Where do you think the underrepresentation of women in the exact field comes from? “I think it starts young. Girls are given dolls to play with, boys are given cars. Later on, if a man wants to become a nurse he’ll be told it’s a woman’s job because they’re more empathetic, a woman that wants to become an engineer will be told it’s a hard job that gives little room for starting a family.
“But it also depends on where you’re from. In some places, women are still fighting for rights like to be able to vote, to wear a hijab or not, to have an abortion. In Germany and Finland for instance, there’s less of a gender gap. Men and women get the same amount of parental leaf. Women that want to start a family still have enough time for their own life, to work hard and get the tougher funds for their research.”
2022 – now
Co-founder of Women in Stem, VU Amsterdam
2021 – now
Master’s in Neurosciences, VU Amsterdam
2018 – 2021 Bachelor’s in Molecular Biology and Genetics, Lisbon
But there’s also the Gender-Equality Paradox: in countries that in general are less gender-equal, there’s relatively a lot of girls and women engaging in the Stem subjects. “Maybe those are developing countries where people have to work hard to get a good future for their children. I was born in Ukraine – having enough money was a big issue at that time. My parents moved to Portugal to give us the best possible future. Seeing them struggle financially at the beginning and seeing how far they’ve come made me want to get a good job, I never considered the risky ones like going into music.”
In choosing Neuroscience, did you have any role models yourself? “I would say my parents, they will always be my inspiration. In high school, my teachers in biology and chemistry were women. They knew what they were doing, did it well and helped me see that I could do the same. I learned directly from them, they were very easy to speak to. I never thanked them for having that role in my life, but maybe I will someday.”
At VU Amsterdam, the students have already chosen to either go into Stem or not. What do you think Women in Stem can help them with at this stage? “We want to show them what their options are after their studies: are their only choices to get a PhD or become a teacher, should they work for a pharmaceutical company? It really helps to hear from people in the field about their experiences. And yes, they’ve already chosen and that’s why we want to also visit high schools to get girls excited for the Stem field.
Last September, Pryshchepova founded Women in Stem together with biomedical sciences student Patricia Fierro-Hernández. Through organizing events with the help of students from different study backgrounds like lectures by professionals, workshops and museum and school visits, their goal is to empower women in the Stem field. As of yet, they’re not an official VU Amsterdam association and receive no funds.
“We’re also thinking of organizing a controversial event where we ask men how they feel about the fact that we have less rights, get paid less and get fewer job offers. We would like to know if men think it’s just a miscommunication that’s making it a bigger problem.”
But the numbers don’t lie, right? What could be the miscommunication? “We just want to be on the same page. We had a long discussion about if we wanted men on our board. If a hundred women march for their rights, the media will find the one man to put a spotlight on them and have them speak for the women. That’s why we chose to just have people that identify as women in the head committee. In the rest of the group, everyone is welcome. I just don’t think it’s the fault of men, it’s more how society shapes us. It’s an asshole-issue, not a men-issue.”