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Insight blog: Posts tagged with women in science

Stories about the people, science and research of the Medical Research Council.

Celebrating women in science

8 Mar 2018

By supporting schemes like Athena SWAN and the WISE campaign we’re committed to advancing women’s careers in STEM. For International Women’s Day 2018, Deborah Barber shares quotes and career insights from some of the many inspiring women in research who we’ve featured on the blog over the past year.

Professor Janet Darbyshire

Professor Janet Darbyshire

“The hospitals used to be completely full of patients with HIV/AIDS, but now things are very, very different.”

Janet is the recent recipient of our most prestigious award, the MRC Millennium Medal. Her research into clinical trials and epidemiology has prevented disease and saved lives around the world. Janet provides an insight into her successful career, from her earliest memories of medicine to the difference her research has made to people’s lives. [...]

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Working life: Dr Pauline Williams

30 Aug 2017

Dr Pauline Williams leads global health research and development at GSK and recently became an MRC Council member. Here she tells us about mixing science with business, and the satisfaction of making a life-saving gel from an antiseptic mouthwash.

Dr Pauline Williams, Senior VP and Head of Global Health Research and Development at GlaxoSmithKline and MRC Council member

Dr Pauline Williams, GlaxoSmithKline. Image credit: GlaxoSmithKline

Career in brief:

  • Medicine degree, University of Cardiff
  • Clinical Pharmacology physician, Glaxo Phase I Unit
  • Head of Academic Discovery Performance Unit, GSK
  • Senior Vice President and Head of Global Health R&D, GSK

It was the rigour and excitement of early drug development that tempted me away from medicine. I did a stint at a Phase I Clinical Pharmacology Unit after my medical training – and following that I was enticed by an offer to join Glaxo (now GSK) where I’ve worked ever since. My first role was a full immersion in the design, conduct and reporting of experimental medicine studies which has stood me in good stead throughout my career. [...]

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Working life: International Director at PraxisUnico Dr Nessa Carey

8 Mar 2017

On International Women’s Day we explore the working life of Dr Nessa Carey, International Director at PraxisUnico, Visiting Professor at Imperial College and an author. She shares her multi-career path, tips for success and the importance of saying ‘yes’ to new opportunities.


Career in brief

  • Five years in the Metropolitan Police Forensic Laboratory
  • Part-time BSc in Immunology
  • PhD in Virology, University of Edinburgh
  • Postdoc in Human Genetics, Charing Cross and Westminster Hospital Medical School
  • Lectureship and Senior Lectureship in Molecular Biology, Imperial College London
  • 13 years in the biotech and pharmaceutical industry

Continue reading: Working life: International Director at PraxisUnico Dr Nessa Carey

The lab notes and doodles of Rosa Beddington

10 Feb 2017

Last year we brought you the news that MRC scientist Dr Rosa Beddington’s papers were to become the first collection of personal papers from a female Fellow archived by the Royal Society. As we celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science tomorrow, the Royal Society’s Laura Outterside delves deeper into the archive, which is now available for viewing at the Royal Society in London.

Rosa Beddington

Rosa Beddington


Beddington was one of the most skilled and influential mammalian experimental embryologists of her generation, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1999. The collection comprises the contents of Beddington’s office at Mill Hill, where she was Head of the Division of Mammalian Development at the MRC’s National Institute for Medical Research.

Her archive strikes a balance between the personal and professional. You’ll find photographs of Beddington, her old passport (reference number BED/1/1), and her undergraduate notebooks (reference number BED/1/4), including brief forays into diary keeping. And you’ll find ample evidence of Beddington’s surgical and experimental skills, reflected through a series of lab books (reference number BED/2/1) and microscope slides of mouse embryos (reference number BED/5/1). [...]

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SUSTAIN: a programme for women researchers

24 Oct 2016

SUSTAIN is a year-long programme of training, mentoring and peer networking for women in science. With the programme now open for new applicants, clinician and researcher Dr Alessia David gives us her experience of SUSTAIN.

Photo of SUSTAIN participant Alessia DavidPerfect timing

I joined the SUSTAIN programme at a crucial moment in my career. It was during the final year of my MRC fellowship and I was due to make major decisions about my next steps. I was feeling overwhelmed by the challenges of delivering high-quality research, building a successful career in a competitive environment and raising two little children. [...]

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Explaining inequalities in women’s heart disease risk

13 Oct 2016

Research published in BMC Medicine, based on the Million Women Study, reports women with lower levels of education and living in more deprived areas of the UK are at higher risk of coronary heart disease due to differences in behaviour. Here, study co-author Dr Sarah Floud discusses what these findings mean in the context of addressing social and health inequalities.

heart-1222517_1920-620x342-2Heart disease is a leading cause of death worldwide for men and women. Many observational studies show that individuals with lower socio-economic status have a higher risk of heart disease than those with higher socio-economic status. [...]

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From labs to legislation

1 Sep 2016

Elly Tyler, a PhD student from Queen Mary University of London, has taken a break from her research to learn about the world of science policy, as an intern at the Academy of Medical Sciences. If you’re an MRC-funded PhD student and you’d like to do the same, the next round of applications opens 12 September 2016.

Doorplate of the Academy of Medical Sciences

Photo credit: Academy of Medical Sciences

What do you think of when you hear the words ‘science policy’?

As a PhD student in my PhD bubble, I’d always thought that science policy was relatively straightforward. You identify a topic – like the use of animals in research – do some research, write a report, and then send it to government. Job done – influence made. But, what I didn’t really get was …how? How do you identify the topics to shine your spotlight on? How do you get government to listen? How are changes in policy made? [...]

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Working life: Trials Manager Jen Lawson

24 Aug 2016

Jennifer Lawson is the Trials Manager for the recently launched Deep and Frequent Phenotyping study looking to do the most in-depth research ever conducted to find out how Alzheimer’s disease develops. She is part of Professor Simon Lovestone’s Translational Neuroscience and Dementia Research group at the University of Oxford.


Career in brief

  • Psychology BSc
  • Worked at the Oxford Mental Health Trust as a Research Coordinator
  • Part time Cognitive Neuroscience MSc whilst working full time at the Trust
  • Managed the feasibility study that has led to this Deep and Frequent Phenotyping study

My career path has been slightly unusual. Like many of my peers studying psychology, I planned to become a clinical psychologist. So I went to gain experience working in Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, assisting with clinical trials and other research studies. [...]

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Preparing to move – how cancer can use your immune system as a highway

9 Aug 2016

Dr Jacqui Shields and Dr Angela Riedel at the MRC Cancer Unit explain the science behind these brightly-coloured blobs that show us how cancer cells prepare their road ahead so they can spread around the body.

A healthy lypmh node next to a lymph node that has been damaged by signals from a cancer.

Breaking down your defences: cancer cells send signals to a healthy lymph node (left) that distort its shape and damage its function (right) making it easier for a tumour to take hold.

One of cancer’s deadliest features is its ability to move through your immune system’s ready-made network of vessels and nodes.

Often, we don’t know a cancer has spread through the immune system until it’s too late, but now we may have found something that could help us predict when that’s going to happen: our findings suggest that before cancer cells even begin to move, they emit signals which send the new area into chaos. [...]

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Breaking the habit: Why is it so difficult to change cocaine users’ behaviour?

16 Jun 2016

Dr Karen Ersche at the University of Cambridge has found that people with cocaine addiction are not more likely to alter their behaviour if they know the consequences of their actions. She explains why her findings could be important for how we treat cocaine addiction.

Dr Karen ErscheCocaine addiction can be devastating for individuals and those around them and it is a habit that can be incredibly difficult to break. I wanted to understand why individuals continue taking cocaine even when they understand the negative consequences. Currently there are no medically proven treatments for cocaine addiction and our research has shown us that people addicted to cocaine form habits – including those unrelated to drugs – differently from people who aren’t. Understanding this could help us be more effective in how we treat those with addiction.

We all have our own daily routines and habits that we quickly slip into. They can be good or bad – we might find ourselves taking a drink of water without thinking or biting our fingernails whilst watching the telly. We typically develop them as a result of repetition, and learn to execute them automatically, leaving our brain-power free to concentrate on other things. However, when the situation demands it and our habits are harmful or don’t make sense anymore, we can break them. It requires some effort, but we can do it.

The results from our study suggest that, for people addicted to cocaine, it may not be so easy. Cocaine-addicted people seem to be more prone to developing habits for actions that are rewarded. More importantly, they appear to be more likely to get stuck in these behaviours, even if they know that what they are doing no longer makes sense or even is harmful.

Animal cards used in rewards-based task

In the first task participants learned by trial and error which animal pictures gained them points. The points were later taken away for some of the animal pictures but the people with cocaine addiction tended to continue to answer in the same way. Image source: Science [...]

Continue reading: Breaking the habit: Why is it so difficult to change cocaine users’ behaviour?