University of Bristol
What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
Both of my parents have science degrees, although neither of them works in science anymore, and they never thought anything was too complicated to explain. I was eight the first time I asked about brown eyed parents and blue eyed children and my Dad started telling me about heterozygosity.
What really did it for me was an amazing biology teacher I had from when I was 14 until I left sixth form. She’d done a PhD in virology and was always throwing in interesting facts that weren’t on the syllabus. She hated teaching us things that were in the exam but fundamentally wrong so she’d always explain afterwards how they really worked. I kept thinking that if I just studied biology for a bit longer I’d eventually know the whole truth! Now, of course, I know that nobody knows the whole truth.
What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I like to think that my PhD is really cool, although I’m not sure that anybody else would agree! I’m a geneticist and I look at a system called Mismatch Repair in bread wheat. It’s basically DNA proofreading and it prevents mutation. In humans, mutation is a bad thing: we know quite a lot about MMR because almost everyone with a certain kind of cancer has a broken MMR system. But in plants mutation isn’t always a bad thing: especially when you’re trying to breed new varieties.
I don’t really have heroes, but there are a couple of women scientists who made me realise how much I was capable of achieving. Number 1 is Dr. Caroline Wilcox. She’s the teacher without whom I wouldn’t be a biologist. Number 2 is Prof. Jane Langdale who taught me genetics when I first started undergrad and is now the head of Plant Sciences at Oxford.
Why do you love working in STEM?
Every day is different. And nobody else in the world does exactly what I do. That’s a bit terrifying sometimes, but also really cool. Even when things don’t turn out the way you plan, you’re always learning something new.
Advice for future STEMinists?
Get used to telling yourself you can succeed, because nobody else is going to. That’s true for everyone, but especially as a woman in science. I wasn’t allowed to do A-level Physics because the teacher told me I wouldn’t cope, which is sort of ironic since I was always better at Maths and Physics than Biology!
There’s a handful I use on virtually a daily basis: I’d be at a loss without Web of Science (for finding research papers) and CerealsDB (the BLAST-able database of the wheat genome).
For getting me through when nothing is working #WhatShouldWeCallGradSchool deserves a mention!