Life as a Female Pharmacologist in Academia – Prof. Amrita Ahluwalia

The first WISE@QMUL event of 2016 saw vascular pharmacologist and WISE Award holder, Prof. Amrita Ahluwalia, take to the stage at the Charterhouse Square campus. Well-known as an engaging and entertaining speaker, even the change from the usual location at the Mile End campus didn’t deter the crowd.

The tone of the talk was set early on: although Amrita had no doubt that the enjoyment of science experienced by men and women was the same, women, she said, had a trickier time navigating the career progression than men. Addressing this problem is something she has dedicated a lot of her life to.

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Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable Podcast from our Science Writing Workshop in Jan 2014

OBR Podcasts
Click on the image to listen to the Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable Podcast about our Science Writing Workshop “Beyond Writing Well” (27th January 2014).

You will hear from our speaker Dr Lisa Melton, Senior News Editor at Nature Biotechnology, and several of our workshop participants.

Don’t forget that the deadline for the Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable Science Writing Competition is THIS FRIDAY, 28th February!

27th Jan 2013: Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable Science Writing Workshop

Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable

OBR’s mission is to engage our academic and industry communities on-campus to foster a conversation about the health care and life sciences industry. OBR seeks to create a global network of academic innovators from across disciplines, to connect them with each other and the industry resources necessary to move ideas forward.

WISE@QMUL is co-hosting the Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable (OBR) London Chapter‘s Science Writing Workshop with Dr Lisa Melton, Senior News Editor at Nature Biotechnology, entitled “Beyond Writing Well: How to Become a Science Communicator”.

There are only 50 places 100 places* for this free evening workshop, and registration is open to all OBR members, not just QMUL research students/staff, so register immediately: http://www.oxbridgebiotech.com/events/beyond-writing-well-become-science-communicator/.

*The first set of tickets sold out so quickly we had to extend our booking to both Blomeley Rooms in order to provide 50 more places. That’s how much we care about you all! :)

You must be an OBR member to attend, so don’t forget to sign up for free membership here: http://www.oxbridgebiotech.com/join.

If you still haven’t clicked the above links, here are three reasons why you really should have by now:
  1. You get to hear from Lisa, an inspiring speaker with a wealth of practical advice to share about science communication.
  2. You may be recruited to be a voluntary author for the OBR Review, a top class biotech blog with over 10,000 views per month.
  3. You can identify your weaknesses in science writing and increase your chances of winning £500 cash in OBR’s 2014 Science Writing Competition.

The workshop will be followed by complimentary drinks and refreshments (sponsored by WISE@QMUL), so that you can mingle with the rest of the participants as well as Lisa, the OBR London Chapter team and the WISE@QMUL committee.

OBR flier: Writing workshop

When: Mon 27th Jan 2014, registration starts 6:30 pm, workshop starts promptly at 7 pm
Where: Blomeley Room 2, G/F, Queen Mary Students’ Union Hub, Mile End Campus, E1 4NT
Map: QMUL Mile End Campus Map (Building 34)

Closest tube stations: Stepney Green/Mile End
Bus routes: 25/205

Detailed directions:
It is extremely important that you read the campus map. The entrance to the QM Students’ Union Hub is NOT on Mile End Rd. Blomeley Room 2 will be clearly signposted once you enter the building.

  • If coming from Stepney Green Station, turn left as you come out of the station. Walk down Mile End Rd, crossing Bancroft Rd before entering the campus via the gates at the Clock Tower. Follow the path to the right of Queens’ Building (big, old building) and at the end of the path turn right and right again. You should now have the Library (you can’t miss this) on your left , and if you now look back towards Mile End Rd, the building straight ahead is the Students’ Union Hub.
  • If coming from Mile End Station, cross Mile End Rd when you come out of the station then turn left. Cross the road towards the overpass and walk down Mile End Rd, passing The New Globe pub and the canal before entering the campus. Walk around the first building on your left as you enter the campus (ArtsOne), and continue walking westwards (away from Mile End Station), passing the Law Building and ArtsTwo on your left and a cemetery on your right (no joke!). You will soon get to a circular building (Ground Café). Follow the path around it and you will see the Students’ Union Hub ahead of you.
  • If taking buses 25 or 205, get off at the stop called “Queen Mary, University of London”, enter the campus via the gates at the Clock Tower and follow the above directions for walking from Stepney Green Station.
  • Email wiseqmul@gmail.com if you need any further instructions.

Travel advice:
The District and Hammersmith & City lines get extremely crowded at rush hour, so please allow yourself 15 minutes more than expected to get to QMUL.

Finally, please sign up for our free membership to receive the latest news on upcoming WISE@QMUL events.

Speaker:

  • Lisa Melton obtained her PhD at the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and did her postdoctoral work at the National Institutes for Medical Research, in London where she investigated thymic differentiation. She then took a science writer’s position at the Wellcome Trust and later the Novartis Foundation, contributing to NatureScientific AmericanNew Scientist and the Times among others. She joined Nature Biotechnology in 2008. — Biography from Nature Biotechnology

23rd Jan 2014: What is the Athena SWAN Charter?

WISE@QMUL presents a lunchtime panel discussion: What is the Athena SWAN Charter?

Athena SWANOur first event of 2014 will focus on the Athena SWAN award scheme and its growing influence on academia. Do you know what level of award your department has achieved, or who the champions are within your department? Do you know how Athena SWAN affects your funding applications?

We begin with an introduction on Athena SWAN from QMUL’s Diversity Manager, Bertille Calinaud, followed by a talk from Professor Richard Pickersgill on the recent Athena SWAN Silver award for our School of Biological and Chemical Sciences. We then welcome our special guest speaker, Professor Tom Welton, Head of Chemistry at Imperial College London, whose department has recently become one of only four departments within the UK to achieve an Athena SWAN Gold award.

Come to find out more about how Athena SWAN can benefit you, and participate in the open-floor panel discussion following the talks.

Join us from 12:30 pm for lunch, with a prompt start at 1 pm for talks. We’ll wind up by 1:45 pm for more coffee and informal networking.

Staff, students or professionals from all organisations, male or female; all are welcome! But please register on Eventbrite first if you are not from QMUL. (QMUL students can register via the CAPD website to gain points using the code: RW211.) Free lunch and coffee provided.

When: Thu 23rd Jan 2014, 12:30–1:45 pm
Where: SEMS Seminar Room, 3/F, Engineering Building, QMUL, Mile End, E1 4NS
Map: http://www.qmul.ac.uk/docs/about/26065.pdf (Building 15)
Nearest tube stations: Stepney Green/Mile End
Bus routes: 25/205
CAPD course code for QMUL students: RW211

Eventbrite - Lunchtime panel discussion: What is the Athena SWAN Charter?

Detailed directions:
Enter the Engineering Building from the main entrance on Mile End Rd, east of Bancroft Rd. Look to the left (west) of the lobby. Take the inconspicuous lift next to the staircase to 3/F. You will see the SEMS Seminar Room as soon as the lift doors open!

Don’t forget to sign up for our free membership to receive the latest news on our upcoming events.

Speakers:

  • Bertille Calinaud is the Diversity Manager for QMUL, and also the project manager for Athena SWAN at QMUL, advising schools on how to advance gender equality for their staff and students. Bertille recently prepared the submission for QMUL to renew its institutional Athena SWAN Bronze award.
  • Professor Richard Pickersgill is Professor of Structural Biology, Head of Chemistry and Biochemistry Division in the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences (SBCS). SBCS are the only department within QMUL to have been awarded an Athena SWAN Silver award. Richard is part of the SBCS committee for Athena SWAN.
  • Professor Tom Welton joins us from Imperial College London where he is the Head of the Department of Chemistry and the world’s first Professor of Sustainable Chemistry. Tom’s department has become one of only four across the UK to achieve an Athena SWAN Gold award. This is the first Gold award for Imperial College London, which already has an institutional Silver award.

Our new year pledge

Our #WISEnewyearpledge:
We pledge to introduce more female role models in STEMM outside of academia and host cross-campus events.

WISE@QMUL’s mission as a society is to raise awareness of gender biases in the STEMM sectors and to give women the confidence and supportive network to pursue top leadership roles in both academia and industry.

We believe this discussion should not remain closed within QMUL so we are opening our free membership to all interested parties from academia and industry. Of course, men as well as women are welcome to join us.

Our two key goals for 2014 are to:
(i) introduce female role models in STEMM outside of academia to highlight the diversity of career paths open to women with STEMM training; and
(ii) build links to WISE groups at other institutions and companies in the region in order for us to host successful cross-campus events.

We have an exciting line-up of guest speakers at our events this semester, including:

Full details will be released shortly, so sign up for our free membership to be the first to receive the latest news. And don’t forget to follow us on twitter too: @WISEQMUL.

If you have links to a local WISE group and would like to collaborate with WISE@QMUL please get in touch via our contact form. We are open to all suggestions for events and sponsorship.

Inspired? Tweet your own #WISEnewyearpledge now!

8 tips for staying in academia: A female perspective

If you’re still looking for inspiration for new year’s resolutions, I’m listing my favourite take-home messages from our November panel discussion about the female perspective on academic life.

1. Try new places whilst you still have the flexibility to

Thinking about your next position? It might not be such a bad idea to look outside of your current city or even abroad whilst you still have the flexibility to move your entire life to somewhere new. All of our panellists agreed that moving abroad is one of the best ways to mature yourself, both personally and professionally. If you’re already in a relationship, it’s natural to worry about the distance, but try to make the best decision for yourself.  Look out for pan-EU funding schemes such as Horizon 2020, and also keep in mind that specific fellowships exist for UK academics who have worked abroad and now wish to return to the UK.

2. Be aware of the international differences in academic systems and visa restrictions

Before you take the plunge, be wary of how different academic systems can be across the continents. As an example, one of our panellists who started her career in Canada, where publishing frequently in smaller journals is advocated, found it relatively difficult to find a position here in the UK because interviewers preferred academics who published less frequently but in journals with higher impact factors. Also find out exactly what teaching and other administrative duties may be implicit in your new position. If you are planning to or already have a family, be aware that visa restrictions may mean that you’re not eligible for schemes such as child benefits or tax rebates, even if your partner is a local citizen.

3. Travel to meet your future employers

If there is a particular academic you would love to work with, get in touch and make the effort to visit them if possible. One of our panellists landed her first postdoc position at the Max Planck Institute because she visited her target research group for a week, under the guise of helping them with experiments, presented her PhD work and impressed them so much that they asked her to stay! Don’t be afraid to create your own employment opportunities.

4. Distinguish between incompatibility and inadequacy

When experiments don’t go to plan, you start to question your ability in the lab. When your whole PhD feels like a losing battle, you start to question your adequacy for scientific research altogether. One of our panellists shared that she certainly considered that she might not be cut out to be an academic as she finished her PhD degree, but she stuck with it and found a postdoc position in a different field of biology. It was only then that she realised she hadn’t lacked ability—she had lacked interest for her PhD topic. When you’re feeling down about your scientific career, try to make the same distinction in your mind: are you truly inadequate, or just incompatible with your current research topic or research group?

5. Establish your independence as a researcher as soon as possible

A good supervisor for your first postdoc position will work with you from day 1 to establish your independence as a researcher. Unfortunately such supervisors are hard to come by, and most likely it will be down to you to start negotiating what you can take away as your own research after you leave the research group; this is something you should always keep in mind. Your postdoc career should be an exploratory period in which you define the research topic that you want to pursue for the rest of life, so don’t let the day-to-day pressures from your supervisor take away your focus on your long-term goals.

6. Know who to take what advice from

Senior academics are often generous with their advice for their younger counterparts, but don’t be pressured into thinking that they know your research better than you. As one of our panellists emphasised that when seeking advice for a grant application, you should certainly let them guide you on how best to present your proposal, but you don’t have to take their recommendations on what science you should do.

7. Don’t worry too much about when you will have children

Both of our panellists with children agreed: there will be a time when you will genuinely want to have a child, and when that time comes, you will try to have a child irrespective of circumstances. It still sounds pretty mystical to me, but I guess their underlying message is not to worry too much. Like any other key life decisions, there will always be doubt and fear, but once the decision is made, things will generally fall into place around it, so stop fretting excessively and let your instincts guide you once in a while. On a practical note, most academic departments have already amazing accommodations in place for new parents, so don’t be disparaged before you check exactly what you can have.

8. Love doing research

Research is at its core a compulsive act of unsatiated curiosity. If you’re driven by such a compulsion, you’ll pull through no matter what, regardless of gender biases, parenting demands and all the other obstacles between you and staying in academia. WISE@QMUL and many other organisations are trying our best to minimise these obstacles. The question is of course: do you want it enough?

Our panellists spoke to a full room of anxious PhD students and early career researchers

Our panellists spoke to a full room of anxious PhD students and early career researchers

To summarise:
  1. Try new things whilst you still have the flexibility to
  2. Be aware of the international differences in academic systems and visa restrictions
  3. Travel to meet your future employers
  4. Distinguish between incompatibility and inadequacy
  5. Establish your independence as a researcher as soon as possible
  6. Know who to take what advice from
  7. Don’t worry too much about when you will have children
  8. Love doing research :)

From everybody in the WISE@QMUL committee, we wish you all the best for 2014 and we look forward to seeing you at our upcoming events.  We will kickstart the new year with a discussion of the Athena SWAN Charter, a scheme launched in 2005 to recognise academic departments committed to advancing women’s careers.

Our four panellists

Our four panellists and our Chair, Joanne, on the far right

Our panellists on 20th November 2013 were (left to right):