Skip to main content

BSI celebrates women in immunology

Women in immunology banner

A significant gender gap has persisted throughout the years in STEM disciplines all over the world, and while the number of women taking part in higher education has increased significantly, women are still underrepresented in these fields, particularly at senior levels. The BSI wants to recognise and celebrate women's contributions to the field of immunology by shining a spotlight on some of the brilliant women immunologists of our official journals Discovery Immunology, Immunotherapy Advances and Clinical & Experimental Immunology.

These women are experts in their fields and are based at research centres around the world. Jump to a profile below to find out more about how each of them started their career in immunology, their experiences as women in science and what advice they would give to other women and girls looking to have a career in science.

Please help us promote and celebrate diversity in immunology by sharing this page! You can also share your own message of support using the hashtag #WomenInImmunology.

Jump to a profile:

Professor Sandra Amor Sandra

Neuroimmunology Section Editor, Clinical & Experimental Immunology

Professor Amor is Professor and Head of Multiple Sclerosis Research in the Pathology Department of the VU University medical center (VUmc) in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Why did you choose a career in science?

I was fascinated by biology after using a microscope for the first time aged 12. From then on, I wanted to know how the body works and why it goes wrong. After my father was diagnosed with a neurological disease it made me more curious about what was happening at a biological level to cause the disease.

What’s your current research focus?

My group, positioned in a clinical pathology department, is focussed on the pathology, virology and immunology of multiple sclerosis (MS) to understand how the innate immune system triggers damage to the central nervous system. We also focus on innate immunity in neurodegenerative diseases including ALS and AD, and viral infections including SARS-CoV-2.

What’s your favourite part of your job?

Making new discoveries and adding findings to existing knowledge about diseases – MS in particular. It’s like doing multiple jigsaws without pictures as guides. This means you frequently have to reject pieces if they don’t fit the MS jigsaw but the findings may fit other jigsaws. The fun part is doing this with the team.

Why is gender equity in science important to you?

Gender equality is important in all walks of life, not just science. There has been and continues to be too much nepotism and closed networks meaning scientific discoveries are much slower than they need be. People should be judged on their merits and their contribution to science.

What would you say to women and girls who are looking to have a career in science?

Go for it! Don’t let anyone hold you back. Have confidence in yourself and find a good mentor – whether they're a man or woman – that has science and your interests at heart.

Professor Marianne Boes Marianne

Regional Editor for Europe, Immunotherapy Advances

Professor Boes is Associate Professor at the University Medical Center Utrecht, Netherlands, and heads up the Pediatric Immunology Laboratory in the Pediatrics Department and the Center for Translational Immunology.

Why did you choose a career in science?

I choose a career in science out of curiosity and a wish to somehow contribute to healthcare, which later turned out to mean doing laboratory research.

What’s your current research focus?

My current research focus is translational immunology: I think a lot of great science is being done that could be applied to patient use, and I try to improve the patients’ benefit of new research findings (from us or from others).

What’s your favourite part of your job?

My favourite part is to assist talented and driven MSc and PhD level students in their development to become fully-fledged researchers who recognize the importance and fun in doing science and become critical thinkers along the way.

Why is gender equity in science important to you?

Any endeavour, also science, works better when gender (and all factors that make us whole humans) are considered, as people who can truly be themselves perform better, as individuals and as a group. You simply miss out on a better scientific endeavour when you exclude talent based on gender etc.

What would you say to women and girls who are looking to have a career in science?

Go for it! Believe in yourself, look for role models, and ask for mentorship.

Dr Adriana Bonomo Adriana

Regional Editor for South America, Immunotherapy Advances

Dr Bonomo is a researcher at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where she leads the Translational Program for Cancer Research.

Why did you choose a career in science?

It was inevitable! Curiosity about how nature works is the mainspring that moves me towards science.

What’s your current research focus?

Currently we are looking at the immune response in different organs and its implications in cancer using a metastatic breast cancer model.

What’s your favourite part of your job?

Looking at the results after building a hypothesis and designing thoughtful experiments to 'disprove' it, is the best of all things! On this path, discussing with the students and observing their growth is an enormous pleasure.

Why is gender equity in science important to you?

I believe that when women scientists occupy more decision-making positions in scientific policy, discrimination will end. I was discriminated against in my first post-doc position when my mentor found out I was a single parent and I was sent to another lab. I left the lab after 4 months and after that, I worked with two wonderful people, who respected the boundaries between personal and professional.

What would you say to women and girls who are looking to have a career in science?

If you really love it, go for it! No matter who you are, gender, ethnicity…science teaches us to use the best methodology for choosing the way we want to live in the absence of any prejudice. Just make your dream come true!

Professor Tao Dong Tao

Regional Editor for Asia, Immunotherapy Advances

Professor Dong is a Professor of Immunology in the MRC Human Immunology Unit, Founding Director of CAMS-Oxford joint International Centre for Translational Immunology and Founding Director of CAMS Oxford Institute, at the University of Oxford, UK.

Why did you choose a career in science?

I never thought I would end up in science; growing up I wanted to be a mathematician. However, I was encouraged by my father to study physiology in university and have never looked back.

What’s your current research focus?

I study a type of immune cells called T-killer cells, which are an important defence mechanism of the body against viral and cancer cells. In the past 12 months, most of my attention has been focused on understanding the role of SARS-CoV-2 specific T cell responses and how this correlates with disease outcome in COVID-19 patients.

What’s your favourite part of your job?

I love interacting with students and postdocs in the lab; discussing their data and planning new experiments. Each day brings new challenges and opportunities! Although I don’t have much time to conduct my own experiments, the lab has been so busy the past 12 months I have been helping out as much as I can, and I loved it!

Why is gender equity in science important to you?

In China, we were told girls hold up half of the sky. This is true! I have never seen myself differently from my colleagues who are men when it comes to science.

What would you say to women and girls who are looking to have a career in science?

Find a good mentor for each stage of your career. There are going to be set-backs and it is important to be resilient and not give up easily. But most importantly; believe in yourself!

Professor Awen Gallimore Awen

Senior Editor, Discovery Immunology

Professor Gallimore is a professor at Cardiff University, UK, and Co-Director of Systems Immunity Research Institute.

Why did you choose a career in science?

Science was my favourite subject in school and thereafter it was a mix of chance encounters, lucky breaks and hard work.

What’s your current research focus?

It’s recently become clear that the immune system can respond to at least some cancers but that it's prevented from doing so by layers of regulation. I’m trying to find out more about these layers and how we can break through them.

What’s your favourite part of your job?

The best bit is undoubtedly discussing new findings and what they might mean with my team. Dare I say it...I quite like writing grants. The pressure aside, grants writing is a good way of synthesising ideas (and realising which ones aren’t very good!).

Why is gender equity in science important to you?

In science and beyond, gender equity is crucial for driving progress as creatively and as efficiently as possible. From a personal point of view, I love the humour and empathy of my women colleagues. Very life-affirming.

What would you say to women and girls who are looking to have a career in science?

There is so much to a career in science beyond biology, chemistry and physics A levels! Explore what’s out there and go for it.

Dr Emily Gwyer Findlay Emily

Senior Editor, Discovery Immunology

Dr Gwyer Findlay is a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellow and group leader at the University of Edinburgh, UK.

Why did you choose a career in science?

I nearly didn’t – I loved languages too, and had a hard choice at school! Eventually I did a degree in Biochemistry and Spanish, which suited me well. I really enjoyed the immunology lectures I took as part of this course and so I chose to look at that further during my PhD. I think I have never really consciously chosen a career in immunology, it’s just that I’ve enjoyed every stage so much I have kept going!

What’s your current research focus?

I have my own lab looking broadly at how neutrophils affect T cells. We know these two types of immune cells are present at the same places at the same time during immune responses, but we don’t really have much idea how they interact. This is what we’re trying to work out.

What’s your favourite part of your job?

I really love supervising students. I have two PhD students now and take lots of MSc and undergraduate students in my lab. I really enjoy helping them learn immunology and understand how wonderful (and mind-bending) it is.

Why is gender equity in science important to you?

Well, for obvious fairness reasons. But more than that, it seems to me we won’t answer important scientific questions if only a very narrow section of people are applying their brains to the problems. Diverse teams are more likely to come up with creative solutions.

What would you say to women and girls who are looking to have a career in science?

I would say that, in immunology we have made great strides in recruiting women into PhDs and postdocs. I find the field to be welcoming and supportive. However, we still have significant work to do in retaining and promoting women at more senior levels. This is something we are working to improve.

Dr Cindy Ma Cindy

Immunodeficiency Section Editor, Clinical & Experimental Immunology

Dr Ma co-heads the Immunology and Immunodeficiency Laboratory at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Sydney, Australia.

Why did you choose a career in science?

I was interested in how the immune system functions and science is a real way of making a difference in people’s lives.

What’s your current research focus?

My current research focus is on primary immunodeficiencies and determining how different gene defects compromise the immune system resulting in increased susceptibility to disease.

What’s your favourite part of your job?

The favourite part of my job is the different places and countries science takes you to and the amazing people you meet along the way – clearly this was pre-COVID-19!

Why is gender equity in science important to you?

Gender equity in science is important to me as women should have the same opportunities as men no matter what profession they choose. A career in science offers a lot of flexibility, which is especially important if you have a young family.

What would you say to women and girls who are looking to have a career in science?

Go for it! You never know what is on the other side and where a career in science will take you!

Professor Kathleen McCoy Kath

Senior Editor, Discovery Immunology

Professor McCoy is a professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology at the University of Calgary, Canada, and Scientific Director of the International Microbiome Centre.

Why did you choose a career in science?

I was always fascinated with biology and physiology. I was particularly amazed at how our immune system managed to keep us healthy. A career in science allowed me to constantly ask questions and learn.

What’s your current research focus?

My research focuses on the dynamic interplay between the gut microbiota and the immune system. I try to elucidate how the intestinal microbiome educates and regulates the immune system, especially during early life, and how this keeps us healthy or can drive disease.

What’s your favourite part of your job?

I love being able to continually ask new questions, to follow the science and discover new mechanisms. I also really love the ability to interact and collaborate with researchers all over the world.

Why is gender equity in science important to you?

Gender equity in science is essential to reach the full potential of scientific discovery. Gender equity and diversity promotes excellence and will benefit all aspects of society.

What would you say to women and girls who are looking to have a career in science?

I would encourage them! I would also stress the importance of seeking out strong mentors, scientific advisors and role models and to build a supportive network.

Professor Leonie Taams Leonie

Editor-in-Chief, Clinical & Experimental Immunology

Professor Taams is Professor of Immune Regulation and Inflammation, Head of the Department Inflammation Biology and Director of the Centre for Inflammation Biology and Cancer Immunology in the School of Immunology & Microbial Sciences at King’s College London, UK.

Why did you choose a career in science?

I have always been fascinated by the beauty of biological systems, and how these drive our development, maintain our health but also contribute to disease. Science, and immunology in particular, allows me to try to decipher some aspects of this.

What’s your current research focus?

My lab aims to identify cellular and molecular mechanisms that initiate, perpetuate and regulate inflammation in chronic immune-mediated inflammatory diseases. We have a particular focus on the immunopathology of rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis.

What’s your favourite part of your job?

My job is so multi-faceted that it is difficult to choose a favourite part! Having said that, a particularly rewarding aspect of my work is to see the students and staff around me develop and progress.

Why is gender equity in science important to you?

Because science should reflect everyone, both in terms of the people who conduct science, and those who benefit from science – which is everyone.

What would you say to women and girls who are looking to have a career in science?

Go for it: as long as you are curious and are not afraid to experiment and ask questions, there is a place and need for you in science.

Dr Meera Ramanujam Meera

Senior Editor, Discovery Immunology

Dr Ramanujam is Executive Director of Immunology and Translational Research at Aro Biotherapeutics based in Philadelphia, USA.

Why did you choose a career in science?

Growing up I was fascinated by chemistry and the interactions between molecules, which turned into a curiosity for biochemistry, especially as it pertains to human systems and disease.

What’s your current research focus?

Together with the Aro team, I work to develop new treatment options for patients with immunological diseases.

What’s your favourite part of your job?

Understanding disease mechanisms and seeing the effect of drugs we develop improving patients’ lives.

Why is gender equity in science important to you?

Gender equity is not uniform across all scientific disciplines. We need this for women to shine and be in the forefront and not be the workforce who do things in the background.

What would you say to women and girls who are looking to have a career in science?

Science provides a huge opportunity to reveal your innovative thinking, push your limits and make a difference to humankind.

Meera

Dr Meera Ramanujam

Senior Editor, Discovery Immunology

Dr Ramanujam is Executive Director of Immunology and Translational Research at Aro Biotherapeutics based in Philadelphia, USA.

Why did you choose a career in science?

Growing up I was fascinated by chemistry and the interactions between molecules, which turned into a curiosity for biochemistry, especially as it pertains to human systems and disease.

What’s your current research focus?

Together with the Aro team, I work to develop new treatment options for patients with immunological diseases.

What’s your favourite part of your job?

Understanding disease mechanisms and seeing the effect of drugs we develop improving patients’ lives.

Why is gender equity in science important to you?

Gender equity is not uniform across all scientific disciplines. We need this for women to shine and be in the forefront and not be the workforce who do things in the background.

What would you say to women and girls who are looking to have a career in science?

Science provides a huge opportunity to reveal your innovative thinking, push your limits and make a difference to humankind.