Women in Science: Nino Borchtchoukova, R&D Manager GenCell
On the occasion of International Women’s Day, we took the opportunity to speak with our own Nino Borchtchoukova, Manager of GenCell’s R&D Team to get her perspective on Women and Science.
Q. Please give our readers some background about yourself and how you came to become the R&D Manager at GenCell?
A. Born in Georgia, when I was 12 I moved with my parents to Russia. In Russia I pursued my academic education, completed my Bachelor and Master’s degrees and began my career in research. I initially intended to continue my academic career and began my doctorate, but at that time the political situation in the former Soviet Union caused many problems for academia that affected research budgets, so I stopped working on my doctoral thesis. It was an opportunity to make a new start, so I decided to emigrate to Israel. When I first came to Israel I started working as a laboratory technician for More Energy in the field of fuel cells. At More I gradually advanced and was promoted to the position of R&D Manager, and together with other R&D professionals moved from More Energy to GenCell.
Q. How did you decide to become a scientist?
A. Well, that is a funny story. Actually, when I finished high school at the age of 16, I really wanted to become a doctor, but for reasons not connected to my grades, I was not accepted to medical school. As I was a very good student and not familiar with rejection, I was quite upset. As I stood crying outside the medical school, a woman chemistry professor who worked in the next building invited me to study with her, so at the age of 16 I started to work in a chemistry lab. I started to do research and was invited to attend an academic conference where I presented my findings, and so although I reached the lab by “mistake” I enjoyed it very much and felt very comfortable there.
Q. Were there obstacles for you in your career path because you are a woman?
A. In fact, I didn’t experience any problems as a woman building my career in science. At the Saratov University where I did my research, many of the chemists were women, including the Department Head. I really never experienced discrimination as a woman.
Q. How do you think women scientists differ and stand out from male scientists?
A. From my experience of some twenty years, I observe that often women tend to have good organizational skills which serve them well as scientists, but in general I don’t see a great difference in scientists based on gender. Often women face hard choices when they must divide their attention and energies between their home and their work. Because my son is an only child and I was fortunate to have help at home from my parents, I have been able to devote a lot of time and energy to my professional work.
Q. What contributions do you think that being a woman has made to your career?
A. I must say that as a person, I approach my work with great passion and a sense of responsibility, but I don’t think that this is necessarily related to my being a woman. In terms of my work, I don’t think of myself as a woman, but as a scientist. Maybe the fact that I have never recognized or accepted any limitations is what has enabled me to succeed – it is the source of my success.
Q. Can you share with us who are the women leaders that you admire, and why?
A. When I was a child, I really admired Margaret Thatcher, not for her political ideas, but for her strength and drive, and for her ability to persevere in many trying circumstances.
Q. Has GenCell been a positive working environment for you? Do you encourage women to join the R&D team at GenCell?
A. Yes of course, we have built a great place to work here at GenCell. Our R&D team includes some 40% women at all different levels, and the women on our team make a great contribution. The company encourages all employees and gives equal opportunities to whomever takes initiative.
At GenCell the male employees have made it a tradition to bring flowers on International Women’s Day. I think this is a nice custom; I appreciate that there is a special day to remind us who we are as women. The holiday provides a rare opportunity for a little bit of well-deserved indulgence of women which we as women seldom seek out for ourselves.
Q. What advice can you give girls that are interested in science?
A. I think that all people should follow their hearts and pursue their own interests. Science is an extremely interesting and important field, but if someone goes into Science they must be prepared to invest their all. I thought that my son would become a scientist because as a child he liked biology, but he turned to computers. These days computer sciences seem to draw more recognition, interest and money than natural sciences…
Being a natural scientist allows a person to develop and learn new things. The experience of carrying out scientific research, applying that research to a product and seeing the results in use is very gratifying. As a scientist I get the opportunity to learn and develop and do new things all the time.
Through my work in developing Renewable Energy I have had contact with communities that lack electricity and recognize the importance and benefit of access to energy for development. I am proud and optimistic that GenCell offers a valuable contribution to this sector.
My advice to women is to seek balance in life between professional and personal objectives and to fulfill our dreams in every aspect of life. Women do not have to try to be like men – not in our behavior nor in our personalities – we should aim to realize our aims as women.
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