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February 11, 2021

International Day of Women and Girls in Science: Interview with Astronomer Iryna Belska


Every year on February 11, the world marks the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, established by the UN General Assembly resolution of December 15, 2015. The holiday was founded in order to promote full and equal access to science for women and girls, as well as to ensure gender equality and empowerment of women and girls.

During the 216-year history of Karazin University, many talented women scientists have made a significant personal contribution to the development of national and world science. They are a model of tireless energy, intelligence, diligence and perseverance, which is enough not only for the family, but also for doing what they love, conducting research and making astonishing discoveries.

On the occasion of the holiday, we spoke with the Head of the Department of Asteroid and Comet Physics of Karazin University Research Institute of Astronomy, Professor of Astronomy and Space Informatics, School of Physics, Laureate of the State Prize of Ukraine, Iryna Belska.

What got you interested in astronomy at one time?

My favorite subjects at school were mathematics, physics and chemistry, and I decided that astronomy is exactly what unites these sciences. This choice led to a profession that I still admire today.

When and under what circumstances did you decide to do science? What is your scientific specialization?

As a teenager, I knew I wanted to do research. I saw the example of my father: he was a doctor, a PhD in Medicine, he had deep knowledge in various fields, tirelessly answered all my questions, encouraged to analyze, experiment, think critically. I started doing research in the third year at the University. Together with my supervisor, Professor Dmytro Lupishko we launched a new area — studying the physical properties of asteroids, which had just begun to develop in the world. We were among the first researchers, the Kharkiv asteroid team is still one of the most powerful in Europe.

Do you have people you want to emulate?

There are many inspiring people among the scientists I have been privileged to communicate with. For over 20 years, I have been working with Antonella Barucci, the leader of the asteroid research team at the Paris Observatory, and I continue to admire her energy, enthusiasm, ability to solve problems quickly and creatively, and her readiness to help.

Is it difficult for you to compete with men in your chosen path?

During my school years, I really competed with boys. Both in subject Olympiads and sports competitions, I wanted to be equal everywhere. I received sports titles in chess in men's tournaments, and the more I liked the guy, the more effort I made to win him. In my profession, I do not compete, but cooperate. I was lucky to work in excellent scientific teams both in Ukraine and abroad, even in those where I was sometimes the only woman in the team. We pursued the goal together, supported each other, celebrated each other's accomplishments. I'm sure that reaching the top is easier and more enjoyable with a team of like-minded people.

What do you think are the main advantages of women in science?

I can't say what the advantages are. I do not think that gender matters in the characterization of scientists. But I know exactly that it is much harder for women to climb the career ladder and that there is a kind of male brotherhood when, on equal terms, men are preferred over women. In addition, children are always in the foreground for a woman, and she will give up the "golden mountains" if she knows that it is not good for her child.

How do you manage to harmoniously combine all spheres of life?

I don't know if I really manage to combine everything harmoniously. And if I do, it is only thanks to the support of my loved ones: parents, husband, daughter. They believed in me, always supported and helped.

What are your tips for girls who decide to choose a similar field of research?

Always set high goals, understand that to achieve professional heights you need to work hard and love your profession.

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