To Infinitea and Beyond: women in science (2)

International Day of Women and Girls in Science may be over, but why dedicate just one blogpost to women working in science when there’s a multitude of women in this sector who are willing to Spill the Tea on their experiences?

The United Nations’ conference this year placed a large emphasis on the socio-economic developments that can be made , with their theme ‘Investment in Women and Girls in Science for Inclusive Green Growth”.

By pipelining female students into subjects like natural science, mathematics and statistics – of which female enrolment is currently at 5% globally – then the underrepresentation of women pursuing science-related jobs could be lessened. This increase of women in STEM is forecast to create an improvement in GDP by €610 – €820 billion in 2050.

As part of my mini-series on women working in science, today we are celebrating biologist Grace Padden, who has recently secured a job in a Specialist Breast Cancer Unit at Manchester NHS Foundation Trust. She tells me more about what that involves, how she got into studying biology at Newcastle University and her plans for the future.

Tell us more about your career and how you got there…

GRACE PADDEN: BIOLOGY GRADUATE AND CLINICAL RESEARCH PRACTITIONER

I’ve always had a huge interest in all sciences (physics/chemistry/biology) throughout school, but of the three I was definitely mostly drawn to biology. I took a year out before University and was working at a pharmaceutical company in Leeds in the data/admin side of clinical trials – I found all the trials very interesting but definitely missed the human side of it, which has influenced my career a lot now. 

Then choosing biology to study at University was such an easy choice and the course at Newcastle was amazing. We were fully studying life science – from microbiology chemistry genetics, then ecology and physiology too – we did it all! In final year I even did a module in Thailand which was obviously amazing. 

After University, I moved straight to Manchester and wanted to throw myself straight into something. Having a science degree and my work experience in clinical research led me to apply for a Clinical Research Practitioner job at a hospital down here. Someone was looking over me because i actually got the job!

So that brings us to today at the Nightingale centre, which is the Specialist Breast Cancer Unit at Manchester NHS foundation trust. My job now involves running the current trials that breast cancer patients can enrol on. I have to check patient eligibility (depends on their diagnosis) and then I’m training/working as the clinician who sees the patient at various points within the study. I’m now working face to face with patients, which I’ve always wanted to do.

I work a lot with the consultants there to ensure patient safety, and one of them is currently helping me look into PhDs in the area (she’s a professor at Manchester University), so that’s exciting future stuff too !! Not quite yet though.

That must be so rewarding. Have you ever felt encouraged or discouraged to pursue a career in science?

I absolutely love it. I’ve always felt encouraged and had opportunities and support through school and University, so I’m grateful for that. At the same time there is a lot of graft. The doors are definitely open for women in science, but you need to have the faith to actually reach out for it. I’m still very supported in my job but I’m noticing the lack of funding in the NHS now I work here.

The doors are definitely open for women in science, but you need to have the faith to actually reach out for it.

Grace padden

That was very discouraging at first but it’s the nature of a public service. In my old job before University, I wasn’t doing half the stuff I’m doing now but the money my team had access to was insane! You just have to do they best with what you have though.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

My team is great. The research network in the NHS is so supportive. I’m not sure if I’ll stay here forever, but there are plenty of opportunities for progression and movement – even submitting your own research. There are a lot of inspiring people i work with now for sure. 

My friends inspire me a lot too, there are a couple of us from home/uni who are in STEM subjects, like medicine, PHD’s in psychology, Master’s in ecology, and I absolutely love having geeky convos and hearing about how they’re pursuing their careers and contributing to science in such different ways.

Research has shown that women and girls continue to be excluded from participating fully in science. Do you think it’s important to get more young girls and women into science?

It’s incredibly important to encourage girls and women to pursue science, otherwise industries are losing out on research and innovation from half the population. Another major issue in the science fields is the disparity in big data research done ON men and women (invisible women by Caroline Perez is a fabulous book to explain this is in more detail).

Women are 47% more likely to die in a car crash because seat belts and test dummies in many car models are based off the average male physique. Women are also unbelievably misrepresented in clinical trials, so pharmaceutical products and medicines are prescribed to us having been created by men and only tested on men. 

What do you think should be done to close the gender gap?

Obviously what I’ve just mentioned is not only frustrating, but it’s also dangerous for women. We can’t rely on men to change it for us. We’re lucky to have a society which provides young people to learn STEM subjects, the only thing we can really do is ensure that the girls and women feel empowered enough to go out and compete with the boys in whichever field they are passionate about.

Featured image: Science in HD on Unsplash

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