Interview with Dr Seirian sumner


Dr Seirian sumner

Dr Seirian Sumner is a Senior Lecturer in Behavioural Biology at the University of Bristol, also she is a research fellow at Institute of Zoology in London. In 2008, she award L’Oreal for Women in Science Fellowship. I talked to her about the challenges she faced, and her opinions on current issues concerning women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

Dr Seirian Sumner did her PhD on the social behaviour of wasps at University College London (UCL), since then she has been working on eusocial insects, a range of different bees and also ants. Most of her work involves field study in combination with techniques in molecular biology.

She studied science at the school when she was 16 years old, and she is very interested in discover animals and how they behave in natural environment. She chose to do a zoology degree at the UCL to study animal behavior.

Dr Sumner chose a behavior zoology module and also biology at the University, and she  realised how important is to  in order to understand animal behavior it is really helpful to analyse the level of genes.

During her career, she said she has been very lucky to been able to work with really good people in her field, and she enjoyed new ideas and constantly learning, “you have to keep up with the latest ideas and selected literature, and learning about the world that surrounds me and trying to making sense of it.”

“I am excited to get up in the morning and do my job,” but at the same time, she said it’s a ‘love-hate relationship’, “It’s like any other academic career, research career, it can take over your life, and you do spend all your time thinking about the questions your work brings upon on you. you know the science question, so even when I read my kids bedtime stories, I can’t stop thinking about my latest ideas. so I think when you work as scientist your life it’s very easy thing to do, but when you have to struggle with a family and a research career, it’s quite a challenge.”

She told me that her main difficulty as a woman in science is having a small children and doesn’t want to be away from them. But her job is demanding and research is demanding and needs her to spend some time abroad doing fieldwork.

“When my daughter was only 7 months old, I have to go on a field work because I had a new phd student, I had to support him to film the grounds, so I had to go to the field work. I asked my husband if we all go, and it was a bit of nightmare, breastfeeding and been in the field all day with a small baby was incredibly difficult.”

She also find it difficult to talk about those kind of things to male colleagues because she think unless they have been that position themselves, they wouldn’t understand.

She wants to do her job well, but at the same time, she hates to leave her children, So she was struggling at that time.

Despite the difficulty with being a scientist and being a mum, she think an academic research life is fabulous for a woman who want to have a family, “I work from the home a lot, I work the hours suit me, as long as I get the job done. A job you have to be a desk from 9 to 5 everyday, it’s much more straight forward than a job like mine where I can basically fit my work around the hours suit me and my family.”

Dr Seirian Sumner and her husband take an equal role in looking after their children, and her husband is incredibly supportive. “We both work part time, we both share the school runs, we both share looking after the children, we both share the housework and everything.”

“the only way to survive in a science career like is having a supporting partner, who is prepared to make the compromises.” Dr Seirian Sumner added.

She gives some advices to women who pursuing  a job in STEM, “ Talk to the women in science who are  further in their career than you, and plan and prepare. You have to know what you needs, what you might expect from the career in science.”

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