L’Oreal – UNESCO 10th Award “For Women in Science” – from Paris


I flew from Narita to Paris in the evening of March 5th to attend a memorable 10th anniversary event of L’Oreal-UNESCO “For Women in Science” Award.  There was also the year 2008 Award presenting ceremony.  Laureates in the past 10 years count up to over 50 and if we include International Fellowship and National Fellowship, nearly 500 women scientists have been awarded and supported in the past 10 years.  This is a wonderful contribution to the society.  Almost 40 Laureates participated to celebrate the 10th anniversary event.

After arriving in the morning of 6th, I had some rest. In the afternoon, there was an event at UNESCO headquarters.  First, there was an introduction of L’Oreal-UNESCO Charter for “For Women in Science” and its 10 Commitments followed by signing of the 40 Laureates.  Please refer to this site for detail of the 10 commitments. This is with full of good intention.  I hope that my blog readers will also practice it.  I was invited to take part of the event since I served as a member of the jury for 2008.  It was a 1 week event, but I could only attend the award presenting ceremony.

After this introduction, there was the award presenting ceremony of this year’s Laureates. Mr. Koichiro Matsuura, Directeur-General of UNESCO and Sir. Lindsay Owen-Jones, Chairman of L’Oreal and the L’Oreal Foundation both gave a welcome speech in fluent French.  Dr. Gunter Blobel of the Rockefeller University, who received the 1999 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine, was the 2008 Chair of the L’Oreal-UNESCO Awards jury.  Laureates were introduced one by one.  To introduce each, a short, well edited movie of each of the Laureates was shown which was filmed by visiting them, and a very clear introduction by Dr. Blobel about their scientific achievements followed by a speech from the Laureate.  All of the 5 Laureates were introduced in this manner. Then Mr. Matsuura and Sir. Lindsay presented the award, it was quite an impressive stage.

Laureates representing the Asia Pacific region include Dr. Tsuneko Okazaki(2000), and Ms. Fumiko Yonezawa(2005-she was absent for this anniversary event and we missed her) from Japan. Also, Dr. Fang-Hua Li(2003) from China, Dr. Nancy Ip(2004) whom I’ve known very well from Hong Kong, China, and this year’s Laureate was Dr. Narry Kim from Korea.


Photo1 With Dr. Tsuneko Okazaki


Photo2 With Dr. Nancy Ip

In selecting the candidates, juries focus on the creativity and the quality of their achievements based primarily on their publications and professional achievements, but the most important factor is “whether it is an achievement as an independent scientist.” This year’s award winner, Dr. Kim is 37 years old, studying MicroRNA and is Assistant Professor at the Seoul National University.  With her outstanding achievements, all of the juries unanimously chose her out of many outstanding candidates from Asia Pacific. I wanted to know how she could have made such an eminent achievement as an independent researcher, so a week after the selection committee, I took advantage of scheduled visit to Seoul to meet her.


Photo3 With Dr. Blobel and Mr. Matsuura

She earned her master’s degree at the Seoul National University, PhD. at Oxford University and Post-doctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania.  When she returned to Korea as Assistant Professor at the Seoul National University, as she told me, her Professor strongly supported her providing her a part of his research budget for a few years until she became independent, allowed her to use whatever equipments necessary in his laboratory, and had 2-3 graduate students from his program to work with her.  But when coming to writing the research paper, the professor declined to be a co-author, saying that it was her own work.  She said that in that process, she was able to become independent in pursuing her research and was very grateful for the support she received from the professor.  This professor must have really wanted her to become an independent researcher to pursue her career; it is wonderful, but may not be ‘norm’ in Seoul National and I wonder why.  One day, I would like to meet this professor in person to ask this question.  In Japan, young people are not encouraged to become independently early, nor going through an open process of competing, so it is hard to see from the outside who are showing great potentials with creativity as a newly rising future stars. It is often the case, you have to become a professor to be able to compare as an individual scientist with peers to see a potentially promising scientist.  This is not a way of nurturing creativity. As we say, spare the rod and spoil the child.


Photo4 Ms. Narry Kim

Upon the award accepting speech, she said that she once considered giving up research career because she had to take care of two children.  She appealed that it is important for the society to support women scientists, particularly mothers, like the day-care center. I totally agree.  I met her child, too. I hope that in Japan too, we can expand the opportunity for younger talented people and women, and give them chance to enhance their ability to be independent in their field of study.  You don’t necessarily have to become a professor to be an independent researcher, becoming a professor must be just a result of academic achievements.  It is important for professors to support nurturing the younger generation’s talents and potentials and to give them opportunities to become independent early in their career to become someone different. Our future is indeed on the shoulders of the younger people.

The hotel was Sofitel, located near the Japanese Embassy, Concorde Plaza and St. Honore.  The location was magnificent, but too bad that I did not have much time to spare. In the afternoon of the following day, I had to return to Japan.  At the airport, a cinema screen size photo of each of the Laureates were exhibited everywhere; Nicely done.