Why the victory of Kamala Harris is also a victory for scientific mothers

Science

By CAPosts 19 January, 2021 - 11:20am 49 views

Kamala Harris (left); her little sister, Maya, and her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, in 1970. Kamala Harris / A

P Campaign Office For mothers like me, nothing lifts their spirits more than seeing my children's eyes filled with wonder. There are trivial things that we adults take for granted; like when a fish swims around the fingers of the hand, when a rainbow appears, splashing in puddles, hearing the roar of an airplane or doing the basketball first. I love hearing my three young children gasp at the magic of the world and all the possibilities it presents

I never expected this year's inexhaustible source of wonders to be the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election , about which my children, who are pursuing education elementary school, they kept asking before they even went to school

It was nice to see the children doing more math at home, calculating the differences between the votes and adding the electoral numbers. But the moment I will never forget was when my daughter reacted to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris's speech, knowing that Kamala was the first female vice president in US history.

“Wow! Can she be vice president? " she asked. My heart sank. Why was I so surprised that a woman could reach those heights?

“Not only that,” I replied. "His mother is also a scientist."

"It can't be, I didn't know!" "Does that mean I can be president?"

It is because of this reaction that Kamala Harris' victory is also a victory for scientific mothers like me. Kamala attributes her success to Shyamala Gopalan Harris , her brilliant scientist mother who happens to also work in the same field as me: breast cancer. Shyamala managed to raise two daughters as a single mother while securing a tenured professor position and conducting pioneering cancer research.

Shyamala is a role model for female scientists who are mothers, giving us hope and reassurance for our sacrifices and daily struggles . In my darkest moments, I have doubts about my career. Research is unpredictable, notoriously unstable, and demanding on both me and my family. I have normalized waking up at five in the morning so that I can work before the children wake up while meeting the demands of my research. Like many other moms who work weekends and nights, I miss precious moments like saying goodbye to the kids when they go on field trips or when they do a concert with the school choir.

Shyamala managed to raise two daughters as a single mother while securing a tenure teaching position and conducting pioneering cancer research

I have missed the birthdays of two of my children every two years since they were born because they overlap with the most important research conference in my field. Will my kids think that Mom wasn't there for their birthday or that she didn't pick them up at school? Or will they remember that I worked hard and had the courage to pursue my passion?

Although things have improved in the four decades since Shyamala pursued her career, I don't know of any single parent family who also has an active career in my field of research. The current pandemic will accentuate this gap even more. The proportion of scientific studies related to Covid-19 with a first author is 19% lower than that of articles published in the same journals in 2019. One of the main reasons for this gender difference is due to the fact that women scientists perform a disproportionate amount of family duties, such as taking care of children. If we don't take steps to support female researchers and single-parent families, we risk losing a generation of brilliant minds

I still remember the first person who inspired me to pursue science, Mr. Cassidy, my chemistry professor at my secondary school in Wales. It wasn't until I returned to Scotland, my birthplace, to begin my graduate studies, that I had a female role model . The then director of the Beatson Institute in Glasgow, Karen Vousten, gave such a passionate and powerful talk that I left the room with a feeling of euphoria. It is that passion that still sustains me today, overcoming the additional burden that I carry as a mother.

Inspiration is like a spark that ignites a flame of imagination in others. I look forward to passing on this torch when I speak to Mr. Cassidy's new class of students soon, hoping to inspire future generations in gratitude for what he did for me 25 years ago. And while Shyamala Gopalan Harris is no longer with us, his legacy is a historic turning point. When Kamala Harris is named vice president of the United States this Wednesday, it will be in part thanks to the efforts and sacrifices of her research mother. And who knows? One day she may even be president.

Roni Wright is a researcher and member of the gender equality commission at the Center for Genomic Regulation (CRG) and a collaborating professor at the International University of Catalonia

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