Mothers aspiring to leadership roles in science

BIST presents the 2024 recipients of the “To the Mothers of Science” grants, nine BIST Community researchers chosen for their dedication to advancing in their scientific careers and their drive to attain leadership positions.

The nine researchers from the BIST Community selected to participate in the 2024 edition of “To the Mothers of Science”

This year, nine women researchers from the BIST scientific community have been chosen to join the BIST “To the Mothers of Science” programme. This initiative provides financial aid and coaching to women scientists who have dependent children and who also aspire to attain positions with higher responsibility in their fields.

The winners come from six of the seven BIST community centres: Denitza Denkova and Aleksandra Sierant from ICFO, Alba Garzón Manjón and Sonia Ruiz Raga from ICN2, Marina Inés Giannotti and Nina Kostina from IBEC, Bahareh Khezri from ICIQ, Paula Martínez from IRB Barcelona, and Marion Salzer from CRG.

The external selection panel comprised ICREA research professors Mariona Graupera from the Josep Carreras Leukaemia Research Institute and Soraya Pelaz from the Center for Research in Agricultural Genomics (CRAG), along with Marta Lacambra, General Director of the Catalunya La Pedrera Foundation. The panel emphasised the exceptional scientific caliber of the awardees in this edition of the programme.

Thanks to the To the Mothers of Science grants, the researchers will benefit from group coaching sessions led by Arantxa Gómez Esqué, a coach specialised in scientific research, and will receive a monthly salary top-up of 400 euros over the course of one year, which they may spend on whatever they deem most necessary.

Examples of scientists and mothers

Sonia Ruiz Raga

Sonia Ruiz Raga holds a PhD in nanoscience and nanotechnology from Universitat Jaume I, and is the mother of Aya, who is three and a half years old. Before coming to the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2), she spent seven years as a postdoctoral researcher in Japan and Australia.

Throughout my postdoctoral experience, I have almost always been the only woman in the research group. This made me realise how important it is to support one another,” explains Ruiz Raga.

Her goal in the coming years is to become head of a research group, leading research on photovoltaic materials, the application of artificial intelligence for the characterisation of solar cells, and photoelectrochemistry to obtain environmentally friendly fuels.

In my immediate circles I have not had the chance to meet mothers who lead research groups. The To the Mothers of Science programme gives me the chance to connect with other scientist mothers in the same situation as me, allowing us to share concerns and learn together. The financial support will also help me have more support at home with my daughter, as well as with the one on the way, since we have no family nearby to help us,” adds researcher Sonia Ruiz Raga.


Nina Kostina

International mobility further complicates the challenge of balancing family life with cutting-edge research. This is the case for Nina Kostina, a mother of two girls under three years old. Before securing a competitive research position at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC), this Russian chemical engineer completed her PhD in Czechia and conducted research in Germany. At 37, she has already worked at six institutions across five different countries.In the short term, her goal is to establish herself as a research group leader, spearheading the development of synthetic cells for biomedical purposes.

Kostina explains, “I aim to secure my own funding to develop an emerging field that holds great potential for creating innovative technologies to address unmet medical challenges. The BIST grant is both a recognition of what I have achieved so far, and a catalyst that will help me as I develop my full potential as a scientist and as a mother.”

The 2024 edition marks the fourth installment of To the Mothers of Science, which launches calls every two years. Over the years, the BIST community has witnessed several of these “Mothers” attaining their professional goals, including Irene Marco Rius and Katherine Villa, who currently lead research groups at IBEC and ICIQ, respectively. Elena del Corro, who was a “Mother” in the inaugural edition in 2018, recently secured a prestigious ERC Consolidator Grant, enabling her to further her research endeavors at ICN2.

Having children affects women’s careers more than men’s

Despite the fact that men are much more involved in parenting today than their fathers and grandfathers were thirty or sixty years ago, recent studies show that fatherhood and motherhood impact men’s and women’s careers unequally. This difference is especially prominent in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers, which are often associated with fast-paced and constantly evolving work environments where it is easy to fall behind.

A study conducted in the USA among professionals in STEM disciplines showed that, although the arrival of children significantly affects both men’s and women’s careers, it does so more strikingly in women. Between four and seven years after the arrival of the first child, 43% of women in STEM had changed their full-time job for different work or had stopped working altogether, compared to 23% of men. In Catalonia, the study “Women’s Employment Outcomes Twenty Years After Finishing University” (AQU Catalunya, 2021), similarly shows that having children doubles the salary gap between men and women, and that experimental sciences and mathematics are among the fields with the highest glass ceilings (lowest percentage of women in leadership roles). The same AQU Catalunya study also shows that mothers with children perceive a greater imbalance in the time dedicated to family, work, and themselves, as compared to fathers and those without children.

It’s surprising that, despite the efforts dedicated to fostering scientific vocations among girls, and considering that young women outnumber men in our vocational and talent programmes, motherhood becomes an added difficulty in the already complex career of a woman scientist,” laments Marta Lacambra, Director of the Catalunya La Pedrera Foundation and a member of the “Mothers” selection committee.

The To the Mothers of Science programme aims to reduce this distress among mothers. As coach Arantxa Gómez Esqué explains, “Our goal is to provide mothers with the tools and support they need to effectively manage their work and family responsibilities, while taking care of themselves and prioritising their own wellbeing.”

Learn more:
To the Mothers of Science webpage

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