Women In Science
Read below about the women who we champion as leaders in the field of science.
Don’t be discouraged.
I’m a Reader and recent hire to IBAHCM (2012); I’m passionate about the research fields I’m involved in, Biological Rhythms and Ornithology, and I’m keen to use the opportunities in Glasgow to the fullest. A few years ago, reaching this position would have seemed quite against the odds: the road was rocky, but in many ways it was “just another female biography”. To my own surprise, I had found myself in the role of a mom as an undergraduate student, and while I genuinely enjoyed the growing family, it didn’t ever lessen my enthusiasm for biology.
Reality then brought two struggles: one with myself - to find a mental balance between drive and a readiness to “let go”; and a second one with my surroundings - to meet challenges ranging from logistics of finding day-care, to facing up to voiced and silent views that a decision for family meant a decision against a career in science.
"This wouldn’t have been possible without the outstanding support of my “non-linear” career by the late Director Eberhard Gwinner (1938-2004), who had taken me on as a PhD student as a mom of three children of nursery age."Fortunately, I stayed on. Two things helped me stay the course: Driven by a keen interest in birds, I had volunteered in institutes and been involved in citizen science from early on. When I was faced with tough conditions, I knew what I wanted; in turn, people who knew me were prepared to drop stereotypes and open doors.
With a bit of patience, I received my degrees from the universities of Tuebingen and Munich in Germany, for work carried out at the Max Planck Institutes for Behavioural Physiology and Ornithology. This wouldn’t have been possible without the outstanding support of my “non-linear” career by the late Director Eberhard Gwinner (1938-2004), who had taken me on as a PhD student as a mom of three children of nursery age. The “deal” of flexibility and dedication worked beautifully well for all sides, and the PhD was awarded the Max Planck Medal of Excellence.
"At BAHCM I re-discovered a similar spirit of supportiveness and people-centeredness, paired with aspirations for excellence in research and teaching."I learned quickly how rarely individuals in leadership positions think outside the boxes and support unconventional career paths; soon after my PhD, the tragic death of Eberhard Gwinner and the subsequent closing of his institute were massive obstacles to sheer survival in the research world – but I did. It was not until I arrived for a job interview at BAHCM that I re-discovered a similar spirit of supportiveness and people-centeredness, paired with aspirations for excellence in research and teaching; once again, I’m delighted and inspired to see how well it works ... a next generation of unconventional researchers is well on its way. I’ll be glad to be opening doors.
Professor of Evolutionary Genetics
I am currently Professor of Evolutionary Genetics, Research Coordinator in the Institute and the Coordinator of the Master’s cluster in Animal and Plant Sciences.
I originally came to the University of Glasgow in 2004 as part of a two-career move. I had had a permanent academic position at the University of Guelph in Canada since 2000 but my partner (who got his PhD 5 years ahead of me and so arguably should have been the one to get a “real” job first) was on a postdoctoral position there for which he was substantially overqualified.
Although he was perfectly happy to support my career, a change in the policies of the funding scheme – and quite overt biases against advancement of the young female members of staff – meant that we decided it was time to look elsewhere. We had been very fortunate before that because we independently obtained high-quality postdoctoral positions at the University of British Columbia and then at the University of Edinburgh, so this was the first phase of our careers where there was a mismatch.
"I have been fortunate throughout my career to have had strong female role models who reinforced my views that you can be yourself and still excel in science in academia."The first job he applied for was in Glasgow, because Scotland was at the top of our list for places where we thought we might want to live. He was offered the position and called me while I was doing field work in a remote part of Ontario to say that we had 24 hours to decide. Fortunately, the department in Glasgow (then the Division of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology) was run by impressive female professors who understood that this might not be such an easy decision.
They brought me over to assess the situation and I had a surprise official interview as part of the visit. I was then offered a one-year lectureship, on the understanding that it would lead to a permanent position (proleptic appointment) if I was successful in obtaining an independent research fellowship. I applied for a two-year Marie Curie Incoming International Fellowship and a five-year Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Advanced Fellowship and was fortunate to be awarded both. I took the longer option and then went to ask about my proleptic appointment.
The Dean of the faculty understandably tried to modify the offer to something less concrete, as most people holding the purse strings for a large grouping will do). Based on previous workplace experience of promises that hadn't materialised I had taken a leave of absence from my job at Guelph rather than resigning; this gave me the leverage required to argue for a permanent position and some additional resources (a PhD studentship). Being soft-spoken can sometimes be an advantage in such situations because the expectation is not that you will be hard-nosed and persistent in negotiations.
"My decision last year to apply for promotion was largely due to encouragement by a female researchers network that was set up in our Institute at Glasgow as part of the Athena Swan initiative."I started my career in herpetology in the late 1980s, which at the time was very male dominated (it still is but not quite as dramatically). The few senior women in the field were highly respected and there was no question about their scientific reputations.
That wasn’t true of the younger ones though — women had to prove themselves, not only to men but also to other women. However, rather than being a negative influence, I think this promoted high-quality science among the women, which is the only way to change attitudes.
Both of my postdoctoral positions were supervised by highly respected female supervisors (Sally Otto in Vancouver and Deborah Charlesworth in Edinburgh). I also only received my fellowships at Glasgow due to the support and assistance of Felicity Huntingford, who was the head of the department when I came here. So, I have been fortunate throughout my career to have had strong female role models who reinforced my views that you can be yourself and still excel in science in academia.
I’m now mostly in a field where there is a higher prominence of women (plant biology), but I’ve never really felt bullied into being something I’m not during my career, even when I was working in a higher testosterone-filled research environment. I think you naturally get a bit tougher to survive all of the negative feedback in science (papers and grant rejections), but if my career has lagged beyond where I think I should be at this stage, it is due to my own choices, rather than external pressures.
My decision last year to apply for promotion was largely due to encouragement by a female researchers network that was set up in our Institute at Glasgow as part of the Athena Swan initiative. Although I had already been thinking about it, without the support of the group, and not wanting to let the side down, I might have been tempted to delay. I think these types of supportive networks, not only for women but also for men, are an important component of the Athena Swan initiative.
Selected Awards and Esteem:
- Editor-in-Chief, Heredity
- PGT Convener
- UKRI Future Leaders Fellowships Panel Member
- NERC Grants Panel Member (2009-2014)
Dr Collette Britton
I am a Reader and have researched and lectured at University of Glasgow for the last 18 years. Prior to that I was a Research Assistant at University of California in San Francisco - this was a great experience and I’m still in contact with some of the friends and colleagues I met during my two years there.
I think the positive work atmosphere in the USA helped me be more determined to succeed in research when I returned to Scotland. Although I wasn’t successful in a few fellowship applications, I wrote a grant that was funded by BBSRC and received subsequent funding by The Wellcome Trust. This funding, as well as volunteering to run undergraduate Vet tutorial classes, led to me being appointed as a Lecturer – first interview for a long time!
"I don’t mind working long hours during the week and have to admit I enjoy having the space and time in the evening to think about research."Teaching to such enthusiastic students, both at undergraduate and postgraduate level, is one of the most rewarding aspects of this position. I don’t mind working long hours during the week and have to admit I enjoy having the space and time in the evening to think about research. But at weekends I have to get out biking, running or golfing (usually all three). For me, watching any sports person succeed in the pressured situations they are under is one of the best motivations to work at something and achieve goals – and I would like to think I can motivate students, even to some extent, to do the same. Watching someone like Jessica Ennis push themselves to the limit is incredible.
I am a senior lecturer in IBAHCM and my route through academia has been quite traditional. I did a PhD followed by two post-doctoral positions and then took a lectureship at Glasgow; I’ve been a senior lecturer since 2010.
I was lucky to have a very inspiring mentor in my post-doc years, a man who was passionate about science but also extremely devoted to his family. He influenced my outlook in a positive way; as well as giving me confidence in my ability, he told me to always remember that there is much more to life than work.
"I was lucky to have a very inspiring mentor in my post-doc years, a man who was passionate about science but also extremely devoted to his family."
I don’t have children but I still find it difficult to maintain a reasonable work–life balance – it’s a constant challenge! I really enjoy my job and feel strongly about my field (animal welfare) but over the years I have learned that devoting energy to work beyond a certain level is not sustainable in the long term. I feel well supported as a member of staff in IBAHCM, and I appreciate the acknowledgement that we have different teaching, research, and administration loads to manage.
Professor of Parasite Immunobiology
I am currently a Professor of Parasitology in the Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine at the University of Glasgow. I did my PhD and first post-doc at the School of Tropical Medicine, Liverpool. I was fortunate to be well mentored at the time and applied for my own funding relatively early in my career.
I was awarded a Wellcome Trust Travelling Fellowship in Tropical Medicine that allowed me to spend time at EMBL, Heidleberg. That was the point at which I realised that I really wanted to be a scientist. I came back to Liverpool and took up a MRC Senior Fellowship, during which time I started to look for jobs elsewhere. By that time I had a son.
"I think all life is a series of compromises, you just have to sort out what works best for you, your family and your lab.."I moved to Glasgow towards the end of my MRC Fellowship to take up a Wellcome Trust University Award, so was well into my forties before I had a contract with the University as a full-time staff member. I found juggling motherhood and a scientific career pretty exhausting over the first few years, but was very lucky to have a supportive partner and a lab with post-docs and good PhD students by that time. As to “having it all”, I think all life is a series of compromises, you just have to sort out what works best for you, your family and your lab.
I am really fortunate to have a great lab here with several young women scientists who I do my best to mentor. One of the nicest features of BAHCM is the camaraderie throughout the Institute that makes the environment both supportive and aspirational to both men and women.
Selected Awards and Esteem:
- Howie and Dennis Surgenor Cup Winner
- Dean of Learning and Teaching
- Deputy Head of School of Veterinary Medicine and IBAHCM (2010-2018)
From an early age, I knew that I wanted to be a biologist and spent most of my twenties and early thirties concentrating on establishing my career. After conducting an entirely lab-based PhD on a model system, I decided that I really wanted to take my career into field research.
Doing this meant turning down a secure, lab-based position in an area I knew well to move by myself to a remote part of sub-Saharan Africa, where I didn't speak the language or know the culture, to take on a project on which I had very little experience.
"I would encourage all young scientists not to be afraid of taking risks to pursue research they are passionate about, and realize that making time for the things that make you happy outside of work can enhance, not necessarily detract, from your career."It was a big gamble professionally as well as personally (I was single at the time and still remember my mum telling me "you might as well be joining a convent), but I ended up working with a great, very supportive team who helped me develop my career in a way that wouldn't haven't happened if I hadn't taken this risk.
This position led to a Fellowship, which has led onto a Lectureship in Medical Entomology and Disese Ecology within the Institute. The last few years have been hectic because my field research has expanded within Africa and to Asia, I've taken on more teaching responsibilities and have two small children under 5.
Finding time to fit everything in can feel stressful and overwhelming at time, but I also get a lot of energy and inspiration from my family, and the incredibly supportive environment within IBAHCM. I would encourage all young scientists not to be afraid of taking risks to pursue research they are passionate about, and realize that making time for the things that make you happy outside of work can enhance, not necessarily detract, from your career.
Selected Awards and Esteem:
- Elected to the Young Academy of Scotland
- Zoological Society of London Scientific Medal
- World Health Organization's Vector Control Advisory Group Member
I am an early career researcher on my first Fellowship at IBAHCM. I did my university education at three German universities (Greifswald, Hamburg and Bielefeld) before choosing to come to Glasgow.
"I am currently completing a 2-year training as a Yoga teacher, which is demanding to combine with a full-time research position, but greatly rewarding and important for me to balance work and life."
I spent most of the past years doing field-based research projects overseas, e.g. my diploma thesis in Namibia, followed by a research project on Madagascar and my PhD research on the Galapagos Islands. My father passed away a week before I had to submit my PhD thesis - despite this I received a PhD with ‘summa cum laude’ and completed a training as GIS analyst between submission and PhD defense.
I have lived a long-distance relationship during most of my career and am delighted to be able to share my life and work at IBAHCM now with my partner. I am currently completing a 2-year training as a Yoga teacher, which is demanding to combine with a full-time research position, but greatly rewarding and important for me to balance work and life. I feel greatly supported by IBAHCM, both professionally and privately, during this stage of my career and in planning my research career ahead.
Postdoctoral Research Associate
"I am a post doc employed by the University of Glasgow, but seconded full time to Tanzania, Africa where I am leading a five-year project together with scientists from an independent research institute. My partner and I are living in a very small town five hours drive from the next city with our four-month old daughter.
"with the flexibility I have been given, a career in science while raising a child becomes possible."With the help of my boss, a mother of two young children herself, I was able to structure my working life around the needs of our young baby. Combining a full time position in Africa with motherhood is challenging, but with the flexibility I have been given, a career in science while raising a child becomes possible.
The very supportive and intellectually vibrant environment was crucial to my decision to stay in Glasgow when I was awarded a Wellcome Trust Career Development Fellowship in 2011. My research is based mainly in developing countries, and at least in the past, has involved extensive international travel.
I have greatly appreciated the institutional support I have received at Glasgow, from welcoming students undertaking daunting cultural transitions, waiving obstructive international student fees and in particular the generosity of my colleagues in the institute, who were very giving of their time, supporting my students while I was on maternity leave.
"I value the friendships and support in the Institute (from parents and non-parents) who know that it can be difficult and have helped me to overcome obstacles."There has been a lot of adjusting since the arrival of my twins, who are now almost two-years old. I don’t travel as much and my teams don’t get the same direct contact from me; we now rely more on electronic communications. It is exhausting, and I do struggle to protect my own (family) time. Despite improvements, academia remains a challenging place for working mothers. I value the friendships and support in the Institute (from parents and nonparents) who know that it can be difficult and have helped me to overcome obstacles.
Selected Awards and Esteem:
- Zoological Society of London Scientific Medal
- Wellcome Senior Research Fellow
- Guardian University Award Winner
- L'Oréal for Women in Science Fellowship
I have been a researcher at the University of Glasgow for over 10 years, firstly as a post-doc on two three-year projects, before being appointed as a lecturer in IBAHCM on a 5 year fixed term basis in 2011.
My son was born in the final year of my PhD, and embarked on my first post-doc when he was 8 months old (before I had finished writing up my thesis!). During this position I had overwhelming support from my PI, who gave me flexibility to finish my thesis in the first months of the project. I am still grateful for his support and guidance at what was an extremely difficult and stressful time!
"I attribute a lot of the success from this post-doc to the supportive environment I was in, especially from my PI."I then started my second post-doc in 2007 in an unrelated discipline. During this time I had the opportunity to apply for my own independent research projects, supervise summer, and honours year undergraduate projects and get involved in some teaching on the veterinary medicine course. I attribute a lot of the success from this post-doc to the supportive environment I was in, especially from my PI, who allowed me to carry out my independent research simultaneously with the larger project I was employed to do, and who supported numerous grant and fellowship applications (a lot of which were unfunded!).
"Having a family in academia does impact on the time I have available to devote to my work, however I like to think that it has made me better at optimising the time which I do have."After my second post-doc, when my funding was coming to an end, I had my daughter. I then returned to work on a part-time basis, not through choice, but because my independent funding was modest and did not allow me to return full-time. After some “soft” funding, hard work, grant and paper writing, rejection, more rejection and a lot of resilience, I was offered my temporary lectureship position in the Institute.
Having a family in academia does impact on the time I have available to devote to my work, however I like to think that it has made me better at optimising the time which I do have. I don’t believe there is a perfect work-life balance in academia, I just prioritise what I need to do in order to fulfil family and work roles the best I can, with the time I have, and I think I’m not doing too bad. Unwavering support from IBAHCM and the University of Glasgow as a whole has undoubtedly helped me achieve my career goals so far.
Professor of Molecular Epidemiology
I am a veterinarian by training and have moved from clinical work and clinical research into academic research and its accompanying responsibilities. After 6 years at the University of Utrecht in The Netherlands and 6 years at Cornell University in the USA, I’ve been in the UK for just over 6 years now and at the University of Glasgow for 1 year.
"IBAHCM is the first work place where gender issues are being addressed proactively."Changing jobs and countries is both time consuming and exciting. You learn that wherever you go, you take yourself with you. In each job and country, I have struggled to balance work and personal life. Having a partner, pet and vegetable plot helps to keep me happy and sane!
Moving from veterinary school, which is largely a women’s world these days, to PhD student and beyond, I have seen the proportion of women at work drop off and I still find myself in meetings surrounded by “grey suits”. For me, IBAHCM is the first work place where gender issues are being addressed proactively and I find it very inspirational to see such a mix of successful women and men across the entire career ladder.