Women in CMMID

International Women's Day

We need diversity in research to achieve equity in outcomes

By Anna Carnegie, Yang Liu, Kiesha Prem 

Women in CMMID or WinC, came into existence organically. From casual chats in the hallway, to themed meetings with invited speakers. The ways we interact have evolved - but our collective goal has not. As a group, we hope to support each other, and other cis and Trans women and non-binary people who work in the space of infectious disease modelling. We aim to support one another to progress professionally in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) field where our voices are often not heard as vocally those of our (cis male) peers. In 2023, we received support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) to further our efforts in capacity building and career development.

Why is an initiative like this still needed? 

The gender bias in academia has been well documented, with women less likely to have scientific papers published or to secure research funding. In the field of infectious disease modelling for global health, women are systemically underrepresented, particularly in the higher levels of academia. This means our voices are often lacking from research decision-making as well as in the interpretation and analysis of results and any subsequent recommendations for policy and practice. This has an undeniable impact on the diversity and quality of the research produced. For instance, there is limited knowledge about how the impact of infectious diseases vary by gender. Published research and data on this topic has been made live in the anecdotal conversations held and challenges identified repeatedly by members of the women in infectious disease modelling community. 

The BMGF funded grant to support “Women in Modelling at LSHTM” will enable us to gain a deeper understanding of the barriers that exist for women in infectious disease mathematical modelling so that we can work to address them. We will engage in qualitative research with members of the community and encourage everyone who is interested in participating, to subscribe to our email list. We recognise the importance of involving allies in the conversation, so will also reach out to men working in the infectious disease modelling field as part of this work.

We must not forget that the problems faced by all women are compounded for racially minoritised, LGBT+ women, disabled women, as well as women from lower-socioeconomic backgrounds and those with caring responsibilities. Intersectionality is a crucial consideration within this grant and the wider activities of WinC. We will ensure that the voices of women who experience overlapping forms of disadvantage are heard within our research.

It is vitally important that women, and all minoritised groups, are supported within STEM career paths such as infectious disease modelling to ensure that there is diversity in the research produced. This grant will support work which to date has been done on a voluntary basis, and often behind the scenes, by WinC members. In so doing, it will help redress the widespread issue of ‘invisible’ labour within academia, which often falls on women and other minoritised groups. 

What we have planned

We will be hosting our first “scientist-in-residence” in mid-March. Prof. Juliet Pulliam, the director of the DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence in Epidemiology Modelling and Analysis (SACEMA, South Africa) will be visiting our group and interacting with our members through a series of seminars, research discussions, networking events, and one-on-one mentoring opportunities. We will also be organising additional capacity building activities focusing on the key training needs identified by WinC members. If you work in infectious disease modelling and at LSHTM, we encourage you to join the community of CMMID and WinC. To keep up with the opportunities opened to women working in infectious disease modelling outside of LSHTM, please join our external mailing list.

Gates Foundation awards grant to women working in infectious disease modelling at LSHTM

The “Women in Modelling at LSHTM” initiative has been awarded US$100,000 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The project is led by Dr Yang Liu and Dr Kiesha Prem, both Assistant Professors at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and members of the Centre of Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases (CMMID), with the backing of the group of modellers, “Women in CMMID”.   

The grant will support the career development and capacity building of (cis- or transgender) women working in infectious disease modelling at CMMID for the year 2023. While the main focus of the initiative will be “Women in CMMID” members, there are plans to involve women working in infectious disease modelling across LSHTM in various fields, such as health economics and epidemiology, as well as the wider modelling community beyond the School.

In September 2021, the “Women in CMMID” group was set up to create a safe space to discuss issues faced by women in academia and promote resources for personal career development. The recurring issues and training needs highlighted by this group form the basis of the “Women in Modelling at LSHTM” initiative.

Dr Yang Liu said: “We are delighted to have been awarded this grant. Through this funding we aim to improve knowledge for women in areas crucial to their careers, ensure women in the field get the credit and recognition they deserve, create a more equal and inclusive work environment, and improve people’s awareness and understanding of gender-related issues in infectious disease modelling.”

Over the next year, as part of the grant programme, there will be a seminar series, networking events, and bespoke training courses aiming at providing personal and community-level support in capacity building and career development. Additionally, a group of women working in infectious disease modelling from outside CMMID will be hosted within the Centre to work with its researchers.

The “Women in Modelling at LSHTM” initiative includes qualitative research efforts to identify systemic barriers women face in infectious disease modelling and gaps in training and other forms of support through surveys, key informant interviews and focus group discussions. The findings of these will be communicated via a community-focused dialogue workshop with members of the community (including men in modelling) and dissemination workshop with decision-makers.

Dr Kiesha Prem said: “Women in our field often many face barriers to progressing their careers due to a lack of opportunity and recognition, among other things. We hope that this grant is the first step in building a thriving community, which will offer support, and create opportunities for women working in infectious disease modelling.” 

To find out more information, contact Dr Yang Liu or Dr Kiesha Prem.