18 March 2016
A new generation of women in science has joined the growing tree of awardees recognised under the Suffrage Science scheme, established by the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre (CSC).
Recorded here are pairs of messages. First the nomination speech by the previous winner followed by the acceptance speech of the woman receiving heirloom jewellery – as recorded at the awards ceremony. The 2016 winners discuss what they plan to do differently in the two years ahead, before the relay continues and they pass on their award.
“I met Lori when I joined David Barford’s lab as a postdoctoral fellow in ICR in London. I still remembered the time that Lori took me walking through different common facilities up and down on my first day at ICR. Later, we worked together on the anaphase promoting complex, Lori spent her effort on applying the tandem repeat method to purify homogeneous APC complex and later on solved the APC structure by cryo-EM. She is a gifted scientist, not only intelligent but also determined and committed. I also remember her bench were always tidy, while mine was a bit in mess…
Later I returned back to Hong Kong, Lori furthered her research training in Venki’s lab at MRC, Cambridge. She has been keeping on her great work and solved the structures of various molecular machines with high impact. Lori has developed her career successfully and she is now a team leader in MRC, Cambridge. In addition to contribute her expertise in the field of biochemistry and structural biology, she is also keen to develop different advances to overcome the challenges in cryo-EM.
Therefore, when I was asked to nominate the next awardee for the Suffrage Science Award, Lori’s name immediately popped up in my mind. Lori, Congratulations and I wish you all the best!”
“I feel really honoured that Shannon nominated me for this, and honoured to be amongst the past and present women who’ve had Suffrage Science awards.
In fact I was at the Suffrage Science launch event in 2011 and I think this initiative is something that can really raise the profile of women in science, and hopefully improve opportunities for women in science leadership.
I think, as a few people have said, science is a great career and one of the best things is discovering something new. And I think the best thing we can do is have fun in science and surround ourselves by other people having fun. Thank you.”
“I wish to nominate Michelle James from Stanford University to receive my heirloom piece. Michelle’s research is focussed on developing new molecular imaging contrast agents that can improve how we diagnose, treat and understand brain diseases. Incredibly for someone of her career stage, Michelle has contributed to the clinical translation of multiple contrast agents that are relevant in the study of neurodegeneration.
On top of this, Michelle is an inspirational teacher and mentor. In addition to creating clear and engaging lectures, she has also mentored dozens of students within the laboratory setting, ranging from high school level up to PhD. Her dedication to their success is obvious to everyone in the laboratory, as she devotes time to explain complex topics and also work through challenging problems with each student individually.
We were both postdoctoral fellows in the laboratory of Prof. Sam Gambhir at Stanford and she started her independent laboratory at a similar time as me in 2013. Her research programme I am sure will go from strength to strength and she certainly will be a role model for the next generation of women in science.”
“It’s an absolute honour and privilege to be here amongst you all, and I feel excited and floored to be nominated for such an award.
Sarah is some one who’s inspired me from the first time I met her. Coming over from Cambridge – I’m originally from Australia, she was from England – we bonded over tea, and we spoke about our trials and tribulations with science.
I saw her as an incredibly strong women who knew what she was about and knew what she wanted to do, and she did it with grace and humility. She’s not only a brilliant scientist who tirelessly works to come up with new ways to understand cancer, she’s just a really lovely person and someone that I look up to and respect a lot. So I feel really happy to get this award.
And as I think about Sarah and what she’s passed onto me, and how I look at my own students with their bright eyes and excitement for science, I think that the way that I’d want to help them continue down this path, and especially the young women, is that I want to continue to be a good mentor, a great teacher and also role model as the panellists were talking about.
I think it’s really important to show the next generation that science is tough. It’s hard, it’s not easy. It takes a lot of our effort and our emotion and our strength. But it’s not just that it’s hard. We can do this together. I think it’s important for us to take them under our wing and to show them that you can be a strong woman in science. You can be a passionate leader. And you can also be kind and respectful to your students and to really make time for them.
I think I’m beginning to get a bit of a track record in taking students, and young women especially, that have unlikely back-stories or unlikely experience. So students that aren’t necessarily qualified to be in a wet lab will come in wanting to explore science and might’ve been rejected from a few other labs but I’ll take them in. It’s really fun to see them develop skills in dissecting brains and then going on to be medical students and it’s just wonderful. I’d like to continue that.”
“I have been thinking about who to propose as a recipient for the award and in keeping the award in the general area of protein structure would like to nominate Dr Airlie McCoy. Airlie is currently a Principal Research Associate at the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research. She is a much respected protein crystallographer who has made seminal contributions to the development of computational tools for protein structure determination by X-ray crystallography.
In particular she is the principal architect of PHASER, the molecular replacement (MR) and experimental phasing software released in 2004 that solved 37% of the structures deposited in the PDB (Protein Data Bank) in 2012 and has solved 12% of the total PDB. PHASER has been cited over 2900 times.
In addition to major contributions to her chosen field, she takes a very active role in the training and mentoring of young scientists through her organisation of and teaching on crystallography summer schools and at crystallography conferences. She is also a strong advocate for women in science and balances various demands on her time with aplomb. I think she is an excellent role model and as a theoretician and methods developer is in area where contributions perhaps don’t always get the recognition they deserve.”
“Well I have to thank Jane for embarrassing me in person, in public. I was extremely surprised that Jane chose me to continue on this heirloom tradition, which started in our chain with Professor Dame Louise Johnson. So tragically our chain is one shorter than the others, unfortunately.
But I was very pleased and privileged to get to know Louise a little while she was Director of Life Sciences at Diamond. I think Jane and Louise share a very quiet brilliance in the work that they do and I’d be very happy to emulate that way of doing science.
I am also from Australia and I wanted to share with you – we’re also here to celebrate Suffragettes of course – and I wanted to share something with you that was drummed into us at school, which was that South Australia was the first place in the world to grant full suffrage to women. That’s not just the right to vote, it was also the right to be elected to office as well.
My great grandmother was one of the first women in the world to live her whole adult life with female suffrage. I remember her well. She would’ve voted in the first election, that she was eligible, 1896 it was a state election, and she would’ve voted, I know she would’ve voted, because she was a very formidable lady who would not have passed up the opportunity to tell anybody her opinion on anything. In fact, four days after that election she married my great grandfather aged 22.
The thing that I remember about her the most – she had her marbles with her to the end – we’d visit her on Sundays and she’d have the newspapers spread out on her kitchen table. And on this newspaper was a massive magnifying glass that she would use to read the paper and inspect small children (in our imagination). So I cannot to this day look at a magnifying glass and not think of her, and of course this piece of jewellery, the brooch, has a magnifying glass at its centre very cleverly designed by the students at Central St Martins.
If we can bring a little of ourselves to this jewellery and pass it on as part of the heirloom, I’d like to bring a little bit of the pioneering spirit of the women of South Australia, imbue that on that, and these women managed to get what they wanted simply by asking with no other fuss involved so perhaps that’s something we could draw inspiration from.”
“It is my great pleasure to have nominated Professor Catherina Becker to be the next recipient of a Suffrage Science Heirloom piece. Catherina is an amazing scientist and someone I admire greatly. She currently is a Professor at the University of Edinburgh where she has been based since 2005 – originally as a Senior Lecturer, then subsequently as a Professor. Recently she was appointed as the Director of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Neuroregeneration.
Catherina has done some truly ground breaking work that has provided highly novel insights into the mechanisms underlying neuronal development and repair. Her lab uses the power of the zebrafish to study these processes. Most vertebrates, including humans, cannot repair damage to their brains and spinal cords. As a result any neuronal loss or damage caused by injury or disease is permanent and can have devastating effects on the individual. Fish though have an amazing capacity for nervous system repair. One aspect of Catherina’s work has focussed on unravelling the mechanisms, at both the cellular and molecular level that underlie the fish’s regenerative success. Recently this has led to an automated chemical compound screen to identify novel factors essential for neuronal development and repair, and identify potential new therapeutic targets. Catherina also is studying the fundamental mechanisms that underlie the normal development of spinal locomotor networks in the fish and the relationship between the formation of normal structure and function.
Catherina is a very talented scientist who has made invaluable contributions to our understanding of the mechanisms controlling the development and repair of neuronal networks. She also has played a highly successful role in training the next generation of neuroscientists, with many of her students and postdocs going on to positions in other groups or becoming independent researchers. I can think of no more worthy recipient of this award.”
“Wow. I was really surprised to get this nomination. I’m obviously really honoured and humbled that someone might think of me as the first person to give this to and I’m certainly going to cherish it and wear it.
It means a lot to me to get this from Lynda. I think when we’re talking about careers, and mentoring, and what keeps us in science one of the things obviously is the fascination for science and certainly a lot of inspiration comes from discovering something new.
But a lot is also giving to the community and building the community. Lynda is a person who does not only do fantastic science, but she also builds and gives back to the community, in particular strengthening and reviving the Scottish Society for Developmental Biology and running meetings, and making sure that we come together and we share our science because as it is we’re all busy and things fall by the wayside and if nobody takes these organisations and breathes life into them then they don’t happen. It’s certainly thanks to Lynda that we get opportunities to meet and exchange our science and hear about each other.
So what am I going to do with this? I do a lot of in the corridor mentoring: dragging people aside and giving them advice. One of the things that I’ve learned over the past years and that I’m trying to remember as I mentor people is they’re not like me. I have to see who they are and see where they might be going and it might not necessarily be the way I’ve chosen to get there. And I’m going to continue like that.
If I have to change something, maybe I’ll take this and become a bit less indulgent of the notion that we often smile at that a thing like the Suffrage Science award might no longer be necessary or you know a women’s day might no longer be necessary; because we have it so much easier than the generations before us, because they’ve endured so many more insults and so many more hardships that it’s no longer necessary to speak of equality and to speak about the achievements of women in science in particular.
I’m going to speak up a bit more often and not let the jokes pass and seek out opportunities to strengthen women in science and strengthen their careers. Thank you.”
“Déborah Bourc’his is a tenured scientist at the Institut Curie in Paris working on the epigenetic control of genome function with particular emphasis on the germline.
I first met Déborah when she was a grad student and I was a postdoc not quite 20 years ago when the field of epigenetics was not as high profile as it is today. We are fortunate to have many excellent women in the epigenetics and chromatin field but there are two main reasons why Deborah was an obvious choice to be the person I wanted to pass my heirloom to.
The first reason is that she understands what is important in epigenetics and her perspective is grounded in a robust understanding of the field and I share her view. She articulates this perspective beautifully and overtly in the design and execution of her experiments. Every question that she asks is the right question, every experiment that she does is executed to the highest standards and every time I read or hear her work, I feel like I have been given a very welcome gift. Her work is without fail always something that I am waiting to know the answer to and I know that her answer is correct.
Secondly, Déborah is a true woman scientist – she brings the best of female attributes to her work and as such, she is a generous colleague and a role model extraordinaire for both men and women scientists alike – she is kind, helpful, fun, informative, unselfish, and collaborative rather than competitive. She is also ambitious and focussed, but she is driven by what she can do for the science and not by what it can do for her. So her ethos is one that I admire very much and that I myself strive to attain.
So it is with the greatest respect that I pass on my heirloom to my friend and colleague Déborah Bourc’his.”
“Good evening everyone. I’m really touched and honoured to be welcomed in this society by Anne.
We had to think about our inspirations, so I’d like to thank my grandmother because from the beginning she taught me how to be myself and to be a free spirit, and I think that’s where it all started.
And then indeed Anne was always one of these figures that I honoured and had in mind as a model for myself. And I remember one of the first meetings where I met her at the Garden Conference and I was impressed by the quality of her science and how inspired she was.
But I was also admiring the fact that she is a true human being. Like she was fun, she was witty. So again these fun words coming back, that she was fun, witty and she was not taking herself to seriously. And I was like, okay this kind of scientist I want to be. I want to run a lab and I want to have fun with my people and I want to be something all together – science but being humans.
Throughout my career I’ve felt that Anne has always been here looking over me. She gave me little sentences for what my career’s like. She told me, one day you’re gonna see when you start your lab you’ll have mostly women and then at one day it’s gonna switch. You will have men in the majority will want to join your lab once you will be famous. And I think it tells you a lot about the perspective of women, and of men and women in science.
Girls are not afraid actually of joining labs that are not well known. They are joining the science and the person who’s running the lab. Where maybe boys are more impressed by the shiny science and the shinier labs.
And I reached this stage actually, where I have now more boys applying to my lab. But I’m trying to keep the gender issue equal, but I’m still selecting the best person to join my lab.
And so it’s really an honour. What I’m going to do with this jewel, I’m going to try not to loose it because nobody told us what to do if we lose it. And I’m going to try to spread these little things to my own people in my lab and to the future women team leaders that I’ll have to interact with in my career. Thanks a lot Anne.”
“I would like to nominate prof. Marja Jäätelä. Marja is a great researcher, and I would especially like to nominate her because of her strong personality, dedication to science and bold scientific leadership which has paved the way for younger generations of women researchers and, for me personally, has been a great inspiration. She insists on following her own original research ideas and is always ready to take her spot in the limelight.”
“Thank you so much. I find this award is the most special one I’ve ever got because of its personality. I think this is something really special and maybe it’s female – I hope we could pass this to the males – that we dare to personally tell each other that we’re doing something good. And I think we should do that every day. And not only at the awards ceremonies.
This is really special. It makes it even more special because I’m getting it from a great scientist who is junior to me. I think the tradition here is a lot it goes the other way.
I grew up in Finland in a reasonable equality and I never felt gender issues to be a problem. On the other hand I left Finland at the stage of PhD, not because of Finland, so I was not there at the time when probably those struggles would have been there. On the other hand I never really felt them anywhere else.
It took me a long time to realise the issues and that was through my students in Denmark and of course everyone was telling me, well they need female role models. I said, well here I am, you know, look at me! And yet I lost so many brilliant students to other careers and they got scared and whatever I did.
And then Anja comes and tells me I was an inspiration to her on the other end of the corridor and that’s just beautiful because sometimes I felt that – we asked also here what you can do to change the situation and I feel I’ve done my best, I’ve done everything to – so much for males as well – but sometimes especially for females – to get them over the barrier, and then they tell me ‘Oh know I’m pregnant and I think I’m not coming back’ – and there’s nothing wrong with being pregnant. Most of us have tried it, I know people with three children who continue – I only have one – but that should not be the barrier. And yet it surprises you it is. And I really don’t know what to do.
But every single one that you can inspire – whether female or male in fact – is so lovely. And that’s why I love this prize more than anything and I will really cherish it. I don’t think I dare to wear it because I’m afraid to wear it in case I lose it and can’t pass it further. And I really look forward to pass it to someone I admire. Thank you very much.”
“My branch of the Suffrage Science tree is composed of women who write about science and scientists, both from fictional and factual angles. When it came time for me to nominate my successor, Pippa was the obvious choice.
Pippa has a PhD from the University of Edinburgh and several years of postdoctoral research experience in astronomy at Imperial College London. In true ‘two cultures’ style, she also has an MLit in creative writing from the University of Glasgow, and has been writer in residence in several scientific establishments, including the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg in Bremen, Germany and at ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum based at the University of Edinburgh.
I first encountered Pippa in 2009 when she submitted a short story to LabLit.com, the science/culture web magazine that I founded and edit. It was beautifully written, funny, and with an underlying trace of melancholy – which I now know are hallmarks of her literary style. Her first novel, The Falling Sky, was shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize and follows a woman astronomer struggling to make sense of her life, both in and out of the lab.
Her collection of short stories The Need for Better Regulation of Outer Space was longlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Her short stories, poetry and non-fiction have been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies, including Gutter, Lablit, New Writing Scotland and the New York Times, and also been broadcast on Radio 4.
She says that her stories tend to be inspired by “real, imaginary, and bizarre aspects of science.” I think it is enormously important to encourage and inspire writers to deal with science and scientists in their fiction, and Pippa adds a strong voice in this literary endeavour.”
“Thank you so much Jenny. I just wanted to mention a couple of things. Jenny mentioned in passing the fact that she founded and edited this website called LabLit.com, and I really encourage you all to go and have a look at it.
It was just an incredible moment for me when I first discovered this website, in around 2009 when I was just first starting on my writing career. I didn’t know that such websites could exist where scientists could write about science through fiction. And I was just beginning to do that myself but I didn’t know that anyone else was doing that. So it was an extraordinary moment to see that Jenny was not only writing herself – she’s the author of two published novels – but she was championing other people to do this too. That was what so incredible for me, to really find a sort of spiritual, virtual home. And the fact that Jenny is responsible for this and she’s essentially nurturing this whole what’s sometimes called a sub-genre of science fiction. She should really get massive credit for that.
And think this genre is slowly beginning to be recognised, not only as a literary genre in its own right but as a wonderful way of communicating science. And that’s what really inspires my work.
I see fiction as a great way of reaching out to new audiences and really telling them the hidden stories of science and scientists, sometimes female scientists. A lot of my work is around women working in science, sometimes inspired by real women scientists as we’ve been talking about this evening – such as Lisa Meitner but also imaginary sort of laboratories and imaginary sort of literary creations.
And what Jenny is perhaps too nice to say is that she had to correct some of the science that I got wrong in the first story that I submitted and that’s what I’m also really grateful for, for her help and support.
So thank you. I shall wear this in a slightly sort of terrified manner, and go home and find a box for it straight away. Thank you.”
“Corinne Houart is deputy director of the MRC Centre for Developmental Neurobiology at King’s College London – where she is also Vice Dean International Affairs. Corinne works on brain development in Zebrafisfh – and has made important discoveries about signalling pathways that regulate patterning events that underlie forebrain development. She is a zealous collaborator with many groups, for example, working with a large consortium to systematically screen mouse mutants for brain defects. She has also anchored a biannual EMBO workshop on Developmental Neurobiology, held at King’s and is current director of the “Zebrafish Genetics and Development” summer course at the MBL (Marine Biology Laboratory), USA.
These are but a few of her many activities in the field of neural development – I chose to pass this award on to Corinne because she makes a difference and because she is bold and fearlessly enthusiastic.”
“Thank you… Wow.… I’m somebody who actually love communication and I generally speak too much, and, you know, I might actually speak to all of you tonight because I also love meeting new people.
But I feel weird about awards, I find highlighting a specific individual inside a group a weird and rather artificial concept. When Kate emailed me I was sceptical. But then what I really love about this award is the lineage. It is a great thing. Because it is not awarding an individual, it’s a celebration of links and connectivity – human connections.
And so what I like really about this award, and about what’s happening today, is that we celebrate connections, not so much individuals. I think that’s a very female thing to do – to really recognise the value of the group and the interactions, and the mixing together, instead of the individual and the ego. And I want to see much more of that in leadership, in science, in all aspect of our lives and that’s why I’m really really happy that Kate chose me as next section of our branch.
I’m also particularly honoured and quite amazed to be part of this amazing branch of our tree. My previous awardees, passing on the honour, are all leaders who were my role models when I was a very young scientist – we’re not that far apart actually, but when I was a postdoc – Kate was a PI already. The awardee before her was Marysia Placzek, who was also a PI when I was a trainee, and Liz Robertson, the first recipient – was a very inspirational figure as well. And at that moment, the early 90ies, she was interacting a lot with Rosa Beddington, who was also somebody who I thought was an amazing woman and scientist.
So, I find it a bit scary to be part of this branch of amazing women. I find that also humbling and very exciting.
So what to do about it? I think it’s to continue communicating passion for science. I say yes to too many things, we spoke about that as a common “weakness” of women. I’m overly optimistic about what I can cram into 24 hours. All this is not particularly good, I think. I should prioritise the different aspects of what I’m doing more effectively.
But what I want to do above just mentoring is to push for changes of the basic biases, very basic things, that we still don’t change. And these are: definition of childcare; the costs of childcare is outrageous. I think the reason why we move from 65% of us as postdocs to 25% of us as PIs is due in great part to the fact that we’re supposed to do too many things at the same time. Most of us find really overwhelming the fact that we have to take care of very small children and a new lab at the same time.
And where is the dad in this? So we have to push the fathers to be more present. We have to actually give the right message. The fact that workplaces give two weeks of paternity leave to a dad, and we push women to take six months to a year off when they become a mum, I think the message is: it’s all your problem and the dad, two weeks is perfectly fine. We need to change this, change the price of childcare too and even change the words we use to discuss gender inequality. The discussion itself around it is charged with biases.
All these small changes are difficult to implement but I think we should push for it. So I’m going to try to do that. And we should do it together.”
“I have known Kia Nobre for close to twenty years as a close colleague and friend in Oxford. We both work in the neuroscience and neuroimaging area and have interacted a lot during that time.
Kia has been a terrific person not only for getting neuroimaging on the map in Oxford, but also for neuroscience internationally. She’s a fantastic advocate for the subject and has been both a creative and innovative scientist as well as an inspirational teacher to the next generation.
More recently, she’s displayed her remarkable good citizenship and leadership abilities by taking on significant management roles culminating in her recently becoming Head of the Experimental Psychology department in Oxford.
She has a wonderfully supportive and loving husband, Luciano, and they are a great couple. I count myself very fortunate to have her as a colleague, and them both as friends. She is someone I admire and respect, but also have a laugh with and so it was an easy choice and I’m delighted she’s agreed to receive the heirloom and become part of this fantastic network of women scientists.”
“You all have been treated already to Irene’s personality. she’s got this amazing energy. She says, oh it just runs in my family we’re all hyperactive like that. She’s running the marathon, she does tap dancing, she plays tennis, she has three kids. She is the director of the premier brain imaging centre in Oxford and is about to become head of the clinical neurosciences department.
I can’t keep up with her and all that energy. The thing I really do share with her and really try to emulate is the joy, the fact that she nourishes young people, people of all stages and she celebrates other people’s victories and accomplishments in a completely non-competitive and non-selfish way and I really hope that I can share some of that philosophy.
From my own perspective, we were asked about our inspirations. I find inspiration for science everywhere. For me I think perhaps a very personal spark was my younger brother who had cerebral palsy and didn’t have much a mental life. As a very small child he made me realise that mental life is not just something that you take for granted, and he’s been the inspiration for a lot of my science.
So have my schoolteachers who, in giving lectures about the cell cycle, stopped and said “isn’t it amazing that this is happening all the time”. And I would say ‘Yes, it’s amazing’ and all my classmates just got on with their Rubik cubes or whatever.
And then my colleagues and the young people – my students and the fellows – I take enormous inspiration from them. They keep the questions fresh and they keep me always learning and doing new things.
And the brain. The brain is an amazing organ. If it’s there at all and this is reality then it’s an amazing organ.
Like Corinne and Irene I think the network aspect of this award is amazing, it’s really great,and that’s what I study in my own field. I know it’s the networks and the links that are important rather than just any particular unit, so I think this is a really, really special award. So I thank this team and all of you for this. Thank you very much.”
“I am incredibly pleased to be passing on my Suffrage Science Heirloom to Dr. Uraina Clark, Assistant Professor of Neurology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.
Dr. Clark studies stress, HIV, and neuro-psychiatric and cognitive disorders utilizing varied methodology including structural and functional neuroimaging techniques (e.g., fMRI, PET). In addition to conducting important and high-quality research, Dr. Clark has an amazing ability to understand and eloquently articulate both the myriads of details that go into research as well as the bigger picture, with a clear vision of how data ties to real world applications and how fields will progress.
I have known Dr. Clark for a few years and have had the immense privilege of watching her work and getting to work alongside her. She always has great ideas, is well-balanced in her views, and is eloquent in her speaking and writing about research.
In short, Dr. Clark embodies everything the Suffrage Science program stands for and is the epitome of an excellent scientist. I have no doubts that she will become a leader in her field and continue to be a role model and inspiration for future women in the sciences.”
“I wanted to send my warmest regards to all of you from New York City. I’m very honored to be one of the award recipients tonight. And I wish that I could be there in London to celebrate with all of you.
In thinking about what I will do to make a difference for women in science in the next two years, I thought about one action in particular that I wanted to highlight. Living in New York City, there are endless opportunities to mentor students of all ages. One of the elements that I take from the Suffrage Science programme is that it is important that we learn about our history as women in science, and that we share this history with others to encourage them along their paths to success. I’m looking forward to finding new ways to serve as a mentor and role model to the next generation of female scientists.
Congratulations and best wishes to you all. Good night.”
“I would like to hand the award over to Sally John, currently at Biogen in Boston. Sally has been a very influential human genetics scientist in both the academic and industry worlds, and has been an inspiration for many women and men scientists in the UK and USA. She is exceptionally charismatic and has been a role model and mentor for me.”
Professor Zeggini was unable to attend the awards ceremony. Her husband, Evangelos Papagrigoriou, agreed to stand in and to hand over the award. He said:
“It’s a very prestigious and excellent night for me for two main reasons. One, because my wife trusts me to be here and I do know what this award means for her. I know all the thought she put into finding the right nominee. The second reason is that the nominee is Sally, and I’ve known Sally for 15 years, and apart from her excellent career in academia and industry – for those who don’t know she’s a vice president at Biogen in human genetics – but what’s most important for me is her role as a mentor and an inspiration, not only for my wife and the people who have worked with Sally over the years, but also for me.”
“I was really surprised by this as well and hugely honoured, and I think like Corinne it’s the connectivity and the community of this award that feels so special and I do feel very humble actually to be in the company of so many astounding women and people tonight.
We talk about what inspires us, and Ele has always been an inspiration. She was my first postdoc when I was a genetic epidemiology lecturer up in Manchester. I think I probably learned more from Ele. It’s been extraordinary to see her career develop and she now leads a group at the Sanger on statistical genetics.
Another thing about inspiration I think for me is it’s not just the new discovery, it’s translating that new discovery. There are two reasons why I moved to an industry setting and the first one is this idea of community – the team is really highly valued – making new medicines, you have to be a multi-disciplinary team. And it’s valued really over the individual..and second thing is you do get to see that novel science translate into a new medicine or vaccine and something that goes out and really changes society, and that for me is what makes it important.
I work for Biogen now – it’s a biotech specialising in neuro degeneration. In terms of what I’m going to do with this I’m not going to lose it, and I’m also going to tell you a story. When I left my last job many people said they were sad to see me go because I’d been a great champion for women. One or two people even went so far as to say that I had a reputation for promoting and hiring women. I looked back over my eight years in that job, and it was exactly 50:50, there was no bias to women. That’s something that I found concerning, that that’s seen as active promotion when it’s only what we might expect in terms of our abilities and our potential.
In my new role I’m already starting a mentorship programme. We’re going to use this award to start an initiative in Biogen to provide more mentorship for women and also address some of these issues around unconscious bias that are an undercurrent and one of the reason why women are not getting through the layers of management in both academia and in industry.
So with that I will thank you, Susan in particular, and the organisers, and let you get to your glass of wine.”