I am currently undertaking my first post doctoral position at the School of Pharmacy, University of London. Like many, my interest in science was initiated as a child, with the chemistry set and toy microscope I was given as Christmas presents. Due to the many exciting science practical classes we had, I maintained this scientific curiosity while a pupil at the local comprehensive. A-levels in biology, chemistry and maths whetted my appetite for further study, and I decided that a Biochemistry degree with a large practical component would be a great basis for a scientific career. I found such a course at the University of Bath, where the MSc Biochemistry degree incorporates two 6-month placements in research laboratories.
I undertook my first placement at a neuroscience research centre in Cambridge, where I learnt various molecular and cell biology techniques while investigating gene expression associated with pain. This was my first experience of research in the real world and luckily it was an excellent one. My second placement was at the Trudeau Institute in Saranac Lake, New York, this time working in the area of immunity. Here, I sharpened my laboratory techniques, and my research findings were included in a published paper. Throughout both these placements I had great supervision and learnt much about the world of research. I believe the varied MSc Biochemistry degree was an excellent basis from which to commence my PhD work.
I then took a studentship at Imperial College London to work on the Alzheimer’s disease-associated amyloid precursor protein. I happened to be in a mainly female lab - my supervisor, two post-docs and another PhD student were all women. Perhaps working in this environment with ambitious female role-models has made me more motivated to succeed in a scientific career, as a woman. Whilst a PhD student I contributed towards published papers and attended national and international conferences where I presented posters of my research. At one of these conferences I attended a ‘women in cell biology’ lunch chaired by female American scientists who began the group of the same name. There was a great discussion highlighting the problems faced by women in science, for example a lack of women being promoted to senior positions. I was made conscious of female characteristics that may be advantageous elsewhere, but not necessarily in the research environment, for example finding it hard to say ‘no’ to students who want a piece of your time, and being less ambitious than men by asking for smaller grants and applying for inferior jobs. I think being made aware of potential problems, despite the lack of answers, was of great help to myself as a young female scientist.
To increase the proportion of women in science, and therefore our influence within the scientific community, it is important for school-age girls to be made aware of the scientific research careers that are available to them. Recently I visited a girls’ school and spoke to the pupils about my route into scientific research. I think this was a great opportunity for them to learn from a young scientist what the job entails and how exciting and worthwhile it can be.
So far, I think that I have had very good experiences as a woman in science, and have been given the same opportunities as men at the same stage in their careers. Only time will tell whether this continues into the future.