To celebrate International Day of Women and Girls in Science, meet some of the women who are making their mark at Oxford.
Jessica Phillips, Rhodes scholar, DPhil student in Zoology at Oxford.
“The idea of becoming a wildlife biologist was planted in my head years ago as I flipped through the glossy pages of National Geographic. Though I have since learned that the reality of doing fieldwork isn’t quite like it’s advertised, it is very much what I want to spend my life doing.”
Sanne Peters, Research Fellow in Epidemiology at the George Institute for Global Health UK, University of Oxford.
“I have always been passionate about health. As a nurse, I previously supported the health of small groups of individuals. As a public health researcher at Oxford, my aim is to improve the health of millions of people worldwide.”
Dr Amy Dickman, Kaplan Senior Research Fellow in Wild Cat Conservation.
“Field conservation — especially of lions — is often perceived as a tough, ‘man’s’ kind of job. However, modern conservation requires diverse skills, especially good communication, empathy, passion and innovative thinking. Women have proved extremely good in this field, and established many of today’s leading lion conservation projects, producing huge benefits for lions and rural African communities.”
Prof Ester Hammond, Researcher at the University of Oxford, Department of Oncology.
“In the 25 years since I left school I have been part of 5 different Universities, lived on two different continents, travelled all over the world and worked with some of the most amazing people. I am extremely grateful and proud to be part of a global team working to improve life for people with cancer.”
Jessica Boland, Postdoctoral Researcher Terahertz Photonics Group.
“If you asked me at high school what I wanted to do as a career, I would have definitely have said a ballerina! I was training every night and performing with the English Youth Ballet and the thought of being a scientist never even crossed my mind! But I slowly realised just how fascinated I was with how the world around us works and found myself always questioning everything around me. It was then I realised that physics was for me and I really would be bored doing anything else! 10 years later and I am now playing with ultrafast high-power lasers, shining light on the optoelectronic properties of new exciting materials and helping to develop the next generation of technology! There is never a dull moment and I love that, however a small part I play, my research is helping change the future.”
Holly Reeve, Researcher at University of Oxford.
“When I started my undergraduate research project, I was just trying to test a hypothesis. It’s now 6 years later, and I am leading a team of researchers to try and take that research to market! I’ve learnt that science works best when people with different skills, experiences and perspectives join forces — this means men, women, younger and more senior people, all working together.
I never thought there would be so many other opportunities available to scientists — in the last few years I have been interviewed on the radio, made countless posters about my research, been involved in making videos about the project and I have travelled the world giving presentations at conferences!”
EJ Milner-Gulland, Tasso Leventis Professor of Biodiversity.
“My job allows me the freedom to explore new ideas and to see my findings put into practice. I am surrounded by talented, committed and inspiring people who challenge me with fresh perspectives. I can cross academic boundaries, and understand how different subjects approach problems, and how different cultures view the world. And best of all I feel that our work is contributing to making the world a better place.”
Dr Tessa Baker, Postdoctoral Research Fellow (All Souls College & Department of Physics, Astrophysics).
“It is so easy for the mind to magnify challenges into impossibility, especially for young women. Ten years ago I would have never believed that I could have a career as a professional cosmologist. I simply wasn’t capable, wasn’t clever enough. I still have to pinch myself some days!”
Minh Tran, DPhil student in Synthesis for Biology & Medicine, Department of Chemistry, Oxford.
“A research degree has allowed me opportunities to be creative beyond conventional boundaries in tackling unanswered questions. It comes with a great freedom in furthering my knowledge, research and teaching skills, alongside doing interactive outreach to engage the general public with science.”
Anna Gloyn, Professor of Molecular Genetics & Metabolism.
“Nothing beats the excitement of discovery, leaving the lab at the end of the day knowing that you are one step closer to understanding “why or how”. I get such a buzz from being part of a community with a shared passion to answer important questions which will impact on people’s lives. Science is all about collaboration and women have been at the centre of key breakthroughs from the DNA double helix to the structure of insulin.”
Katja Gehmlich, PI at CvMed/Oxford.
“I was shocked to read in a recent study that girls loose faith in their own talent already at the age of 6 years. I want my daughter to grow up knowing what she can achieve does not depend on how many X chromosomes she carries (i.e. whether she is a girl or a boy). I hope being a female scientist (and using a power drill at home) are good role models for her.”
Katharine Owen BSc MD FRCP, Associate Professor and Honorary Consultant, Oxford Centre for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism.
“Many women are attracted to a medical career, but not enough see themselves as leaders in research. Working as both a doctor and a scientist allows me to find the answers to things that puzzle me about clinical medicine, as well as helping people look after their health.”
Eleanor Stride, Professor of Engineering Science.
“One of the things I like most about my job is that it lies at the interface between physics, chemistry and biology — we still understand so little about how to engineer and deliver therapy effectively to the human body that there is tremendous scope for making new discoveries. Even more important to me is the possibility of translating our discoveries into technology that can have a real, positive impact on our lives. I think it is crucial that we communicate the tremendously important role that engineering plays in every aspect of our lives and the huge range of areas that it spans — it is about building bridges and cars but it’s so much much more.”
Dr. Antje Weisheimer, Senior Research Fellow
“I do research on weather and climate which is a fascinating area of science. Think of the beautiful and sometime mysterious clouds with their complex fractal structures. Many more enthusiastic and curious young people, men and women equally are needed to study and understand the physical world around us. We need you!”
Professor Tamsin Mather.
“As a volcanologist, no two working days are ever the same. I can be in the lab one day and then up a volcano the next. The core of my work is scientific research but I also have the privilege of working with local agencies managing volcanic hazards in countries such as Guatemala and Chile. When I was at school I had no idea of the wide range of exciting jobs that a career in science opened up but I have always enjoyed discovering new things about how the world around us works.”
Dr Ana Namburete, Associate Research Fellow in Engineering at St Hilda’s College.
Dr Namburete graduated from Simon Fraser University with a First Class Honours degree in Biomedical Engineering. As a holder of the Commonwealth Scholarship, she joined the Biomedical Image Analysis Lab at Oxford in 2011 where she completed a DPhil in Engineering Science.
“Growing up, I always thought that the only way I could help people was by becoming a medical doctor. But when I realised that I enjoyed really maths in school, I was advised that engineering might be a better path for me. So I combined my interests and trained to become a biomedical engineer. Now, I get to travel the world and be a part of a team of doctors, engineers, and scientists to design tools to improve prenatal care in low-income countries. At age 16, I never could have imagined that I would be contributing to my home country of Mozambique in this way.”
Liisa Veerus, Merton-NaturalMotion Scholar, DPhil in Zoology at Oxford.
“I knew I wanted to become a researcher ever since I was five and nothing has ever stopped me from reaching my goal. I now study the reproductive tract microbiome, which is currently an unknown territory. There are so many other things for girls and women to discover in science — they just have to make the leap.”
Divya Sridhar, Merton-NaturalMotion Scholar, DPhil in Zoology at Oxford.
“As a child, I thought ‘do fish ever sleep?’. Now, I study the epigenetic control of stem cell differentiation in regenerative flatworms.
I have always wanted to pursue a career in research. All you have to do is believe in yourself and you will be unstoppable.”
Ms Faith Wainwright MBE FREng (1980, Engineering Science)
Director of Arup, Vice-President of the Institution of Structural Engineers and is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering.
“I’m intensely proud to be an engineer — the more we understand the challenges of how to live sustainably on this planet, the more we need a wide range of skilled and creative people to collaborate and generate practical and inspirational ideas. Every project is different, an engineers’ life is never dull!”
Ruth Baker, Associate Professor of Mathematical Biology.
“Mathematics underpins all aspects of our lives, whether in predicting the weather or encrypting our mobile phones. In my field of mathematical biology, mathematical models are helping unravel the mechanisms that lead to disease, and enabling the identification of new drugs and better treatment protocols. I get to work with scientists and academics from across a range of areas and countries: interdisciplinary science is above all a collaborative experience. These are exciting times to be a mathematician!”
Dr Catherine Calvin, Postdoctoral Researcher, Dementias Platform UK.
“To understand the complex interplay of genetic and lifestyle factors that contribute to dementia risk has never felt more urgent in our ageing populations. I feel privileged to be contributing to the research programme of Dementias Platform UK, which aims to accelerate scientific discovery and improve health interventions for this degenerating condition. It is an exciting time because of the recent expansion of big data projects, and, the increasing availability of genotypic data, which open up huge possibilities within my field. To find a career that demands analytic, logical, and, creative thinking on a day-to-day basis is so challenging and rewarding. I enjoy the scientific rigour, and being around bright minds with a strong work ethic propels you forward.”
Leanne Hodson, Associate Professor and British Heart Foundation Senior Fellow at the University of Oxford.
“Having left high school without completing the necessary exams to go straight to University I thought there would be no chance of doing the job I do now. I love the fact that I am consistently learning more about how nutrition may alter human metabolism and how the findings from my work may play a role in helping shape nutritional guidelines in the future.”
Dr Philippa Hulley, Tutorial Fellow in Medicine, St Hilda’s College and University Lecturer in Musculoskeletal Sciences, Department of Orthopaedics, Rheumatology and Musculoskeletal Sciences.
“As a kid running around on a farm in rural Zimbabwe I knew I loved nature and biology and headed in that direction. Three countries and four Institutes later, I work to bridge basic bone and joint biology research into the clinic. One of the most satisfying aspects of my work is facilitating young scientists in their projects and professional growth - maybe it is the African heritage of community building?”
Dr Yvonne Couch, Junior Research Fellow in Medicine.
“I got interested in science and discovery about the age of 10, watching the Royal Institute Lectures and hung on to the idea of it being kind of fun all the way through my teens. I was particularly fascinated by the idea that we don’t really know how so much of the brain works. During my undergrad in neuroscience I was encouraged to take a year working in a lab in Germany and then to pursue a PhD after if I enjoyed the research. I loved the idea of finding out how things work, of formulating a research question and designing a way to answer it, even if the answer is not what you were expecting! Today I still love that aspect of my job, the fun is finding out why the answer is not what you expected.”
Nafeesa Esmail, Programme Coordinator for the Oxford Martin School / Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science.
“I don’t think I could have asked for a better role, one that allows me to help create meaningful and collaborative research necessary to curb the illegal wildlife trade, share that research and translate it into impact for practitioners. It hasn’t been an easy journey to get here for the programme nor myself, but sometimes, if you work hard enough and persevere, life rewards you by letting you continue chasing your passions and work with awesome females along the way, which is even more inspiring! I’ve learnt that even when things look gloomy, sometimes you just need to be open to unexpected opportunities and let the rest fall into place.”
Helena Webb, Senior Researcher Human Centered Computing group, Department of Computer Science, University of Oxford.
“I am a social scientist and in my research I work with computer scientists to examine the relationships between computing and everyday life. In particular, we look for ways to ensure that new and emerging technologies can be accessible, fair and safe for everyone in society.”
Dr. Suzie Sheehy, Researcher.
“My work involves developing and understanding new types of particle accelerators, which could be used for applications from particle physics to cancer treatment. I enjoy my job because it’s challenging, varied and has the potential to make a tangible impact on society. I believe that everyone should have a chance to find work that brings them fulfillment and I truly think that diversity in science leads to better ideas, better research and to teams choosing to solve problems that are important to society as a whole.”
Marina Jirotka is Professor of Human Centred Computing in the Department of Computer Science, University of Oxford.
“I get to meet people from all different walks of life. Even making a small positive difference to the way they live, work and play can be so rewarding…. and it can also be a lot of fun!”
Dr Rachel MacCoss, Senior Research Facilitator for the Department of Chemistry at the University of Oxford.
“Being able to provide support to help establish such a variety of research projects is interesting, incredibly rewarding and…would have been entirely impossible without first having a strong background in organic and medicinal chemistry. There is always something new and exciting coming through the door! I always knew I would leave lab research at some point, but I never would have predicted that there would be a job that combined my scientific background and outgoing personality so well. Identifying the type of role you want can be difficult, but is always worth searching for and, sometimes, pushing for.”
Amy Hinsley, Postdoctoral Researcher.
“I study the wildlife trade, focussing mainly on trying to understand how and why people buy illegally traded plants and animals. My work can involve a lot of different things; I’ve done huge online surveys of wildlife trade networks on social media, travelled to Madagascar, Indonesia and China to visit wildlife markets and see traded species in the wild, and spent several weeks in Tokyo doing surveys with people who grow orchids as a hobby. My job is great because it means that I get to work on a subject that really interests me, whilst also doing research to try to find better ways of conserving the thousands of species threatened by illegal trade.”
Professor Angela J. Russell, Associate Professor in Medicinal Chemistry, Departments of Chemistry and Pharmacology, University of Oxford
“I’ve always been driven by a desire to carry out research for the betterment of human health. I chose to study chemistry at university as a subject that I love and recognised at that time as fundamental, underpinning and impacting other disciplines, including medicine. My research group aims to discover new drugs to target devastating degenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s disease or heart failure. Our work has the potential to impact on millions of people around the world.
I wouldn’t be in the position I am today had it not been for the support of influential role models.”
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Produced by Jessica Turner, Digital Communications Office, University of Oxford.