino-Silva
Dr. Vivian Avelino-Silva is an Assistant Professor and Research Supervisor at the University of Sao Paulo Medical School in Brazil. In 2018, as an early-stage investigator working in the field of HIV research, she received the 2018 U.S. National Institutes of Health Office of AIDS Research Training Fellowship Award, where she served as the principal investigator in her research project, “Training in Modern Epidemiology for Emerging Brazilian Investigators Pursuing HIV-Related Research.” The NIH OAR Fellowship aims to expand capacity in HIV research through participation in short-term research training opportunities for early-stage investigators affiliated with institutions engaged in the bilateral collaborative research programs, which include HIV-related research co-funded by OAR and the counterpart funding agencies in Brazil, China, India, Russia, and South Africa.
What was your experience finding your first professional position?
“I started my professional activities as a clinician attending people living with HIV, a few months after finishing my fellowship in Infectious Diseases. In this position, I experienced the main problems faced by patients with recently diagnosed infection as well as patients with chronic infection. Later on, I worked as a medical investigator in the iPrEX trial, the first double-blind, randomized clinical trial of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis. This initial step in clinical research redefined my professional interests. During my Ph.D., I took a year-long training course in clinical research at the University of California San Francisco, which widened my career possibilities upon my return to Brazil. With the OAR CRDF training award, two of my mentees (Dr. Camila Donini and Dr. Marilia Antonio) were also able to take courses from the University of California San Francisco in 2018. It is important to note that I received constant support from my colleagues and my supervisors to conduct my career while also raising my family. Of course, it was (and has been) difficult to find a balance between personal life and work. But I would never wish for a different reality.”
What advice do you have for women scientists starting out in their careers?
“Don’t feel discouraged by the challenge of having a career and also planning to have kids. In my experience, motherhood makes you busier but also more efficient and creative. Your kids will be proud of your accomplishments.”
How can the research community better support women scientists?
“I think many institutions still lack female leaders, despite the fact that often a majority of the staff in science are women. Supporting maternity leave and allowing for flexible work schedules and home office hours would also benefit women scientists.”