UNODC Celebrates Women in Science & Empowers the Next Generation of Girls


Vienna (Austria), 11 February 2020 — With 11 February marking the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, female forensic scientists, molecular biologists and chemists from the UNODC Laboratory shared their experiences of how they built their careers in science.

The UNODC Laboratory was originally established to carry out scientific research on opium, cannabis and other substances under international control. Today, the Laboratory also ensures worldwide availability and accessibility of internationally accepted standards for forensic best practices.

Currently, the Laboratory is working with 290 forensic institutions throughout 87 countries to improve the quality and performance in drug testing. In the last decade, more than 15,000 reference samples were provided to 109 countries, to assist them in the identification of internationally controlled substances and new psychoactive substances.

The five scientists interviewed outlined their different scientific backgrounds, while finding common ground in their commitment to science, passion for their work and pride in working with the UNODC Laboratory.

Yen Ling Wong studied chemistry and has been working as a Forensic Scientist for 18 years now. Melinda Mancebo, who has a background is in biology, biochemistry, forensics and toxicology, is currently the laboratory’s Forensic Manager.

On the other hand, Mikaela Andrea Edwards and Romana Luger both have a background in molecular biology. While Mikaela is assisting with forensic trainings, Romana is supporting the coordination of a collaborative forensic programme. And Tsegahiwot Abebe Belachew, is a dedicated chemist doing data management and research in the field of chemistry and toxicology.

What inspired you to choose a career in science?

Yen Ling: Growing up, I was quite the bookworm and from reading many detective stories, I was inspired to be a forensic scientist.

Mikaela: I value the diversity in the scientific field. Health is a very important aspect of our lives. Choosing a career in science enables me to contribute to the well-being of people.

Why is it important to encourage young girls to embark on a science career?

Tsega: It is important to get the message across that science can open eyes as well as doors in our lives and careers. The tangible skills learned working in the many fields of science can build exciting careers and girls are more than capable and privileged to partake in the wonder of science.

Mikaela: Science helps us understand the world around us better. Science enables us to solve problems and make decisions in so many areas of life. Science shapes our modern world. Science allows you to widen your horizon and it enables you to progress and grow.

What motivates you every day?

Melinda: What motivates me the most is really seeking the truth, and I can find that every day here. And using science as a tool for that is really what excites me; and to bring this possibility to people who are non-scientists is also very exciting.

Romana: In science, I was often surrounded by people who are willing to share time, effort, knowledge and expertise just to move forward and sharing one common goal. This level of commitment was always my biggest motivation.

Why did you choose to work with the UNODC Laboratory?

Yen Ling: The UNODC Laboratory is an excellent place to work in and I enjoy working with people from diverse background and cultures. The beauty of this job is that there is no typical day. I love that this job is not monotonous, and every day is different. One day could be about planning the activities in the programme, another day on evaluating laboratory performances, perhaps another day developing guidelines for the analysis of drugs, and so forth.

Most importantly, I can bring my technical expertise to improve the forensic capacities in developing countries, which in the end is what matters most.

Tsega: Because science is at the centre of what we do, it helps policymakers and supports law enforcement officers, health professionals, and researchers.

How would you define your work in three words?

Romana: Challenging. Exciting. Never boring. 

Tsega: Interesting. Data. Teamwork. 

Mikaela: Unity. Support. Difference.  

Yen Ling: Quality forensic science.

Melinda: Better health & criminal justice.

What would you tell the next generation, a message to a young girl interested in science?

Yen Ling: Don’t be afraid to dream and to go after your dream. It may not be an easy journey, but it will help if you enjoy what you do every day.

Melinda: Be passionate, motivated, believe in yourself and you’ll make your way. Today’s world and progress relies a lot on science.