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Women in Science

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Interview excerpt: Katja had some pilot data when she applied for a fellowship from the British Heart Foundation. She found that Oxford colleagues were generous with their time and received helpful advice from maybe 20 people.


Portrait of Katja GehmlichWho gives the fellowship?

My fellowship is from the British Heart Foundation, one of the charities in cardiovascular research.

And you were encouraged? Somebody suggested you might go for this or did you find out about it yourself?

I had career talks maybe once a year, with my line managers and the head of department, where we looked into my career and especially towards the end of the project I worked on, when it was obvious the project wouldn’t be extended, what would be the next career step. And it was more the encouragement to go for a fellowship than someone saying ‘Do this’.

So for the fellowship did you have to come up with an idea?

Yes.

Or was it something that was proposed?

No, this was definitely my idea which was funny because it was based on a project the PIs and the group weren’t particularly keen on when I started. But they gave me the freedom to work on it as a side project, and to generate data that convinced them that it was actually something worth pursuing.

So that helped you to get the money I guess?

Yes. And it did help me to generate pilot data that I could use to apply. And I think also the criticism within the group made me stronger. I had to make the case stronger and deal with the internal criticism.

When you say criticism, do you mean positive comments?

At lab meetings, when you present your work (roughly every half a year) the rest of the group will comment on your work, which might be positive or negative comments. A lot of it is criticism in the sense kind of, ‘Are you really sure you can conclude this? We think you should show this in another way.’ Even though it’s negative on the outside, it helps a lot, it brings the research forward. 

So when did you start the fellowship?

I started in September 2013. I can’t remember when it was awarded. I think it’s almost two years ago and that gave me a bit of peace of mind for the next couple of years in terms of money to pay the mortgage.

How long was the fellowship for?

The Fellowship is for four years. I started last September, roughly a year ago. 

When you applied for the fellowship did you have help?

I got a lot of help and support. I talk to a lot of people who had done similar applications, and I was surprised how supportive most of them were, by either giving me their applications or talking me through their application process. I also discussed individual science parts with lots of people. I was surprised how many people were willing to share ten minutes of their time and make it a better proposal this way. 

That’s good. So it was useful having those discussions.

Definitely. There weren’t many people I discussed the whole application through from the beginning to the end but there were maybe twenty people who helped me with individual parts of it and it was a great thing to see how much support there is. I think Oxford is a particular good place for this. People are willing to share. 

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