Women in Science - Dr Elisa Alvarez-Curto

Since a very early age I always had the intention of becoming a scientist as I was highly driven by curiosity and wanted to learn how the world around me worked.

I studied my undergraduate degree in Spain where I come from, only to move to Leiden (The Netherlands) to do my PhD in Developmental Biology and Cell Signalling. A year into my PhD my supervisor relocated to the University of Dundee and it was then when I realised that although it might not be a requirement, you should be prepared to move particularly on the earlier stages of your career. It was also there during my PhD years being part of a thriving scientific community where I realised that the commitment to science and research was one driven by the passion and that same curiosity that I have had since being a child. I subsequently moved to Glasgow University in 2007 to work in the Molecular Pharmacology lab where I have been a Research Associate since. I have been fortunate to have continuous funding throughout these years but there is no denying that the nature of academic fixed term contracts can be rather unsettling.

I do however enjoy the opportunities that the role has brought to me such as travelling to go to conferences and meetings where I have exchanged lots of ideas with stimulating and interesting people. I also appreciate and enjoy the flexibility that this line of work may offer and the support that I have always found from colleagues within my Institute.

With that in mind I also believe that is crucial to have a healthy work-life balance, but it must be recognised by both men and women that this can be sometimes challenging in the academic culture. It is not impossible to balance being a parent and a researcher but this will come with some adaptations of your way of working to fit with family life. I have learnt to use my time more effectively and also to accept that “popping into the lab” at weekends might not be a viable option. I have two children aged 5 years and 6 months and having had maternity breaks in both occasions has meant that many of my peers have moved on with their careers at a faster rate and these gaps will always be there. However, inspired from being a parent I have taken opportunities to do other things outwith the academic realm such as getting involved in the STEM ambassador programme, given talks in schools and take part in numerous scientific public engagement events, which have been fantastic, inspiring and exciting experiences.

Nevertheless, I do believe that being a woman in a generally male driven academic environment can be very intimidating at times but we should strive to find the right support and make efforts to have our own space in academia.