STEMinist Profile: Athene Donald, Professor of Experimental Physics

Athene Donald

Athene Donald

Professor of Experimental Physics and the University’s Gender Equality Champion

University of Cambridge

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I just always knew, from the time that I had my first physics lesson at around 13, that this was what I wanted to do. I don’t think I thought in terms of a career when I went to university, and I’m sure I didn’t really know what careers were open to physicists. I didn’t think about pursuing an academic career until encouraged to do so by my supervisor during my second postdoc. At each stage I simply knew that I was enjoying what I was doing and feeling challenged. I have never regretted my decision.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Whatever I am working on now is always the coolest project. Working in a university, I have a lot of freedom in what projects I pursue, and I wouldn’t choose a project unless it excited or intrigued me. But the field of work I work in has changed constantly throughout my career. I started off working on the failure properties of synthetic polymers – ‘plastics’ – and now work on cellular biophysics and protein aggregation. Each transition from one topic to another has seemed logical at the time, and the tools I use tend to be similar. My current project on protein aggregation tries to use principles from physics to look at generic factors that determine the types of aggregates that form, but which may apply to very different proteins,including those implicated in diseases like Alzheimer’s Disease.

Role models/heroes:
My physics teacher at (high) school who was always willing to give me her time to stretch me.

Why do you love working in STEM?
Because it’s a constant challenge, with so many things to be curious about and to follow up. There’s always more to discover and be intrigued by.

Advice for future STEMinists?
Don’t believe so many of the myths that float around about why women ‘can’t’ succeed in STEM, and don’t give up at the first setback.

Twitter: @athenedonald


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