"I feel challenged by the bias of some people" by Dr. Ilze Dimanta

In May, Latvia gave three National Fellowships to young talented women scientists, in line with the L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Program. For DiscovHER, Dr. Ilze Dimanta shares her experience as a woman in science and her research.

My research subject is about bacteria produced hydrogen gas. This is a leading area of research because hydrogen is an excellent energy carrier, which is sustainable, with high energy conversion efficiencies and no harmful emissions. Moreover, hydrogen can be stored in various ways and can be easily transported for long distances. Various microorganisms produce hydrogen using industrial and agricultural waste products as feedstock. My colleagues and I are looking for an innovative way to collect hydrogen from bacterial fermentation. We aim at collecting the hydrogen directly from the fermentation broth, using selected metal hydride alloys to store the hydrogen.

I would say that you shouldn’t be afraid to speak with who you want, apply for the job you’re dreaming of or initiate any project you wish. That’s what I did! And with time, I became more and more confident. When I fail I always find wonderful support from my husband and my friends. If you dare to express your opinion, people become more interested in you and your project. Not surprisingly, I encountered, as a young female scientist, gender and aged based prejudices several times. For example, I heard sarcastic remarks about my professional abilities. I feel challenged by the bias of some people and I am proud when I can outperform their expectations or even change their mind after we engage in a professional conversation. Nevertheless, Latvian researchers and academics I have been working with are highly professional and gender neutral.

I have found good mentors during my carrier. To me, it is also very important to have friends in a similar career level; they are wise mentors and they know me well. Their support and discussions are very valuable. Most importantly I have never been afraid to ask questions to my supervisors. Growing up in a scientifically oriented family certainly influenced my development as a researcher. In my opinion, finding a good, supporting mentor, in science and in life, is priceless. So, if you meet someone you admire, someone who sees your potential, keep the contact and establish a professional relationship.

I am very grateful for the Manifesto For Women in Science, initiated by the L'Oréal Foundation and the UNESCO, it truly reflects my beliefs about girls and women in science. I find all six points highly important, but for me two most relevant points of Manifesto are the two first ones:

1) Encourage girls to explore scientific career paths – I believe that children shouldn’t be genderised. There are probably still a lot of girls who abandons their early features, like extreme curiosity or the sense of adventure, because they are genderised at school, at the University or even at home. It shouldn’t be like that.

2) Break down the barriers that prevent women scientists from pursuing long term careers in research – Mixing family and research shouldn’t be impossible. Women are good scientists and our unique professional abilities should be appreciated. 

Dr. Ilze Dimanta

For Women in Science

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