The “Women in Immunology” initiative

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By: Guest contributor, Tue Mar 9 2021
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Author: Guest contributor

A blog post by Yvonne Bordon, Senior Editor, Nature Reviews Immunology, reflecting on the visibility of women in immunology 


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About Yvonne Bordon, Senior Editor, Nature Reviews Immunology

Yvonne Bordon's fascination with the immune system developed during her undergraduate days at the University of Glasgow. After graduating with an honors degree in Immunology, she chose to remain in Glasgow and conducted her PhD studies with Professor Allan Mowat and Dr. Rob Nibbs.

During this time, the main focus of her research was exploring the role of chemokine receptors in intestinal immune responses. Yvonne joined the Nature Reviews Immunology editorial team in December 2009, where she continues to broaden her knowledge and understanding of all things immunological.

The idea to commission a special series on ‘Women in Immunology’, with a focus on pioneering female immunologists, was something that the Nature Reviews Immunology team had been thinking about for some time. But what finally drove us to make this happen was an incident on Twitter. Someone pointed out (via a Tweet) that one of the most famous immunology textbooks (basically the one used by all students when they are initially learning about the subject) had two pages highlighting famous immunologists who had made major historical contributions to the field. What really struck a nerve was that all of the scientists listed were male!

In actual fact, there have been many women scientists who made incredibly important early discoveries in the field of immunology. Therefore, we decided it was important to highlight some of the ‘Founding Mothers’ of immunology, so to speak. We retweeted the original tweet and asked for suggestions — and we were amazed by how many people on immunology Twitter engaged in this and provided names of key historical female immunologists. We used these suggestions as well as names from our own research to produce a shortlist of women immunologists and then we invited prominent scientists to write short features on them.

Many of the replies to our Tweet expressed their frustration and anger at the fact that this prestigious immunology textbook had not listed any women immunologists. However, a positive thing to come out of the ‘twitter storm’ was that one of the scientists involved in writing the textbook got in touch to apologise and to say that in the next edition they would definitely include prominent female immunologists in their section on important scientists.

The first article that we published in our ‘Women in Immunology’ series was a profile of Delphine Parrott — she helped to uncover the function of the thymus (which is where immune cells known as ‘T cells’ develop) and she was also the first ever female Professor at the University of Glasgow (she was appointed her chair in 1973). I myself conducted my PhD studies at the University of Glasgow and find it fairly depressing that there were no female Professors at my alma mater until the 1970s!  

We have definitely come a long way since then, but there is without doubt a lot more work that needs to be done to ensure equal parity for all scientists, irrespective of their gender.

Check out our Amplifying Women in Science page and listen to our podcast, sign up for our upcoming webinar and read our interviews where we talk to researchers and editors working in science.

If you would like to read more about this topic, check out this blog post by May Chiao, Chief Editor of Nature Astronomy where she talks about gender equity and inclusion in astronomy.

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Author: Guest contributor

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