UQ researcher helps open doors for female Latin American scientists
It’s hard enough as a researcher to be published. And, statistically, it’s at least doubly hard to be published if you’re female.
Now consider the difficulty when your first language isn’t English, you come from a developing nation where publishing fees seem impossible, and the world is combating COVID-19 – a phenomenon keeping more women at home with children.
It was this battle against the odds that inspired UQ Diamantina Institute researcher Dr Astrid Rodriguez-Acevedo to place her full-time research role on hold and establish the charitable project, Huitaca.
“Huitaca creates a platform where volunteers offer their time and skills to guide, edit and review scientific manuscripts written by female Latin American scientists,” Dr Rodriguez-Acevedo said.
“Most science is written in English, posing an obvious bias and disadvantage to scientists from non-English-speaking countries.”
“In addition, publication fees in euros and American dollars are extremely high and often unattainable by researchers in developing countries.
“Publication fees can be up to more than a year’s salary for a microbiologist, geneticist or assistant professor in some countries.
“Huitaca’s purpose is to foster equity and inclusivity in scientific research.”
Dr Rodriguez-Acevedo knows the challenges well. She comes from Medellín, the second-largest city in Colombia.
While Colombia has more upward mobility than some other Latin American nations, it still has a median household income equivalent to only about 14 per cent of Australia’s.
“Despite having so many women in my everyday life as a researcher, I noticed their presence and visibility in media, awarded prizes and recognition was very poor,” Dr Rodriguez-Acevedo said.
“It was frustrating for me to do a literature review and not see reports on Latin American populations, and to see my research wasn’t contributing significantly to the wellbeing of my own community.
“Latin America is so rich in natural and human resources, and there are so many interesting scientific projects happening there, but we don’t get to know about them because most science is written in English. This poses a huge barrier.
“Writing scientific papers and giving talks in a language you don’t speak at home is challenging, and that means you have to work harder because it is another skill to master.
“Huitaca enables Latin American researchers to share their research by removing the barrier.”
While Huitaca currently focuses on helping Spanish-speaking researchers, with greater resourcing it may grow to include other languages.
The project has struck a chord with those who understand the difficulties of coming from a home where English is not the primary language, and already a dozen volunteers have lent their services.
Others helped Dr Rodriguez-Acevedo to raise funds for the project by sponsoring her participation the 2021 Brisbane Marathon Festival.
“It was fitting because I feel like we’re at the starting line with Huitaca, and it will take time to make the changes we want to see. But every day we get closer,” she said.
“Leaving my home country and overcoming language and cultural barriers to pursue a scientific career in Australia has not been easy.
“However, I have been fortunate to meet wonderful people along the way, which has made things easier.
“Our volunteers are successful professionals with strong values who believe in the power of giving, and they want us to achieve an equal world where language does not stop us from studying and knowing.”
Dr Rodriguez-Acevedo works with UQ Diamantina Institute on different aspects of teledermatology implementation in Australia.
She analyses data to improve delivery of teledermatology health care, assesses image quality and the capacity of clinicians to provide diagnosis using only photos, and then evaluates the patient experience.
“Worldwide, the implementation of teledermatology means better quality of life for rural communities and those with limited access to healthcare facilities,“ Dr Rodriguez-Acevedo said.
“Making health care available for all is an ethos I strongly believe in.
“I wanted to work for a group whose research genuinely pushes for more equal and inclusive health access, and I am so lucky to be able to do this work, while building Huitaca from the ground up.”