Reiko received the L’Oréal–UNESCO For Women in Science Award in 2013 for encouraging women to pursue scientific research.
No future for me
Reiko’s experiences researching chirality in both materials chemistry, and its role in creating the body patterns of living organisms, focused her attention on the lack of women in research in Japan. Working both in Japan and in the UK, she has noticed a huge difference in the attitudes to women in research.
After her PhD at the University of Tokyo, Reiko had extensive experience in the determination of stereochemistry but was held back by Japan’s attitudes to women.
“My supervisor told me that the best thing for women is to get married. I thought there would be no future for me in Japan, so I decided to look at other places where I could go.”
Under the pressure to marry, she sought an opportunity to work with Stephen Mason at King’s College London in the UK.
Whilst at King’s College, her interest in biology was fostered: ‘I went to the biophysics department to use their x-ray diffractometer, and talking to people there, I realised that not only the chemistry, but also the biology of chirality is interesting.” Having made further advances in her career at the Institute of Cancer Research, Reiko later returned to Japan to take up an associate professor position at the University of Tokyo and later became a full professor. “It was the first time they had offered the position to a woman.”
For the benefit of society
Reiko’s experiences have led her to vice president of the International Council for Science where she promotes science for the benefit of society. Presented with the L’Oréal–UNESCO For Women in Science Award in 2013 after her encouragement for women in research, Reiko highlights the challenges managing research and family: "For scientific research it is important to keep working, because science develops so rapidly that you cannot take one or two years off” but in the modern era, women don’t need to stop their research. With fewer than 14 % of the researchers in Japan female, Reiko believes that the only way to gain equality is by encouraging women to be present more in the workplace as well as become leaders.
Reiko explains that “it is quite difficult to secure research funding in Japan once one gets to a certain age, with the focus on giving grants to young people.” She believes her award will not only encourage the government to continue funding her work but others too. As there is some way to go before Japan achieves gender equality within the sciences, it is clear that Reiko’s work both in her research as well as supporting women carries huge importance.
Words by Jenny Lovell
Images courtesy of Reiko Kuroda
Published October 2014