Dr Nuria Pellicer (29 years old), was born in Valencia into a family of healthcare workers and researchers. Her grandfather was a doctor and her father is one of the world´s most prolific scientists in the field of reproduction. From an early age she knew that she would continue the dynasty, she always felt attracted by the opportunity to carry out research and improve people's lives. She, along with more women from the La Fe Health Research Institute (IIS La Fe) and the IVI Foundation, comprise a percentage of the team of researchers dominated by women.
According to Nuria, who is now researching the preservation of fertility and ovarian rejuvenation, as someone who is seeking a safeguard for the professional development of women and continuing to drive women to the highest level, “there is no lack of women in science, but rather a lack of recognition for their work and some Nobel Prizes are required to give it the visibility it merits, beyond Marie Curie who is referred to a lot”.
Scientific role models are very important when it comes to people deciding on one vocation or another. However, normally there is something more when it comes to deciding on a professional path. Are scientists born or made?
I believe that it is a vocational profession. It is born out of curiosity, however it is important to educate it because excessive curiosity can result in a dispersion of ideas which prevents you from making progress. That is why great teachers and authorities in the field are so important. Science is not encouraged much in university courses and there is much less education. However, at a postgraduate level it is, although not everywhere. For example, in my case of clinical research, it wouldn´t be the same being in a provincial hospital as it is being in the La Fe Health Research Institute (IIS La Fe) or the IVI Foundation.
Do you think that science has seduced you with its opportunities or have you chosen it?
You have to seek out science yourself. It is tremendously beautiful but thankless. For every 10 projects you begin, only one will provide satisfactory results. Too little reward to convince young people who, on the other hand, and in a perfectly justifiable way, are seeking financial stability that Science rarely offers. A scientist has to constantly gain financial support for their projects and these are very competitive.
You are the daughter of one of the world´s most prolific researchers in the field of reproduction. How did that situation influence you when it came to choosing a profession like yours?
I grew up seeing my father at the weekend, as we walked, talking about his projects. I must confess that I sometimes thought he was a little weird, but perhaps in those moments of most peacefulness he got his most brilliant ideas. That was when he came up with experimental designs, he would call his collaborators and annoy them during their holidays -laughs- but I remember they would always greet him enthusiastically. All of his prizes, the Rey Jaime I Award, the Lilly Foundation Prize, the Medal of the Association of Doctors of Valencia, that of the French Academy of Medicine, and his appointment as a Member of the Royal Academy of Medicine of the Community of Valencia, have been a source of pride for me and an incentive. I have been lucky and I am lucky to live close to a person who, in addition to being a good doctor, is a great scientist. And I believe that it is normal that in some way that has had a deep effect on me.
The International Day of Women and Girls in Science was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 in order to attain the full and equal access and participation of women and girls in science and achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. Do you believe that school pupils have a lack of female role models in this field?
Undoubtedly, there is a lack of female role models. Historically, Marie Curie is still the person people refer to and it is pitiful that this is the case. Fortunately, I think that this is changing, the fact that we have the bad habit of paying tribute and praising careers when professionals have already retired, or worse still, posthumously. Today, women dominate science but the role models still need another 20 years to begin to consolidate their status. There is a lack of Nobel Prizes for women, but I know on good authority that there are lots of candidates and they will gradually emerge in a more egalitarian society.
As the girl you were and now as a woman, why do you believe it has been so difficult to showcase the role of women scientists?
Women scientists fundamentally get their training at a postgraduate level, an age that in many cases coincides with motherhood. In the past, a career in science was moved back, now women have chosen to move back motherhood. We have much better women scientists, but an important problem in Reproductive Medicine centres is precisely the late age that women come to us. Therefore, the lines of research into the preservation of fertility and ovarian rejuvenation are what interests me the most therefore what I am immersed in.
Research institutes are increasingly filled with women researchers; however, it seems that it is more difficult to reach higher positions in the organisational hierarchy. Do you think that women scientists can hit a glass ceiling?
This is the summary of what I was saying. Women scientists are trained at a postgraduate level and previously that was the time when motherhood collided head on with their professional careers. Many women have given up the idea of having a family in favour of science. Now we have the chance to delay motherhood and perform the way we want to. This will result in an increasing number of women scientists directing very important organisations. Having them occupy 70-80% of these positions is a matter of time and science.
I was going to ask you, how do you view the future of women in science, but given your previous answer, I think it is optimistically...
Women are going to dominate science due to their intelligence and determination, two very important qualities. My father says that we are more intelligent but more unfocused. If we are able to focus our concerns and specify our aims... we will succeed. And I hope to be one of those women.
Now that you are a woman scientist and work as such, successfully, what would you tell the little Nuria Pellicer who was still a school pupil?
That school is the time to develop all skills almost equally and learn to respect others. That languages are very important. And that, if she wants, she can get to wherever her dreams take her.
What do you ask from science? And society?
Science is a driving force for the economy and a parameter for evaluating the true significance and importance of countries. The stupid Spanish idea of “let the others invent it” can be seen now with the COVID-19 vaccines. Science must be supported and demanded by society because ultimately it serves society.