Tag: Academic life

20 Years at Imperial: what have I learnt?

Marking 20 years since Dr John Tregoning arrived at Imperial College London as a PhD student, he reflects on what he’s learnt over his career to date.


On 1 October 1999, I walked out of South Kensington tube station, fresh-faced and ready to start my PhD. 20 years later as I walk out of the same tube station to the same campus of the same university (still fresh-faced I like to think), the question is, have I learnt anything?

Spoiler alert – the answer is yes, but a guarded yes, from a staggeringly low starting point, like Marianas Trench low. Some of what I have learned is fairly niche and only useful if you work in a biomedical lab – like how to open a tightly screwed plastic tube with one hand whilst avoiding infecting yourself with influenza, some are a bit more generally applicable to having a career in science, especially if you are or want to run your own research group, and some grandiosely I think might be applicable to everyone.

School’s out

Working in a university, this may be a bit unnecessary to point out, but education never ends: we are continually learning and evolving. Even if you were able to recall all the facts from school into adulthood it is likely that they are now either outdated or completely irrelevant to the work you do. We need to retrain: to become parents, to become managers, to change roles, to retire gracefully. And for these new roles, there is no pass/fail test to say how well you have done, it is all a bit woolly. So we need effective strategies to learn for life: both for ourselves and for the others – students, children, co-workers – that we might need to train. (more…)

LGBT and the sciences: where does our pride STEM from?

LGBT and the sciences: where does our Pride STEM from?

In celebration of LGBT STEM Day, Dr Akif Khawaja shares the small things everyone can do to make STEM more LGBT-inclusive.


With the glitter of the Mighty Hoopla weekend – a LGBT-friendly pop music festival – having finally settled, all eyes are now set on Pride. For many this will mean another (hopefully sunny) weekend of short shorts, tank tops and daytime drinking. In addition to the parade, especially in London, pride month is chock-a-block of events highlighting all aspects of LGBT+ culture and history. This year, Pride in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) has been helping to showcase and support LGBT+ people within the STEM fields by organising LGBT STEM Day.

So, what is Pride in STEM and what is LGBT STEM Day?

Starting with the easy one – Pride in STEM is a charitable trust run by an independent group of LGBT+ scientists and engineers. Founded in 2016, Pride in STEM was the brainchild of Dr Alfredo Carpineti, his husband Chris, and Matt Young. They aim to support all LGBT+ people spanning all of STEM and in doing so, raise their profiles and showcase their work. Now as for LGBT STEM day, this was their latest effort to promote the dissemination of work done by LGBT+ STEM staff. It falls on Friday 5 July 2019 (I’m told purposefully chosen as 507nm is the wavelength of the green stripe in the pride flag – 5.07 … get it?!) and the day before the Pride in London Parade. (more…)

Leading from the front: what can academia learn from the Army

Army leadership

Former British Army officer and current PhD student, Nadia Soliman, discusses the importance of leadership in academia and the lessons we can learn from the Army’s renowned leadership programmes. 


In my opinion the Army and academic institutions are very similar: both are organisations that work globally, across cultures and are dependent upon their people doing remarkable things to tackle some of the greatest challenges. However, one of the stark differences between the Army and academia is how the two train and equip people for the challenges they face in their job. (more…)

Life as a postdoc: why I personally couldn’t imagine doing anything else

Dr Elaine Fuertes provides an insight into the perks of being a postdoc, from international travel to independently developing research with potentially important public health impacts.


“Only a tiny proportion of you will become university professors” – a statistic every postdoctoral researcher has heard, and the vast majority of us choose to ignore. Indeed, despite the increasing awareness and acknowledgement that the large majority of postdocs will end up pursuing one of the many other available career paths open to this highly trained and ambitious workforce, as recently discussed during the 2019 National Heart and Lung Institute Postdoc Day, many of us cling on to what we know to be a highly implausible outcome – landing a tenured position.

I’ve often been asked – why do I do it? Why continue down this career path, one that many of my friends and family see as living in a perpetual state of “student life”. It is indeed a question I have often reflected upon, especially as I am not presently, nor have I ever been, a “die-hard must become a Professor” type of person. So why persevere? What drives me? Why do I continue to be fully inspired and motivated by a career path that entails so much uncertainty? (more…)

STEM needs to face up to its problem with LGBT diversity

Karim Boustani argues the importance of making STEM LGBT-inclusive, from improving visibility to expanding diversity initiatives to include LGBT people.

A large barrier to the creation of an inclusive workplace in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), in my experience, is the view that being out is regarded as “unprofessional” because it is seen as too “personal”, even though most of our colleagues are “out” as being straight without issue. LGBT people tend to depoliticise themselves in the workplace because there is a commonly held view that discussions about inequality are not regarded as relevant to STEM work. The term “LGBT” will be used in this post to refer to anyone who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or intersex, or who does not conform to society’s expectations in terms of sexual or gender identity and expression.

The lack of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) diversity within STEM subjects is a longstanding issue that is too often left out of conversations about broadening participation in STEM. It is estimated that LGBT people are approximately 20 per cent less represented in STEM fields than expected. Additionally, male LGBT undergraduates are much less likely to stay in STEM degrees than straight men. (more…)

Why I wear the rainbow lanyard (and why hockey is the greatest sport)

Katie Stripe

Katie Stripe gives a personal account of why she wears the rainbow lanyard to make herself visible to others who may need to see gay people doing normal things.


I could start by telling you what I identify as, but I don’t think that is important. The defining features of my character are more about what I am like as a person; sarcastic, grumpy, caring, funny, and what I do; I like to lift heavy weights, play hockey, take photographs, go on holiday and I did my first triathlon at 35 and now I am hooked (or mad). I am also a learning technologist and a learning designer, I build stuff online and develop learning materials and environments for students at Imperial’s National Heart and Lung Institute (NHLI). Having said all that I am writing this because as a gay member of the Imperial community I think it is important that I am visible to people who may need to see gay people doing normal things. (more…)

Noël hypothesis: my life as a medical statistician

This festive period Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of their wisdom.

Our final wise woman, director of the School of Public Health Professor Deborah Ashby, shares her joy of medical statistics, from working in neonatal research to taking on the Royal Statistical Society presidency. 


We Three Queens of Orient are…” came the dulcet sounds in the lead-up to Christmas. I looked up across the old Liverpool maternity ward, to see three colleagues singing and, channelling Morecambe and Wise, dancing towards me and my newborn daughter. The three women who had come to visit were all, like me, lecturers in medical statistics at the University of Liverpool, and that memory still brings a smile.

Although it was less glamorous than the alternatives, I’d chosen to give birth there, reasoning that if it went well, it didn’t matter where I was, but if not, I’d rather be somewhere with wide experience, actively engaged with and informed by research. In Liverpool, I had worked with the academic doctors from that maternity hospital, so knew I would get both. You might wonder why they had sought my advice, but research on babies involves analysing complex data on them, or designing studies to test competing treatments or strategies – all of which needs statistical skills along with clinical input. (more…)

Self-division: how I split my time between family life and cell cycles

This festive period Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of their wisdom.

Our second wise woman, research fellow Dr Alexis Barr, provides an insight into how she’s balancing family life with a research career.  


I never realised that when I started a family that other scientists would be so interested in my work/life balance. I am frequently asked how I manage a research career with bringing up two young children, aged two and four. Thankfully, it’s not as hard as you might think, but having a partner who shares the responsibility helps enormously.

I know why researchers are keen to talk about this as it seems to involve squaring a circle. Before I had children, I couldn’t easily conceive how working in a lab 8am – 7pm every day and often ‘popping in’ at weekends could work with caring for children. The problem is that it doesn’t, well at least not if you want to spend time with your children (which I do – not least because they’re hilarious). But it turns out that this isn’t a problem as there are other styles of working. Like most scientists I know, we love what we do so we’re quite motivated to find ways to make it work for us. (more…)

SheNote Speaker: addressing the gender imbalance in science

SheNote Speaker

This International Women’s Day, Dr Mike Cox On is launching SheNote Speaker to help address the gender imbalance in science.


Dr Elisabeth Bik is a microbiome researcher and science editor who runs Microbiome Digest, a blog that’s updated daily and highlights microbiome literature worth reading. In 2016 she asked scientists in the field to nominate their favourite women microbiome researchers in order to improve the visibility of women in the field. This developed to become an actively updated database of experts that’s easily searchable by research interest in microbiome science – Women In Microbiome Research. Dr Bik explains the motivation for establishing the list clearly on her site, but one of the major driving forces was the lack of women as keynote speakers, panel members or chairs at conferences. (more…)

Making the leap from PhD to postdoc

Following the annual Rising Scientist Day, Drs Myrsini Kaforou, Alex Thompson and Claire Byrne recount their experiences of becoming fully-fledged early career researchers and share their best advice for prospective postdocs.


The annual Rising Scientist Day at Imperial’s Hammersmith Campus offers PhD students the chance to share their research both with their peers, and a more general audience. In addition to poster presentations and networking opportunities, the showcase featured talks from those who had successfully made the transition from PhD to postdoc. (more…)