The Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC), located just outside Lisbon, Portugal, is an international institute devoted to biological research. The scientific programme of the IGC embraces many branches of experimental and theoretical biology. The research programme is led by 42 group leaders, 19 of which are women and 23 men. Seven women and 10 men are not from Portugal.
When many research institutes are struggling to find a better balance between men and women in leading positions, what does the IGC do differently that allows the recruitment of so many talented female scientists? No measures are pursued with the specific goal of targeting women. The key factors for recruitment are merit, creativity, the originality of the scientific programme and its integration into the IGC research environment. Different candidates may need different resources, but the same general conditions apply to all: internal financial support until external competitive funding is assured, and access to open facilities equipped with modern technology. Perhaps our policy of focusing on recruitment of young scientists right at the beginning of their independent careers has as an (unintentional) consequence that the triaging of women has not yet had a chance to bite.
The IGC has no hierarchical structure. It has an extremely friendly and collaborative academic environment and the small group sizes encourage interactions between scientists and exploit synergies between different fields. All group leaders, from junior to senior, have total independence. But independence does not mean isolation. Incoming group leaders, both men and women, are encouraged to take one or two mentors, whether from inside or outside the IGC. PhD students, technicians, post-docs and group leaders working in different areas frequently discuss their projects and ideas. Senior and junior group leaders work together and learn from each other, both at scientific and management level. The technicians that run the technological platforms work closely with the scientists. Professional support is provided for grant applications and project management. In addition, when the employment contract is reaching its term, the IGC supports group leaders until they find the most suitable post for their future career. Altogether, the IGC environment is an attractive place to set up an independent research group, and to grow as a scientist, whether male or female.
In the Director's Introduction to the IGC Annual Report (2012), Jonathan Howard wrote: “There should be no limit to the enthusiasm and ambition of the scientists working at the IGC, no reason for any of them to say: ‘I cannot fulfill my dream here.’” Utopian words, but indeed the IGC works as a community to achieve this ideal.