Dr Theresa Burt de Perera first went to Oxford it was 1994, and at that time, she was a student. When she finished her PhD study, she met her partner. They went back to Mexico and lived there for nearly four years. She did a very short Postdoc and then came back to Oxford as a junior research fellow at Keble College. After that she won a royal society research fellowship and 10 year lectureship at the University of Oxford.
Her interested in science can traces back to her childhood, she always had a strong interest in science when she was in school. “When I was 13 or 14 years old, we took options and at that point, my focus was right way on the sciences, physics, chemicals, biology and math.” At the A level, she did biology, chemistry, math and business study. Mathematics and Biology were her favorite subjects, and she struggled to choose one of them. “Maths and Biology are the two things I love. it’s quite clear and quite quickly, biology is the thing I am going to take forward.” So she did her undergraduate degree in Biology.
During her study, she realised that there are so many aspect to Biology, so she started to reduce the number, and started a course on Animal Behavior, “ when I started my course, I absolutely loved it. I discovered that was specific thing for me, that’s what I really loved.”
During her academic career, she said she has been very lucky in a fantastically supportive department, and supportive area. However, she still find difficulties and challenges sometimes, such as balancing her personal life and career life. “I love coming to work everyday, but academic life tends to have very long hours, I feel tired at sometimes.”
“I work my normal hours, I have to pick up the children at 5:30 and I want to spend time with children. We have dinner together every night if possible and bed time is 9 o’clock, I quite often to have work to do beyond 9 o’clock in order to get everything done. so you do end up working long hours particularly in term time, you accept that you do when you have to.”
One thing she learnt from this challenge is time management and be organised. When she works, she work effectively. “I plan everything at least three months in advance. I know exactly what I am doing for the next three or four months.”
She mentioned that she couldn’t manage her life (personal life and career life) without her husband’s support. “He now take 50% of the childcare, we are a team. That’s the only way to possibly manage.”
One thing about women in science is to balance their personal life and science career, so many women drop out, Dr Theresa Burt de Perera thinks not just women, but men have to be sure in what they want. “ In order to do it and be prepared to put extra hours at the point when it is important to do that. but also been prepared to be flexible as well.”
Her advice for young girls want to pursuing career in science are,
“ Think about whether it is really for you, or if it’s something you really love. something you prepared to work harder than everything else will follow; be aware the fact that the jobs come up at certain times of the year, look ahead and contact people in the field, make yourself meet people at conferences.”
Dr Emily Flashman did her undergraduate degree at the University of Southampton, in Biochemistry with Psychology. At that stage, She did not know what to do, but she needed a job and she knew she could do science, so she got a job as a research assistant in the University of Oxford in immunology lab doing biology.
During the time, she realised that she enjoyed science, so she decided to carry on doing it. So she worked in the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine in Oxford, that was looking at heart muscle proteins. After that she got a position for postdoc for researcher at the the Department of Chemistry in Oxford. “In my Phd, I had what they called a second year slump. During the second year, none of my experiments were work, at that point, I was trying to consider what else I could do.But things changed in my third year, I want carry on working in science. I guess I just didn’t came out with anything that I rather do than being a scientist.”
In in 2010, she awarded Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow.
During her studies and her career, she said she has been lucky to work in a supportive environment. She enjoys freedom to investigate the interesting things, and till now she had not face the problems in finding new research topics, “ There are always too many research questions to do, things involves are quite easy to take to the next logical steps to fit into research direction. the new the brainfood all the time keeps your eyes open to what happens in your field.”
As a woman in science, she think it is hard to manage life the family and science career. However, she think this is not only difficult for women, but also for men. She said there is not really a big different for men and women who work in the science field, but women worried about more. Women worries more and sometimes think over a little bit more than men. “I wondering whether women can take the stress of the strength combined with a family”
Dr Flashman told me that she’s lucky that she have a supportive partner, “we have basically an equal split of responsibilities and i think that’s the only way, that’s really working for me.“ So basically they both take response in housework and children care. So when she is doing work, she focus on work, when she at home, she concentrates on family. “you just do it and organise your time, just get on with that really.”
She used to go and see lots of live music, she still does but not as often as used to, because she wants to spend time with her children.
She added that the job she is doing at the moment is suit her down to the ground and she can’t think anything she is rather do, “where I am now is my idea job.”
The advice she gives to women who want to go into the science is “just do it and don’t worry about it. Since you enjoyed it, just get on well with it.”
The award-winning British physicist Athene Donald speak to about her journey as a student and the problems she face as a woman in science.
Professor Athene Donald was not that kind of child who suddenly saw something on television and decided to do science. Her interest began in school, she went to an all girls school and started to talk about physics when she was 13 years old.
She had a really good physics teacher who had been able to keep her excited, and she really enjoy the subject she did in the school, she felt that physics was what she want to do from that time. So she went to Cambridge to study nature studies specializing in physics, then went to Cornell University in the States. Her supervisor suggested she look into an academic career during her second Postdoc.
“I didn’t think of doing an academic career until i was in my late 20s, I am the generation which really encourage girls to think about careers so although I wish to go to the university, but didn’t really think beyond that,”
After she finished her second Phd degree, she returned back to Cambridge with fellowships, since then she has been teaching physics at the University of Cambridge.
“ i don’t think I was actually thinking about a career, I was doing the next thing that came along.”
After pursued a career in academic, she realised that this is a wonderful job to have, because the fact that keep learning new things and look at the new challenges. “ I think a great thing about the university science, probably much more than I earn than industry science , because I had a freedom to choose what I work on subject to funding, and people.”
Even Though Professor Donald think it is a wonderful job to have, but she still faces stresses and difficulties. “These day I was so stressed being a senior woman you are asked to do so many different committees, it’s very hard to feel you are doing a good job at everything.”
It is hard to have a personal life as well. “ Being a working mother I always felt torn and demands of the family, demands of the job.”
Her husband automatically give up his career and became the primary care of their two children, “It is very difficult decision to make for any couple for how to do that, but it’s so difficult to find a job, academic jobs for two people in the same place.”
There are numbers of women who drop out their science career, and the amount of women entering STEM is increasing but slowly. How does this happen? Professor Donald said there are many different reasons,
“I always believed it’s likely to be a lot of small things which people find significant, but something just felt far more trouble than they were. I think it’s partly difficult balancing career and family, but also the feeling that you are not taking as seriously as a man, such as you are not suggested to give a talk about some papers, or one of your professors chooses someone else, all of these little things may not matter, but many women think it’s just not worth it.”
She mentioned that the amount of women start doing STEM subjects is increasing but slowly, “we will see more women succeeding in particularly in a subject like mine, which is physics.”
Professor Donald suggests women who want pursuing their career in science should workout what is the most important enjoy, and then try to able to progress it. “I think the important thing is to work and work out the importance of enjoyment.”
Professor Donald currently enjoys her spare time in writing blogs about women in science. Athene Donald’s Blog (http://occamstypewriter.org/athenedonald/)
Photo credit: The Institute of Physics on Flickr
Dr Katrina Lythgoe has been awarded a Wellcome Trust Research Fellowship and she is a member of the Evolutionary Epidemiology Group within the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology. Her research interests lie in applying ecological and evolutionary theory to better predict the evolutionary dynamics of infectious disease in humans and other species, with the ultimate aim of informing public health decisions.
Her current research is focused on the within- and between-host evolution of HIV and in particular on the consequences of population structure on the evolutionary dynamics of the virus. she is a member of the Evolutionary Epidemiology Group, led by Professor Christophe Fraser, within the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Imperial College London.
Dr Lythgoe shared her thoughts with me this week and she told me about the challenges she faced and her opinions about current issues on women in science.
Dr Lythgoe comes from a family of scientists, “My father was a scientist, my grandparents and great grandfather were scientist. So I always brought up around science. I just really love finding out about things, finding out about new things.”
She is very exciting when discovering new things.”I am pushed to work hard, because it means I can learn more and find out more, which was really rewarding.”
She was the Editor of science journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution (TREE) for seven years, but now she returned to research with the help of a Wellcome Trust Re-Entry Fellowship. “I left science by myself and became an editor for seven years. I really missed science a lot. So I applied for an re entry fellowship, It is very hard to work full time while pregnant, but I manage to do it.” I asked her about whether she is considering a different job in the future, she said no, “it was really big effort to get back into science. I did that because I knew that was the right career for me. it hasn’t across my mind once. now I’ve been out and come back I know this is right thing for me.”
However, some women leave The Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) jobs just few years after they started, I asked Dr Lythgoe’s opinion about it, she said, “I think women tends to be more insecure about their ability than men, which may encouraged them to leave academia, And I think there’s perception around science that you can’t work part time and you can’t do it with a family. You have to have very traditional career path. I think it’s absolutely wrong. What needed is talented people not a traditional career path.”
During the conversation, I asked her about the stresses women faced in STEM field. She mentioned two things, the first thing is women were better in collaborative roles where science is quite competitive. “I’m not sure it necessarily suit women very well.” ; the second thing is “combining science with family life is very difficult.”. She explains science is about how many hours you can put in, when women got the family to look after, it’s very difficult to throw all their time and energy into work.
Dr Lythgoe is a successful women in the STEM field, in the meantime, she is also a wife and a mother. She told me that it is difficult to combining work with family life. but she said she had less worry and stresses than others, “I don’t do experiment, so I can work from home a lot, which help me to cut down the time I need to spend on traveling. And I have a considerate husband so I can work on the weekends, he looks after the children.”
I asked her for the recipe of how women can have a successful career in STEM field, she pointed out that the most important things is ‘you need to love you topic, you have to have real passion for the topic you studying’.
Dr Lythgoe pointed out that it is important to have a role model to help motive women in STEM, “We can see more and more women at top levels in the science have a normal family life, I think that they are most inspiring role models because they approved everyone that is possible.”
At end of the conversation, Dr Lythgoe give her advice to young women who want pursuing a career in STEM, “Do it. because it is a fantastic career and it is flexible career if it is something you love and passion about it . then you can make a successful of it. The important thing is you choose the right topic, you really have a passion for it. And then make sure you get the right training ”
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.”
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.
Women in STEM: Interview with Professor Lesley Yellowlees, first female president of Royal Society of ChemistryPosted: May 7, 2012
Last year, the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) elected their first female president in 170 years. Professor Lesley Yellowlees is presently Vice Principal and Head of the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Edinburgh, and will begin her two-year presidency at RSC this summer.
Prof Yellowlees intends to help promote science, specifically chemistry, when she steps into her role as president. She thinks that science and engineering is currently the way forward for the UK to emerge from the economic crisis, so she hopes to take advantage of her capacity to do something about it. However, as the first female president, Prof Yellowlees aspires to use that position to contribute to the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) community.
“As I am going to be the first woman president of the RSC in 170 years, it would be a wasted opportunity if I didn’t use that to help promote women in chemistry.”
So what does Prof Yellowlees plan to do? She told me that the Royal Society of Edinburgh has just released a report called ‘Tapping all our Talents. Women in STEM: a Strategy for Scotland’, and they have already asked Prof Yellowlees to work with them on the report.
“One of the things [suggested in the report] is that they are in favour of awards such as the Athena Swan award. I certainly have been involved with the Athena Swan from early on…so I’m now encouraging all the schools in science and engineering [at Edinburgh university] to see if they can get an Athena Swan soon.”
The Athena Swan award is given to institutions of higher education that has “good practice on recruiting, retaining and promoting women in SET (science, engineering and technology)”.
During our conversation, I mentioned to Prof Yellowlees about a recent study that feminine role models may deter girls from STEM fields. She said that the bigger problem does not lie in girls not being interested enough in STEM subjects.
“Certainly in chemistry, if you look to see the proportion we take, ‘A’ levels in England or the Higher in Scotland, and then go on to university, the numbers are around 50/50. So it’s not at that point we’re losing [female students]; there’s a good uptake of them at the later years at school and certainly onto university.”
Women are leaving STEM fields due to various issues, and Prof Yellowlees thinks that this situation, known as the leaky pipeline, is a much greater obstacle.
“If you go on to see how many — for example, at university — professors are women, in chemistry it falls all the way down to 6%. So you’re going from 50%, when they’re roughly aged 20, all the way down to 6%, 20 years later. I mean, that’s appalling.”
However, Prof Yellowlees thinks that things for women in STEM have definitely improved when compared to how it was in the past.
“When I started off, I was the only woman…and I can remember somebody saying to me that I was a more endangered species than a giant panda and they should put me into a breeding programme!”
But now, there are three women professors in her chemistry department, and that is a small but good improvement from before. As the conversation moved on, I asked Prof Yellowlees what she thinks about peer mentoring.
“I agree with that. I think it’s always great to have somebody who you feel is battling for you, who’s there to help you as much as possible, and to give you particular advice such as circumstances you find yourself in. So…I’m all for mentoring.”
Apart from being a successful woman in STEM, Prof Yellowlees is also a wife, a mother, a daughter, and a friend — just like everyone else. She told me that it is difficult to try to keep a balance between work and personal life.
“I don’t think it’s easy. But I have a very strong family around me that help me. So that’s been terrific support. My husband is fantastic support, so it’s great. He’s not an academic and he’s not a scientist, and I think that’s probably helped the relationship no end. I have two great children. They were very supportive of what I was trying to do, and my daughter in fact went to study chemistry at Durham university, so I can’t have been a bad influence or role model.”
Since Prof Yellowlees had some influence in her daughter taking the same route she did, I wondered if there was anyone in particular that she looked up to when she was a girl.
“At this point in time I would dearly love to rattle off a whole lot of female chemists, but at the time there were none. I’ve had a lot of role models in other aspects of my life, but I’ve just always, I think, depending on what I was doing. I’ve had mentors of various walks of life, and I’ve just taken inspiration as and when I’ve needed it.”
And with that, our conversation came to an end. Prof Yellowlees is an optimistic, confident woman who will no doubt continue to inspire and help other aspiring women scientists and academics realise their potential.