Research group MPEA

Marine Phytoplankton Ecology and Applications

Gender, Research and Leadership in the Time of COVID


Are your collaborations or working environments with men and women the same? If not, how do they differ?

What is the best description of being inclusive?

How do we become better at negotiating?

What actions can we take every day to improve gender equality, instead of just waiting for policy changes?

These questions, and many more, were discussed this past month, as our research group joined the 2020 all-hands meeting of AMRI (Aquatic Microbiome Research Initiative) AMR), the Sweden-wide open network of aquatic microbial ecology researchers, funded by SciLifeLab.  This year’s meeting was unlike most annual microbiology forums: The 2-day webinar was divided by theme – Microbial Ecology for Safe Water and the pervasive global issue facing research and science: Gender inequality.

This year, AMRI’s collection of invited speakers were women whose work in the field of microbial ecology has strongly impacted scientific discussions around safe water, brought new perspectives into the connection between microbial ecology and public health, and addressed social welfare through the lens of safe water as a global challenge.

Click here to view the AMRI Seminar: Microbial Ecology for Safe Water


We heard from  Hélene Norder Gothenburg University), Kaarina Sivonen (University of Helsinki), Catherine Paul and Karin Rengefors (Lund University), Agneta Andersson (Umeå University), and Maria Saline, who spoke about the Chalmer’s gender and research initiative, GENIE.

The day culminated in the keynote speaker of honor, Dr. Rita Colwell, American microbiologist of great renown, who spoke for one inspiring hour on Climate, Oceans, and Human Health: What Cholera can Teach Us About COVID-19. Dr. Colwell, whose work with microbiology in public health has faced the global challenge of safe water head on, in her career that has spanned decades. Her work in reducing cholera in Bangladeshi villages through simple filtration, to her work today, tracking COVID-19 in wastewater, has had enormous impact in public health. In addition to her research, Dr. Colwell was the first female director of the US National Science Foundation.

Despite her vital contributions to microbial science and public health, however, Dr. Colwell’s career was a hard-fought victory, overshadowed by decades of sexism and discrimination in the science and academic workplace. Such challenges are outlined in her new book, A Lab of One’s Own, a memoir and motivational journey.



“The day you became a scientist was the day you chose to be a leader.” – Catherine Legrand, panel on gender and research in the time of COVID, AMRI seminar 2020

Lauri Robbins Ericsson, Emotional Intelligence, Gender Intelligence and Research in the time of COVID

The second day of the AMRI seminar focused solely on gender and research, welcoming Lauri Robbins Ericsson, speaker on gender intelligence issues, and a panel of four women: Karin Rengefors, Catherine Paul, Maria Saline, and Catherine Legrand. Lauri’s objective-based presentation, Emotional Intelligence, Gender Intelligence and Research in the time of COVID, highlighted the challenges posed by gender equality in academia and science, stressed the importance of emotional intelligence and leadership, and how gender barriers are broken down in emotional intelligence analysis. (See below to view Lauri’s entire talk). Lauri then moderated the panel of scientists, who discussed issues of gender bias in the field, leadership, inclusivity, knowledge and challenges.

This seminar brought to light the issues surrounding gender inequality in the field of research and academia, and brought forward inspiring discussions from experienced scientists in the field, as well as young researchers just starting on their path. We will continue to shed light on this essential subject, paying attention to programs such as GENIE, which promotes gender balance within the Chalmers University faculty.

What can you do to promote gender equality? What brave steps can you take in your own life and work? How can you speak up for those who might be held back?


–Caroline Littlefield