HERStory: Strong women inspiring the next generation of scientists

Our congratulations go out to Richelle Duque Björvang on winning the 2021 HERStory competition. Richelle is finishing her PhD at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and yet managed to find the time to inspire the next generation by producing a video about HERStory.

The concept HERStory started at the University of St. Andrews with the purpose of finding inspiring women in research to tell their story an encourage the next generation to think big. Entrants in the HERStory competition submitted video entries explaining what they do and how they became researchers. The idea was to make a 2-minute video of something that they would have wanted to hear in high school. HERStory was organised  as part of EXPLORATHON, the Scottish European Researchers’ Night. 

European Researchers’ Night, ERN,  is a Pan-European movement to engage people in the fascinating science and research that is going on all around them. In Sweden, all of the European Researchers’ Night activities are organised under the name ForskarFredag.

It’s nice to see that you have achieved something and that you can actually have an influence in the world, especially when it comes to the health of others.

Richelle, who is finishing her PhD, finds herself at an important point in her life. This is a crossroad and a particularly reflective period for her and it was the perfect moment to talk about the one thing that has helped Richelle through her journey – following her passion. Her passion led her to pursue her PhD in reproductive toxicology, studying how several chemicals impact the ability of women to get pregnant. Despite the sometimes challenging work of a PhD student, it’s a decision she has never regretted and that she’s found highly fulfilling.

“When you finish your PhD, you wrap up four years of hard work and it does have an impact. It’s nice to see that you have achieved something and that you can actually have an influence in the world, especially when it comes to the health of others.”

In her video, Richelle points out that in the past, when asked what she would like to do in her career, she would often say an accountant or an engineer which just happened to be the careers of her parents. It may have been easy to follow in her parents’ footsteps, but Richelle chose to follow her passion and became a medical doctor, a molecular biologist and a reproductive toxicologist.

Such great achievements and grand titles are impressive and will undoubtebly have an impact on a young audience, but people can often be overwhelmed when faced with someone who has achieved a lot. However,  Richelle has such a great way of breaking things down. In her video, she explains how she arrived where she is today by taking things one step at a time. By daring to pursue that which interested her and looking for opportunities to explore her interests, she was able to follow her passion through her bachelor degree, medical school and ultimately to completing a PhD.

I wanted to engage and inspire not only high school students but also the public at large

The purpose of her video was not only to inspire, but to show young students that there is a whole range of possibilities out there. It can be difficult to find out what they are, but as Richelle says, if you ask questions and follow your passion, you will find answers that will help to guide you to the right path in your career.

While the video was initially made for high school students, Richelle had a larger audience in mind when she made hers. “I wanted to engage and inspire not only high school students but also the public at large,” explained Richelle.

Richelle noted that thinking about her own path and trying to find a way to inspire others was itself very inspiring. “It was an introspective process“, explained Richelle, “a process of self-actualisation, which is extremely positive. Even before submitting the video, I felt like I’d already won from all the insight it gave me.”

View Richelle’s winning entry as well as all the runner up videos. 

Researchers’ Grand Prix

Richelle Duque Björvang is also finalist in Forskar Grand Prix 20/21. See her, and the other six participants, at Nalen on 25 November, 14-16.00 CET. Further information


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