International Women’s Day: doing science like a girl
When I was little I drove my parents mad by always asking ‘why’ - I wanted to know how everything worked. So it was natural for me to choose a career in science.
Making discoveries that matter
I was interested in MS research because my husband’s aunt has MS. She told me how difficult it was to raise a family at a time when no treatments were available (now things are different).
This inspired me to try and understand how we could repair the central nervous system to improve the lives of people with MS.
When I started doing research for the first time as an undergraduate student, I was ecstatic. Instead of just reading about science I was making my own discoveries. I loved doing research and wanted to apply it to help people.
Being what I couldn’t see
But I also noticed that women running their own labs were few and far between. It was hard for me to see how I could fit into the academic research environment in the long run.
With the support of my (male) supervisors I was encouraged to carry on in research, first as a PhD student, then as a postdoctoral fellow, and now as a lab head.
Battling unconscious bias
Fourteen years after I stepped into a lab for the first time, women are still under-represented in science, occupying only 11% of top academic positions.
Sometimes I’m the only woman in the room. Then I am aware of the ways others might see me, and that I’m likely battling against unconscious biases.
Leading my team
There are five women in my team at the Centre for MS Research in Edinburgh. I feel a responsibility to show them, and other young women, that they too can follow their ambitions and be leaders in research.
Running my own lab has been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done and also the most exciting and rewarding. We’re investigating how we can use the beneficial effects of inflammation to encourage brain repair in conditions like MS. This could lead to new treatments.
Sharing our stories
Women are making important discoveries. Initiatives like the Athena Swan Program, The Bearded Lady Project, Dangerous Women and Women Are Boring are so important in showing why we need them in science.
The more we share what women have achieved and encourage each other, the more women will stay in science.
And that benefits all of us.