There is a thriving community of women scientists researching malaria and its mosquito vectors. Now they are joining forces thanks to the Women in Malaria Research Initiative. But what is it and how did this initiative come to life?

I had the pleasure to talk about it with Dr B. Joanne Power, one of the creators of the initiative.

Hi Joanne! As a woman studying malaria, what are you working on at the moment?

Hi Corrado! I am currently a postdoctoral researcher at Pennsylvania State University in the U.S. I am part of the Lindner Lab at Penn State, which is part of the Center for Malaria Research (CMaR) there. I am currently working as part of a large project to identify the molecular mechanisms responsible for the transmission of Plasmodium yoelii, a rodent malaria parasite, from mice to mosquitoes and vice versa. Working with a rodent model means that we can study the entire Plasmodium life cycle. My current experiments are related to two proteins in particular (I’ll keep those secret for now!), but I am using P. yoelii to examine their potential roles in the Plasmodium transmission cycle. The aim of our experiments as a whole is not solely to learn more about these mechanisms, but to potentially identify a target for antimalarial therapies that can prevent Plasmodium transmission in humans.

Very interesting, congratulations! Could you tell us a bit more what is the Women in Malaria Research Initiative about?

It is a movement to promote and make visible the incredible research carried out by women scientists in our small corner of the STEM community, i.e. women scientists working specifically on malaria; be it a particular Plasmodium parasite (animal or human), malaria immunology, new drugs and/or diagnostics, vaccinology, malaria epidemiology, mosquito biology, and much more. We are part of a large global movement to end discrimination in science. Through our website and Twitter page we provide a database of women scientists working in malaria and their details for anyone who needs a malaria expert to collaborate with, to write an article with, to work as a reviewer or a scientific panel expert, etc. We also take at least one of these women scientists each week and share their profile on Twitter, so that people can see who these women are, where they work, and what their research entails. We also help people by running workshops at malaria and parasitology conferences, and we can direct people towards resources that can help them to be less biased in their own laboratories. We want women scientists in malaria research worldwide to be regarded with the same respect as their male colleagues and to be viewed as the experts they are. In future, we hope to be able to achieve even more, such as setting up mentorship programmes or providing research funding for women from developing countries. 

How did you and your colleagues come up with this idea?

For me, there were two main players that helped me with setting up the website and inspiring the whole initiative: Dr Elise English, the founder of Women and Minorities in Parasitology, and Dr Elena Gómez-Díaz. Basically, what happened was that I was in a limbo between submitting my PhD thesis and waiting for my thesis defence (“viva”) in the autumn of 2018, and I had amassed quite a Twitter following because I used to tweet about malaria publications and facts that interested me. The only reason I did this was because I was alone in the University of Glasgow library with my head in scientific papers, and I really wanted to share the papers I read with other people! Then, when I was re-reading my PhD thesis for the umpteenth time in preparation for the viva, I got a direct message from Dr Elena Gómez-Díaz who had wanted to start a website or database to promote women scientists in malaria and was looking for someone to help her. With my previous experiences in public engagement and a lot of following from malaria scientists on Twitter already, Elena asked if I would be willing to help and spread the word. She had seen the great work of Dr Elise English with her website, and the work of other scientists such as Dr Jess Wade and Dr T. Jane Zelikova (Google them both!) and wanted to start an initiative for the women in our field of STEM. And so I set up a website in a similar style to Elise, started adding names to our database, and the Women in Malaria Initiative began! It hasn’t even been two years yet, and there’s so much more to do!

Many thanks Joanne! I am excited to hear about all the future developments of the initiative.

For the italian version of this post, click here