A woman who broke the glass ceiling and achieved success

Christiana Ruhrberg talking at the Science Museum’s Dana Centre on 8 March 2012

Although girls and women are entering science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workplace, education and training, women are still underrepresented in this field. Women need a pathway to get in and establish their career.

Professor Christiana Ruhrberg  has been working at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology since 2003. According to Prof Ruhrberg, “We want to understand how growing blood vessels integrate into the developing brain and retina without disrupting the organisation and function of neurons and glia, and how microglia and macrophages modulate vascular growth.”

Prof Ruhrberg has been interested in science ever since she went to secondary school. Science has always been her favourite subject in school. They had a very engaging biology teacher who used to teach half his lessons standing on the desk, because he was so excited about everything.

When she was young, Prof Ruhrberg used to read lots of popular scientific magazines in Germany. “You have a quite long waiting period when you sit in a doctor surgery. They stock everything like New scientist, Scientific American, and when you wait there for a couple of hours, you easily get through two or three back issues. It just spark your interests. I think when you are young, you are so wide open to do everything with science. It’s just sense of curiosity and wanting to know how the world works, especially how we bodies work.”

After graduating from university, Prof Ruhrberg left Germany and came to Imperial College London to do her PhD studies. She said the reason she left Germany was because she didn’t feel she was treated well as a woman in science: “I definitely had more opportunities here than I had over there.”

When she was a student in biology at her university in Germany, they had quite a big degree class, about a hundred students in total. Prof Ruhrberg was the second best, so she wanted to apply for scholarship. “I went to my personal tutor the person who ran the course, I asked whether he could support me to apply for the scholarships and he said no. He said it was a waste of money as I’m a woman, so he rather give it to a man. And it was not the only time that happened.” said Prof Ruhrberg.

“I got the scholarships here,” she added.

Prof Ruhrberg was awarded Junior Investigator Award in 2011; Career Development Award during the period of 2003-2007; Young Cell Biologist of the Year in 1996; and Werner-Risau-Prize for outstanding contributions to endothelial cell biology in 2003.

Werner- Risau- Prize is one of the prizes she’s most proud of: “I won the prize because I did my PhD research on the vascular growth factor. To see how it controls the blood vessels and how growing blood vessels integrate into the developing brain and retina. I was proud to receive this awards because it’s a very famous German Cell biologist who died unfortunately due to risks involved in his research. His family donated the scientific prize to encourage other scientists to pursue his legacy. So it was a very emotional prize as well.”

Prof Ruhrberg has put a ‘chip’ in the glass ceiling and achieved success in science and biology. She also has a lovely family with three children. She said she can manage her life and work, but unfortunately she can’t have a longer vacation to spend time with her family.

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