I was always interested in STEM subjects at school and I was fortunate to have a number of really inspiring female teachers who always encouraged me to aspire for a career in Science.
Whilst my parents are not particularly academic, they are always amazingly supportive without ever pressuring me to achieve - they wanted that drive to come from my own desire to accomplish my goals.
After A-Levels in Maths, Chemistry and Geography - I took a place at The University of Newcastle upon Tyne to study Chemistry with Medicinal Chemistry in 2001. As part of my MChem there, I was lucky to work in an excellent research group synthesising small molecules as potential anti-cancer agents. This piqued my interest in drug discovery and I applied for a PhD in Leeds in the same field.
In 2005, I started my PhD in Chemistry, looking to design and synthesise new small molecule antibacterial agents. It was during my PhD that I first learnt about ligand design, virtual high-throughput screening and molecular modelling, which I enjoyed as much, if not more, than synthesising the designed molecules.
I completed my PhD in 2008, and stayed in the same group moving to a project aiming to identify small molecule inhibitors of a number of different membrane proteins, ion channels and transporters. During this research, I began to learn the basics of compound screening, fuelling a new interest in biology - a subject I only had a GCSE in, so a lot to learn!
My eldest daughter was born in 2012, and I took a period of maternity leave - returning to work at 80% FTE in May 2013. Not long after my return to work I was offered a chance to move departments from the School of Chemistry to LICAMM to work on a project that would not only utilise my chemistry background, but also allow me to learn a number of new techniques including cell-based assays and electron microscopy.
Whilst this seemed daunting at first, I was ready for a new challenge and I was incredibly well supported by everyone in the department, especially Dr Lynn McKeown, who taught me a lot of the basics of tissue culture and managed to keep a straight face when I asked probably the most basic of questions. Whilst it is hard to juggle the balance of a career and a young family, I am very fortunate to have fantastic parents and a sister who are always willing to step in if necessary, as well as a really supportive line manager who appreciates that things don’t always go to plan with young children!
I have recently returned (September 2016) from a second maternity leave, my youngest daughter was born December 2015. My husband, who is also employed at the University, has recently applied to work 80% FTE-enabling us to better balance both our careers with the needs of our daughters. I feel this sets an excellent example for our children growing up as they will see that both Mummy and Daddy can have careers they love without compromising our love for them and caring for their needs.
I am currently employed on a BHF programme grant, working for Prof Mark Kearney looking to identify small molecules to selectively inhibit the formation of insulin receptor IGF1 receptor hybrids. I am also looking to apply for my own BHF Intermediate Basic Science Research Fellowship in the next year and was recently awarded £11,000 from the Welcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund to help with consumables for pilot data.
My advice to female school leavers and early career researchers looking to pursue a scientific career would be to always step out of your comfort zone if given the opportunity and don’t be afraid to ask for help - it’s not a sign of weakness! Science is a very competitive field but never be afraid to put yourself out there and do your best.