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Women in science – Virginie Timothee

Posted Monday 28 April 2014

Women in scienceEach week we bring you a profile of a Kingston alumna who has contributed greatly to the field of science.

This week we find out about Virginie Timothee, who graduated in 2009 with a Sustainable Environmental Development with Management Studies MSc. She is currently a sustainable construction manager.

How did you first become interested in science?

I can't really remember! As a general rule I'm quite interested in anything and everything – as a child in the 80s I was captivated by, and quite good at, using computers. I went on to study sciences in high school and graduated from a French engineering school in 2002.

What did you do after leaving Kingston?

I studied for my MSc part time while working for a major French construction company based in London, planning to further my career in sustainable development, rather than construction itself. After I graduated, I changed positions within the company, and created a role as sustainable design co-ordinator, overseeing sustainable design innovation and all aspects of environmental certifications such as BREEAM (the environmental assessment and rating system for buildings) as I'd also trained to be a BREEAM assessor.

What's it like being a woman in the scientific workplace?

It is quite testing in the first few years. Firstly, there tends to be a gender imbalance, but also – and this is true to a certain extent for men and women – a great mix of  ages. It can be difficult for a young person with a higher degree/diploma to manage older people with lesser qualifications, even more so in the case of a young woman managing older men. But this issue is becoming more and more acknowledged, and women are forming networks to support one another. Nevertheless,  some fields of science – and construction is one of them unfortunately – remain very chauvinistic, and a woman must know herself quite well to be able to withstand what can sometimes be qualified as abuse.

How can society encourage more women into science?

By promoting the great successes of scientists, regardless of gender. Also, by allowing more formal/informal communication between women, perhaps by promoting mentoring which offers younger women successful female role models. What I think is very detrimental to younger women is the image of women in the media, which seems to indicate that being slim etc is the best way to be popular (and who said popularity was the way to go anyway!). That's where a strong network of professional, successful women can help show what it really means to succeed. Also, by being more open and honest about everyday life challenges and how men and women respond to them – for example, childcare is still often considered to be the mother's prerogative, although more and more couples find satisfactory solutions to allow a woman to develop into her career.

Do you think scientific talent is based on nature or nurture?

I think it requires a bit of both. Every child has his or her preferences, to which a parent should be attentive to facilitate a career in that direction, but it's also important that a child is put in a position to express these preferences.

Have any doors opened as a result of your science education outside the field?

The great thing about having an education in science is that I feel independent. I know how to solve problems for myself and I can communicate with mostly everyone about anything.

My education allows me to understand most subjects – it's only recently that I discovered the field I wanted to work in (ecology), and luckily from my science base I had I could pick up many topics.

Today I'm a manager, and although I don't have a strong education in this field, my scientific education allows me to solve a human problem methodically, as I would a scientific one. It also helps with planning, analysing and reporting.

Are there certain skills which women can offer in the science and technology world compared to men?

I don't like to generalise, particularly when it comes to gender. We're all different, and we bring our personality as well as our skills to perform in our job. Women are sometimes perceived to be less ambitious or to lack self-confidence, so I would suggest that maybe we bring more respect for people in the workplace, a bit less aggression, which can help in any field of work, particularly in team management.

How well paid is a science career?

It varies greatly.

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