Female triplets, industrial doctorate projects led by women

Through the experience of three industrial PhD projects led exclusively by women, we explore how diversity in research can lead to more creative and effective solutions. | With the visibility of these teams, which we call female triplets, the Industrial Doctorates Plan aims to promote greater female participation in all roles and areas of knowledge.

The Industrial Doctorates Plan seeks to connect the academic world with the socio-economic sector to promote strategic, collaborative and applied research. A consolidated program that has proven its effectiveness as a powerful tool at the intersection between research, the formation of highly qualified human capital and innovation in universities, research centers and the Catalan industrial fabric.

Since its inception, the program has always had the desire to promote the inclusion of women in strategic research projects. Throughout its ten years of evolution, there has been a sustained growth in industrial doctoral projects developed by teams made up entirely of women. In this context, the aim is to promote the visibility of what we call the "Female Triplets", research teams made up exclusively of women who lead industrial doctoral projects. This initiative not only challenges gender stereotypes within STEM fields, but also demonstrates the positive impact of inclusion and diversity in the generation of innovative and effective solutions.

The Women's Triplets exemplify how the integration of diverse perspectives can enrich research and accelerate the development of new technologies and methodologies. In this article, we will explore how these research teams have overcome obstacles and achieved significant successes within their respective projects. Examples that want to inspire future generations of scientists to pursue their passion in fields where they have not traditionally been represented.

Overall, women's participation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields has seen a gradual improvement, but is still far from parity. Initiatives such as the #100tífiques programme of the Catalan Foundation for Research and Innovation (FCRI) or the call for the DonaTIC Awards of the Generalitat de Catalunya, seek to give greater visibility to the strategic role of women in science in Catalonia. According to a report (2019) by UNESCO, women represent only 35% of students enrolled in higher studies related to STEM disciplines. As for Catalonia, only 32% of STEM students are women according to the 2022 ICT Women's Barometer , by the Cercle Tecnològic. These data show that only a small percentage of female researchers and engineers hold prominent positions within these disciplines, despite these being fundamental areas for the economy of the future. Women often face specific challenges, such as the lack of role models, gender stereotypes and underrepresentation in decision-making spaces. All this underlines the need for initiatives that make women's achievements in these fields more visible and that encourage the participation of female students and professionals in these disciplines.

Certainly, since its inception with the pilot plan, the Industrial Doctorates Plan has demonstrated a sustained commitment to the inclusion and empowerment of women within the fields of science and technology. This commitment is reflected in the evolution of the number of "Women's Triplets" that have participated in the program over the years.

Evolution of the Women's Triplets by edition

Since 2013, when only two projects led by Women's Triplets were registered, there has been a growing trend in their participation. The number of projects has grown steadily annually, reaching a total of 59 projects in 2023. This evolution stands out especially in the last year, where the number of projects has reached 9, the maximum in a single edition.

Distribution of Women's Triplets by academic environment

The projects have been distributed across a variety of academic institutions, with the University of Barcelona and the CERCA Centres leading the way with 13 and 10 projects respectively. Other institutions such as the Rovira i Virgili University and the University of Vic – Central University of Catalonia have also had a notable participation with 8 and 7 projects respectively.

Distribution of the Women's Triplets according to the scope of the project

In terms of disciplines, the projects led by Women's Triplets have covered a wide spectrum, with a significant concentration in Health Sciences and Biomedicine, which represent 34 of the 59 projects. This is followed by Chemical Sciences and Technologies with 11 projects. Participation in other areas such as Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities, as well as Engineering and Architecture, Mathematics and Physics, and ICT, although more modest, underlines the diversity of fields in which women are actively contributing.

Three real cases of women's triplets

As an example of this reality, we will present below three specific projects, each of them illustrating the positive impact and significant contributions of the Women's Triplets in different areas of knowledge and research. Regarding the interview, the three teams have been asked the same four questions, one for each of the members and a last one for the team as a whole.

Application of Machine Learning to Quantum Computing

The first project we are presenting explores the application of machine learning to quantum computing and neutrino physics projects. The project, carried out in collaboration between Qilimanjaro Quantum Tech and theInstitute of High Energy Physics with the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), is part of the field of particle physics and computer science.

What was your main motivation for embarking on this industrial PhD project?

Annalisa De Lorenzis (Industrial PhD Student): The main motivation that drove me to undertake this industrial PhD project was my passion for research and my desire to contribute meaningfully to the field of quantum machine learning and neutrino physics. I saw this project as an opportunity to grow professionally, acquiring interdisciplinary skills and working in an environment that promotes innovation and technological development.

How do you think your project contributes to breaking down barriers for women in your field of research?

María del Pilar Casado (thesis director): Actions are much more effective than words. Therefore, the example provided in this project is very important for other women who want to work in physics or quantum engineering. Despite the environment we have in our society, women can thrive and develop a career at the level of their male colleagues.

How has female leadership influenced the direction and results of this project?

Marta Pascual (Head of Business): Although the gender of research leadership may not inherently affect the quality of the project or its results, the presence of female professors and leaders can significantly inspire young women to pursue careers in these fields. Their visibility helps to break down stereotypes and barriers, making it clear that these professions are open and welcoming to everyone, regardless of gender.

As an all-female team, what message would you like to send to other young women who aspire to research and innovation?

Project Team: We encourage women with a passion for physics and quantum computing to persist in their careers. Never let fear or uncertainty get in the way of your progress. Your courage and perseverance are key to breaking boundaries and making extraordinary contributions in these fields. Keep going!

Improving the quality of life of patients with inflammatory bowel disease

The second project is a collaboration between the company GoodGut, the University of Barcelona and the University of Girona, seeks the development and validation of a kit to monitor the activity of specific inflammatory bowel disease. The result of the project will allow GoodGut to have an in vitro diagnostic technology that is more effective than those that currently exist, allowing an improvement in the quality of life of patients.

What was your main motivation for embarking on this industrial PhD project?

Sandra Taboada López (industrial PhD student): When I understood the profound involvement of science in human diseases, I decided to dedicate my life to contributing to overcoming them. Since then, my motivation to work in science has always been driven by the importance of effort, passion and commitment to society to make a significant impact in the fight against disease. This awareness has driven me to look for the most effective way to make a difference, and that is why I decided to embark on an industrial doctorate. 

How do you think your project contributes to breaking down barriers for women in your field of research?

Laura Baldo (thesis director): The leadership of a research project represents a concrete example of the capacity, creativity and effort of women in the scientific field. As a mother, teacher and researcher (and much more) I hope to represent an example for all women to pursue the same professional passion in respect of private/family life.

How has female leadership influenced the direction and results of this project?

Marta Malagón (Head of Business): The belief that there are differences between female and male leadership in companies is deeply rooted. You have a completely different image of a male leader and a female leader. However, what is important for me is to lead projects where a goal has been built with the participation of a multidisciplinary team and motivated by achieving them regardless of their gender. 

As an all-female team, what message would you like to send to other young women who aspire to research and innovation?

Project team: as a team made up entirely of women in the field of research and innovation, we want to convey a message of inspiration and support. Don't be afraid to pursue your dreams and tread unconventional paths. Always remember your courage and determination in the face of any challenge you encounter. Women play a crucial role in research and innovation, and our talent and perspective are essential to address today's challenges and build a better future for all.

Production of green hydrogen from renewable and sustainable energy sources

The third project led by a female trio works on the production of green hydrogen from renewable and sustainable energy sources, reducing dependence on fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions. The project is the result of the collaboration between the Consortium for Waste Management of the Vallès Oriental and the University of Barcelona (UB).

What was your main motivation for embarking on this industrial PhD project?

Judit Lloreda Rodes (industrial doctoral student): this industrial doctoral project is a unique opportunity to jointly apply the two branches of knowledge in which I have trained, within an interdisciplinary project with a great future projection. I am also motivated by the possibility of dealing with and learning about a highly topical topic such as green hydrogen, and its importance in the energy transition towards a more sustainable model.

Being part of a strategic research project, where research is intertwined with the current needs of a company like the Consortium, to propose an innovative solution that fits into its mission towards a sustainable energy model, is a great opportunity to transfer research and bring it closer to society.

How do you think your project contributes to breaking down barriers for women in your field of research?

Elvira Gómez Valentín (thesis director): it is important to point out that neither the research nor the final applications of the doctoral thesis project have any gender implications, since the possible results would benefit society as a whole, both men and women, equally. Therefore, the assessment of the gender dimension in the framework of this research does not reveal any gender-related concerns associated with the achievement of the goals.

On the other hand, it would be desirable that the coincidence of three women as actresses in this doctoral thesis project, especially in an industrial doctoral setting, be considered as a sample of the normality of the significant role played by women in research and its execution. This situation, although it has occurred casually, highlights the progressive incorporation of women in research and management tasks, and can be a call to attract attention from areas outside research, making the presence of women visible and raising the consideration of women in research.

How has female leadership influenced the direction and results of this project?

Vanessa Abad Cuñado (company manager): equality is a pending issue in many areas. Therefore, being able to see industrial doctorates in which there is a "female triplet" should not be treated as a different circumstance. On the contrary, we must consider it as part of the fact that society is maturing and that there are more and more female researchers, heads and directors in the scientific and business fields. 

Female leadership in this direction of the project influences this aspect that I have mentioned. The fact that scientific and business leaders are women influences this plurality, a sign of a society that is evolving towards equality. This integrative vision in all areas allows us to carry out a project where scientific rigor is maximum. The thesis director, an excellent scientist and director, from my point of view, has made it possible to bring these results closer to the industrial world, in real plants. 

As an all-female team, what message would you like to send to other young women who aspire to research and innovation?

Project team: We would tell them that dedicating themselves to research and innovation, although it is not always easy, is a great opportunity to continue training in the world of research and build a profile of high professional value, in a world where there is an increasing presence of women at the head of large projects.

Conclusions

Finally, with this report we have explored these three examples of "Female Triplets" within the Industrial Doctorates Plan, highlighting not only their scientific and technological excellence, but also their ability to challenge the current situation of women in STEM fields. We have seen how all-female teams have led innovative projects in quantum computing, biomedicine, and environmental sustainability, offering new solutions to complex problems and contributing significantly to scientific progress. The "Women's Triplets" serve as an example and inspiration, demonstrating that gender barriers can and should be overcome. For this reason, it is essential that we continue to promote diversity and inclusion within research projects within the framework of the Industrial Doctorates Plan.

In conclusion, as we celebrate the successes of the "Women's Triplets", we must also reflect on how we can build on these foundations to ensure that the next generation of female scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians can work in a world where their skills and perspectives are equally valued and where their participation is the norm, not the exception.