Professor Robert Winston Encourages Girls To Choose A Career In Science
Professor Robert Winston singled out the outstanding work of female scientists on a recent visit to all-girls Heathfield in Ascot, Berkshire.
The world-renowned fertility expert spoke to a packed audience of girls, parents and staff at Heathfield School about his work and thoughts on genetics and answered questions from girls on his life and career and gave his thoughts on recent advances in genetics.
Discussing the background to his work in embryology and how it started with a desire to help a young woman whose first child had died of a genetic disorder, the world-renowned fertility expert told schoolgirls about the exemplary work of three women in his current team, saying:
“They are typical of what you can do. Young women should not feel they are less able than young men. In many areas of science, there are more women than men and all of those three women have raised happy and healthy families alongside their work. I am not half as good a role model for you than any one of those women. What I find is that women work in wonderful collaboration and what we do collectively together is very important.”
He added: “The young woman I was able to help in my early career went on to have healthy twins that I had tea with the other day – they are now young women. It was an amazing experience to be able to help and that is why science is so wonderful.”
Professor Winston also sounded a note of caution about the ‘unexpected dangers’ of advances in human knowledge.
Referring to the possibility of Britain’s first genetically engineered human embryos, the fertility scientist said: “This is very topical. Mankind was changed by using tools, why not modify humans to become superhumans?
“It is a very serious issue in a world dominated by people with intolerances. There are unexpected dangers as our knowledge develops. Why would that that be so dangerous to our humanity? Because the sanctity of human life is threatened as it was during the era of eugenics.”
He also told girls: “Science is moving so rapidly that the knowledge we generate is increasingly difficult to control. It becomes more dangerous and difficult to control. There are always hidden dangers we never anticipated.”
Earlier, Professor Winston also warned that it was sometimes easy for scientists ‘to be seduced by a sense of their own infallibility’ and advised schoolgirls considering science as a career to remember their responsibility was ‘always to the individual not to the society’.
He added: “Doctors have immense power. They see people at their most vulnerable and anxious. We doctors have a huge responsibility to ensure that we don’t do things in our own interest but in the interests of the people who come to us.”
Taking his audience on a whistle-stop tour of the development – and misuse – of genetics with a nod to the Nazis’ eugenics experiments in the concentration camps and the mass sterilisation programmes in many countries and the popularity of the eugenics movement – he warned of the potential abuse of genetic science in a volatile world dominated by prejudice.