Research team celebrates women in science

In preparation for International Women in Science Day on 11 February, the Trust played host to a seminar celebrating women in science earlier this week.

It was a case of standing room only at the event on Tuesday, which was introduced by Trust Chair, Sally Morgan, Baroness Morgan of Huyton. In addition to staff, the audience included sixth-form students from Ruislip High School, who listened to four speakers from the world of medical research.

Consultant cardiologist Dr Sabine Ernst, research nurses Lyn Paul and Paula Rogers, and respiratory consultant Dr Nicholas Hopkinson were among the speakers who outlined their varied career paths and experiences of being, or supporting, women involved in scientific research.

Baroness Morgan spoke about her own experience of working in male-dominated government. She recalled: “I remember when civil servants were taken aback at the idea there needed to be a woman in each government department. It’s something we just accept now.

“When it comes to improving women’s success in science and research, we need to get to a place where everyone has the same opportunities.”

Dr Sabine Ernst took to the platform first, describing her exacting work and research as an electrophysiologist. Widely published, she has been a trailblazer in the field of using remote magnetic navigation to treat patients with complex arrhythmias.

She said: “To do my job you need good hand-eye coordination, an ability to concentrate for long periods and observe a multitude of information simultaneously. You also need strong nerves. None of these attributes are either male or female – there should be nothing to stop women in this role.”

Next to speak was consultant respiratory physician Dr Nicholas Hopkinson. He outlined some of the challenges women faced in science, including wider structural issues such as family commitments and the division of caring responsibilities. He also noted women were perhaps more likely to take on mentoring or supporting roles in research projects, with male counterparts more likely to pursue their own specific research interests.

Dr Hopkinson pointed out that new initiatives designed at bringing parity to science were helping to alter the status quo.

He said: “Things are changing. The Athena SWAN  charter for example. SWAN stands for Scientific Women’s Academic Network. This is a charter which has been set up to encourage organisations to promote and support gender equality for women, by identifying areas of weakness and implementing  removing systemic obstacles to allow them to reach more senior roles.”

Senior research nurse Lyn Paul who is part of the interstitial lung disease (ILD) team then spoke about her career path, adding: “I left school with only one O’ level, in art, so I really didn’t think working in science would have been possible.”

However, after working as a cleaner in a care home, she was inspired to study more and apply for nursing training, which then ignited a career in research.

Lyn advised that women shouldn’t be scared to be assertive. She said: “Use your voice. Question everything. You might sound wobbly at first, but you will become stronger and more confident.”

Finally, research nurse manager Paula Rogers discussed her career in science; from working with Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub in the ‘90s to being part of the team which discovered the gene responsible for pulmonary hypertension.

At the moment Paula is working on a number of studies, but she explained her focus is always the patient. She said: “There can be challenges working in this field and conflicting priorities. You need to be organised. But all of these are outweighed by the overall contribution to patient care.”

Baroness Morgan concluded the event with a call to arms: “It’s important to start highlighting careers in science to girls at school. Some young women are choosing subjects which make it harder for them to pursue certain jobs. We need to let them know what is possible.”

Associate Director of Research Jenny Rivers, on behalf of the research office who organised the event, added: “We were all extremely keen to celebrate the vital role of women in research throughout our hospitals, and I’d encourage anyone who has a research idea, would like to know more, or is keen to find out about the wide variety of roles available in research, to get in touch.”

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