Tag: Academic life

SheNote Speaker: addressing 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.

Women scientists face enormous biases. There are quantitative biases against women in letters of recommendation for postdoctoral fellowships1, in the selection of candidates for research positions2, in peer review3, in grant review scores4, in citations of publications with female principal investigators5. A common response when conference organisers are challenged to justify their all-male conferences, is that they were unable to find female speakers in the particular discipline, or that those they did invite turned them down. There is even a bingo card for the best excuses.

Self-nominated lists of experts such as Dr Bik’s provide a pool of female experts and leaders within a field that can be consulted to identify keynote speakers. It negates this excuse. Currently at over 500 members and simple to search for different areas of expertise, the list has value even beyond conference organising. As a (lazy) journal editor I use it to find reviewers for microbiome papers, hopefully also addressing some of the gender biases in peer review; search committees can use it to expand their search pool, colleagues can identify collaborators. It also facilitates further methods of addressing the gender balance as research indicates an excellent way to increase representation of women at conferences is for a woman to convene the conference6. (more…)

Making the leap from PhD to postdoc

Earlier this month, the Department of Medicine hosted its annual Rising Scientist Day at Imperial’s Hammersmith Campus. The day offered 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.

Here, Drs Myrsini Kaforou, Alex Thompson and Claire Byrne recount their experiences of becoming fully-fledged early career researchers for the Imperial Medicine Blog, and share their best advice for prospective postdocs.

Myrsini Kaforou – Senior Research Fellow in Bioinformatics

I guess my journey might be quite different to that of the typical PhD student in the Department of Medicine. I started my studies in electrical and computer engineering, completed an internship at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, and then moved to London to complete an MSc course in Bioinformatics and Theoretical Systems Biology at Imperial. I had always wanted to use computational approaches to confront complex problems in biology and medicine. Therefore, I decided to pursue a PhD in Professor Michael Levin’s group in developing novel approaches for analysing large gene expression datasets to identify diagnostic signatures for tuberculosis.

While writing up my thesis, a colleague of mine forwarded me a call for post-doctoral fellowships from the Antimicrobial Resistance Collaboration at Imperial College, which I applied for successfully. My fellowship extended the work of my PhD to the bigger question of the use of host RNA diagnostics to identify bacterial infection to guide antibiotic use and tackle AMR by bridging clinical research and point-of-care assay development. I worked with Dr Pantelis Georgiou and his team in the Department of Bioengineering. At the end of this year-long post, I applied for a few different schemes and was successful in getting the Sir Henry Wellcome fellowship to work on understanding and diagnosing infectious diseases using multi-level omics data. This scheme offers recently qualified postdoctoral researchers the opportunity to start independent research careers.


His job, her job: our kids

Dr Tregoning

Dr (John) Tregoning and Dr (Charlie) Tregoning discuss roadblocks and solutions to equality in childcare.

We have as a couple, tried and sometimes succeeded but most often failed to share parenting fairly. Drawing from our own experience and a very shallow skim read of how to books, here are what we consider to be some of the major problems to equality at home as two working parents and some possible solutions. This is not to say every parent should go back to work; do what is best for your own family, but remember to be honest with yourself about what you really want and include yourself in the ‘what is best for my family’ calculation.

What society wants

Since the introduction of split parental leave in the UK in 2015, only 1% of fathers have taken it (based on 2015/16 figures). Why is this? Societal expectations are the major barrier to equality in childcare (in 2014 – 33% of people thought mums should stay at home compared to essentially 0% who thought dads should stay home: the flipside 73% thought dads should work full time and 28% thought mums should work full time – but only after the kids go to school). Going against the societal norm is tricky and requires reserves of energy, time and self-belief that you are doing the right thing. When the right thing is also difficult and financially unrewarding these reserves can be depleted, eroding your will. (more…)