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Women in Science

While our interviews focussed on women in academia, some of the women spoke of experiences outside of academic science, and we have gathered their comments below. These women’s accounts illustrate that there is broad scope to use a scientific background in today’s society. They also demonstrate that many of our scientists have had varied and non-linear careers.

Work experience and the corporate world

Portrait of Sally CowleyWhen Sally finished her degree in natural sciences she spent a year in India working in hospitals and health centres. This experience convinced her to start her PhD in London.

 

Carolyn left Oxford after she finished her chemistry degree because at that time students needed a first class degree to do a doctorate (DPhil) and she got a second. She worked for a while as an analytical chemist in industry. Later she found she could start a DPhil. When she finished her DPhil she had her first child, and was moving because her husband was in the RAF, so she got a job abstracting patents. She did this for 10 years. It allowed her to keep in touch with science.

Click for Carolyn's interviewBefore starting her doctorate (DPhil) Carolyn spent three years working for a large technology company that concentrates on imaging products. She worked as an analytical chemist.

 

Click for Carolyn's interviewAfter Carolyn had her first child she got a job abstracting patents. She did this while the children were at nursery or at school. It kept her ‘brain ticking over’.

 

Other women spent a short time in industry or the commercial sector. Fran went with her husband to St Louis, USA, where she finished writing up her PhD. She approached the head of the Immunology Department at Washington University Medical School, and was offered a postdoctoral fellowship. During her final year her supervisor took a job as head of Research and Development for Searle, the pharmaceutical arm of Monsanto, so his lab moved there, Fran went too and was exposed to the way big companies work.

Portrait of Fran PlattFran did some of her research in laboratories which were based in a company. This gave her insight into how companies develop products for agrochemical or pharmaceutical purposes.

 

Lois works as a consultant in emergency medicine at the John Radcliffe Hospital, and is Associate Director of Clinical Studies at Oxford University medical School. She also works in The Professional Support Unit for doctors, which covers the Thames Valley area. In 2007 she decided that she wanted to do something different for a while, so left the NHS and did a diploma in nutritional medicine. Then for a while she gave talks about nutrition and healthy living to people in the corporate world. She enjoyed it but found she was enjoying her locum work in the NHS and missed the NHS camaraderie.

Portrait of Lois BrandFor a while Lois became disillusioned with the NHS. She did a diploma in nutritional medicine and then worked in the corporate world giving talks based on what she had learnt during the diploma.

 

Teaching

Most of the women we talked to did at least some teaching as well as their research. They taught medical students, other undergraduates, DPhil students, and others. Elspeth, for example, now a Professor of Molecular Biophysics, lectures in mathematics to Biochemists. While researching in nuclear physics she was a physics, and maths for physics tutor. Over the years she has taught on 70 summer schools around the world, teaching people about the techniques of protein crystallography. She has also given talks in schools, and many public engagement talks.

Portrait of Elspeth GarmanElspeth teaches students and does outreach work, as well as doing her research. She gives talks about her subject in schools, bars and other public places.

 

Most women said that they really enjoyed their teaching, though one woman said that after many years teaching undergraduates she has stopped giving tutorials because the work had become monotonous. Marian finds teaching very interesting and enjoys it but sometimes worries that she hasn’t had any formal teacher training.

Portrait of Prof. Marian KnightMarian teaches on graduate courses in obstetrics and obstetric anesthesia, subjects related to her research. She enjoys it because it is a way of communicating her enthusiasm for her subject.

 

Portrait of Jane MooreJane has been involved in research but she is primarily a clinician. She also teaches medical students and she found a teaching diploma, paid for by the University, very valuable.


Teaching can be an alternative career. One woman spent seven years overseas working as a senior lecturer in a medical school, teaching physiology and pharmacology, before starting her PhD. Sally decided to spend some time away from the laboratory bench whilst she had young children. She kept up to date with her subject, teaching Open University courses. She also tutored Oxford students.

Portrait of Sally CowleyWhen Sally’s children were young she worked as a part-time lecturer for the Open University. She taught several of their biological sciences courses.

 

Moving on from research

Jennifer did her PhD at Nottingham, and then worked as a postdoc for eight years, first at the Medical Research Council at Harwell and then at Oxford, on a series of short term contracts. She didn't think that her publication record was strong enough to apply for a fellowship and also wanted a bit more stability and long term employment.

Portrait of Jennifer AndersonJennifer applied for a range of jobs before being offered a job as an Athena SWAN advisor and facilitator. She wanted to use the skills she had developed as a scientist.

 

Portrait of Jennifer AndersonJennifer describes her job as an Athena SWAN advisor and facilitator. She still uses skills she learnt as a scientist, including data analysis, communications and writing.

 

Maggie has had a very successful career in science. In 2012 she took up the role of President of St John’s College, Oxford. She is still very involved in research, in collaboration with her husband, who is at UCL.

Portrait of Prof Maggie SnowlingMaggie explains that as head of college it is important to be part of the academic culture. She has tried to continue her research as well as all her other duties.

 

Some women talked about what they might do if they were unsuccessful in their academic careers. Bryony, a postdoc, realises that academic science is an uncertain career. She appreciates the careers seminars that have been organised by her department.

Portrait of Bryony GrahamBryony says she has found seminars about careers helpful. She has heard about careers that she could follow if she were to leave academia. She thinks that writing articles for newspapers or blogs might be interesting.

 

When Jennifer was looking for new jobs she also found that the ‘alternative careers seminars’, run by the University, very beneficial. She leant new skills, such as how to write a good CV, and she found it helpful to talk to others in the same situation. She met a woman who had volunteered to help with events apart from her normal research, which had made her CV stand out. After that Jennifer volunteered to help organise events in the Postdoctoral Society, which she thinks improved her CV too (for more see ‘Career development and progression’).

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