This month, the Nobel Prize winners were announced and this year hit a special place as four remarkable women were showcased in the prizes for Physics, Chemistry and Literature. Andrea Ghez was awarded the Physics Prize for discovering “a supermassive object at the centre of our galaxy.” Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna were awarded the Chemistry Prize for their revolutionary work in CRISPR technology. Louis Gluck was awarded the Literature Prize for “her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal.” These four women are highly distinguished and respected in their fields and my timelines on Instagram and Twitter lit up with joy and discussions about the importance of seeing women get recognized.
In recent years, the Nobel Prize picks have been met with debate for their lack of inclusion of anyone that isn’t a European middle-aged, white male, to the point that people have grown tired of only a handful of people receiving this iconic and prestigious prize. Luckily, this year marked the first time two women (Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier) won a Nobel in the sciences together.
As the winners were announced, I was scrolling through my social media feeds and I was pleasantly surprised by countless women sharing their stories of how female mentors, professors, bosses, friends helped them get to where they are. The Nobel winners announcements caused a collective celebration where women all over the world and in all fields were uplifted by this historic moment.
Historically, women have been met with a side-eye from the public as their ability to innovate and advance fields has been questioned time and time again. For young girls and young women, it’s important to see women get recognized to know it’s possible and not just a dream. To see women be the firsts of anything makes me wonder what we can learn from their successes as we all head down our own paths.
Jennifer Doudna’s interest in science was nurtured by her 10th grade biology teacher, who she’s cited as an influence in her scientific curiosity. Throughout her college years, there were various moments where she doubted her ability in the science field and even planned on switching to a French major. Her French professor was the one who encouraged her to stay in her biochemistry major. Decades later, she was filmed in the backyard of her home after receiving the call for the Nobel Prize and when asked about the significance of two women sharing the award, she responded with: “I think among women and girls that there’s a sense that no matter what they do, their work will not be recognized the way it would be if they were a man. I hope this award changes that a little.”
Emanuelle Cherpentier was persistent since a young child, determined to reach her dreams of working in the biology field. That persistence paid off with the scientist being the founder of two biotech companies and the director of a research institute in Berlin. She exudes confidence in every interview and has a sureness in her capabilities that transcends the screen. In every interview I’ve seen of hers, I can’t help but feel excited to think that maybe one day I could be like her. In her Nobel interview, she mentioned the significance of the award going to two women and she said: “It’s very important to really provide a clear message that it is possible to achieve ultimate recognition even if you are female.”
Andrea Ghez’s love for astronomy began with the Apollo 11 moon landing and her mother encouraged her to pursue her dream of becoming the first female astronaut. She is the fourth woman to be awarded the Nobel for Physics. When asked about the significance of that recognition, she replied by saying that “It’s always been very important to encourage young women into the sciences, so to me it means an opportunity and a responsibility to encourage the next generation of scientists”.
Louise Gluck’s writing has been lauded by critics and her Nobel interview was short and precise where she clarifies that anything urgent she needs to say appears in her writing and the rest is just entertainment. In the past, she’s rejected the idea that literature by women has to be viewed differently than men’s works and approaches her take on female writing with fluidity.
All of these incredible women have found their way in different fields and the common thread of their take on winning the Nobel Prize is the importance of encouraging young women to follow their dreams. For them, there seems to be a sense of urgency and responsibility in getting more women involved but also to detach the gender conversation from success and recognition. It shouldn’t push the boundaries to recognize women for their work. They attribute their successes to curiosity, creativity, intelligence but most importantly, teamwork. We can only reach higher if we uplift each other and celebrate each other’s successes.