Women in STEM: Interview #4

By Lisa Banti


Joo Hee Choi is a Ph.D. student at the Jeonbuk National University, in the Department of BIN Convergence Technology. She is 27 years old and a studious student.

I spoke with her on the afternoon of July 1st 2021. She is enjoying her stay in America with her husband. They’re a newlywed couple. Congratulations! She shared her point of view on the questions I presented to her.

“Many opportunities will arise for women in the future”

What type of vision do you have for the near future, regarding gender equality in the workplace? In the future, when I’ll have gotten my Ph.D. degree, I’d like to pursue an academic profession. I believe there will be many opportunities for young women who strive to work in an academic environment and otherwise.  As of right now, the ratio of male to female professors is still unbalanced between the genders. The time for change is now. I don’t think it is possible to backtrack into what discrimination and prejudice against women has been in past centuries. Now, most of both genders are receiving proper education and many opportunities. Hopefully in the near future, there will be an increase in female professors. I can’t say that this is a black and white matter where it goes either one way or another. There are many variations and greys areas in between to gender equality in the workplace. I think the ability to communicate and work together will improve between colleagues once the gender ratio is more balanced. This is an especially important feature in the field of science. Only with teamwork do we create concrete ideas and correct results. Also, more female professors can act as role models for young female students who aspire to join the scientific academic field.

What do you think are the barriers that prevent from achieving gender equality in the workplace? I’m not sure there are actual barriers blocking women in our generation. I think historically it’s been hard achieving gender equality in Korea and in the rest of the world because of gender stereotypes that have become tradition over the centuries; where it’s dictated that men should go out and do the work while women stay at home. This has changed greatly in our modern-day society, but this prejudice and discrimination hasn’t disappeared completely yet. In our generation, everyone is allowed to work. Women are being encouraged by the triumph of other women who have made it to higher job positions, and they themselves are working harder towards that end goal. Nowadays, women are showing more successful results, progressing towards a gender equal society. I think it’s no longer possible to oppress women from trying and achieving this goal of equality between the genders.

On a more realistic basis, I think that women are capable of focusing and working harder on their job when they’re not married and don’t have children. After we do have children, our attention and focus is divided between work and our children. I believe maternity leave is one of the barriers to achieving gender equality. It’s not the concept of maternity leave in itself; it’s the perception of it. How other people, other colleagues, view it. Not everyone in the workplace understands and consequently, is understanding of the need for a maternity leave after giving birth. They might think that it could hinder the new mother’s ability to work effectively and efficiently. I think we can make progress, but it’s going to take time and patience.

What does your experience amount to in working in a predominantly male workplace? I’m still studying for my Ph.D. right now and from my experience here, I can tell you that my workplace is mostly gender equal.

What role do you think women should play in STEM? That’s a hard question to answer. I think our role has been changing over the last few decades.  I believe that more women should advance into the academic field as professors, researchers, scientists and/or anything else; and that they should show-off the involvement and achievements to come of women in the STEM field. I thinks its necessary to devise a STEM-related study for women, that considers the reality women live in and that also creates a variety of different professional paths so that more women can become involved in STEM. All the disciplines of STEM should be able to demonstrate their capabilities in the scientific field in order to keep advancing and making new discoveries.

Have you seen or experienced a difference in the way you are treated, while working as a woman in an academic environment and/or in industrial companies? I haven’t felt myself being treated differently than a male colleague. Everyone works equally and has to do the research equally too. I attended the University of Minho, in Portugal, for a Secondary Scholarship during a period of 3 months. Compared to when I work in Korea, the overall atmosphere in Portugal was different. I think it has to do with the difference in countries, cultures and mannerisms. In Korea, everything is done in fast-paced manner. The work has to be completed briskly and concretely to obtain results swiftly. On the other hand, in Portugal, the system is well set and you can take your time with gathering data for your work. There wasn’t any rush to get things done. Though, there was a lot of insistence on the security formations and instructions for entering the lab. It was amazing to see so many people working together in the lab. Many students were working specifically in biomaterials; and just in biomaterials there were many different fields like 3D printing, fabricating new materials, nano-particles, and so on.  It was very exciting and new for me to see hundreds of students work so diligently in all of these different fields. I got to spend time and get to know other students from many different nationalities. It was an international experience. It was sad leaving after only 3 months. I would have liked to stay a bit longer.

From what I recall, there were also a lot of women working in the lab in Portugal. During my time there, I never felt any sort of discrimination towards myself in any situation.

Do you remember what profession you wanted to pursue when you were a teenager, like me now? I’ve always been interested in becoming a scientist, I wasn’t sure what profession to pursue exactly, but I knew that by becoming a researcher my objective would be reached. I’ve always wanted to help people on a more global scale. For example, I think doctors do a very important job by saving lives, but they can only pay attention to one patient at a time. By becoming a researcher I can help a greater number of people all at once. I aspire to discover the cure to a disease or health issue, which hasn’t been found yet and save many lives.

Were you able to attain your dream job? I’m still working towards that objective, but I think I’m on the right path to becoming a researcher and to being able to help people.

Can you describe the work environment you are in now? Every lab has a different way of operating and does different types of experiments. I’m currently working in a lab where all the students can gain experience. Our supervisor guides and encourages us to think of new projects, presentations and studies to do by ourselves. I guess I’m not really used to someone giving me this sort of freedom and liberty in the lab, where there usually are strict instructions. It is an environment where all students can reach their potential as long as they have good ideas.

What are your plans for the near future? I will finish my Ph.D. degree. I’m planning to apply to a Postdoc program in the United States as it is the leading country in the biomedical field. I would like to try a different field inside of biomaterials, but nothing has been decided yet.