Life Sciences Research for Lifelong Health

April 2017: Treading the path to Independent Research

by Laura Woods

The freedom to pursue your own research ideas - in your own lab, with your own funding - is the pot of gold at the end of the academic rainbow for many aspiring scientists. But you would be excused for giving up on this dream if the early years of your career aren’t bursting with top publications. The traditional route from postdoctoral scientist to independent researcher is through the competitive process of fellowship applications, but in today’s research environment tradition is no longer one size fits all. Fellowship applications are notoriously difficult to attain, so to even consider it as your route to research independence you’re expected to have published well and made a name for yourself in the field. But lacking some of these requirements doesn’t dampen the ambition of many scientists, and so new trails continue to be blazed on the path to independent research.

As a final year PhD student, I’m in the process of considering the next steps in my career and independent research seems like an aspirational but intangible goal. The worries that often float into my consciousness are “Will I publish well enough to apply for fellowships?”, and “Will my family life be a barrier to my career goals?” These are issues we students seem to worry about the most and I’m sure it doesn’t stop with us. Luckily for me the equality4success team often hosts speakers who have taken somewhat unusual routes to achieve their goals of independent research and so I’d like to share some useful information I’ve gleaned from a recent guest speaker of our My Life in Science seminar series.

“There’s more than one way to skin a cat” says Dr Susan Campbell, a senior lecturer and group leader at Sheffield Hallam University. She told the audience that she was ready to make the leap to independent research after her first postdoc, but her publication profile meant that particular door was still closed to her. She wanted to continue in an academic environment and - thanks to a management and leadership course during her postdoc - was offered the position of senior technology manager at Sheffield Hallam University. This is one of those positions you might not consider as a jump towards independent research, but for Dr Campbell it was the perfect foot in the university door. During her management stint she published results from her postdoc, which caught the university’s attention and ultimately led her to her current position of senior lecturer with her own research group. Running a research group in a teaching-led environment isn’t straight forward. Four days a week can be swallowed up by teaching responsibilities, so this is where the strategic planning begins. Smart recruitment is key here, postdocs and students need to be independent workers and all visitors to the lab, from master students to summer placements, are important producers of preliminary data. Securing large grants can be a challenge when you only have one day a week in the lab, but smaller sums and studentship grants can be your bread and butter and help to leverage larger grants. The right work environment is important; Sheffield Hallam is supporting its lecturers with funding for their own lab and internally funded studentships.

Pursuing independent research alongside a heavy teaching load might not be your cup of tea, but it’s worth taking the time to consider alternative ways of funding your research ideas. Licensing out a product you’ve developed in the lab can be a source of funds, or a viable spinout idea could attract backing from commercial sources. There’s even a crowdfunding site helping individuals fund their own small projects. So, if you’re searching for the pot of gold at the end of the academic rainbow, but can’t apply for a fellowship, don’t despair. There’s more than one way to skin a cat.

March 2017: Gender Equality - Why the whole is greater than the sum of its parts

On 8th March 2017 the Babraham Institute hosted the International Women’s Day 2017 Symposium “Gender Equality: Why the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. The event focused on how advancements in gender equality benefit everyone and why men are critical to drive change.
One of the speakers was David Kent, a group leader at the Cambridge Stem Cell Institute. In 2009 he created The Black Hole, where he analyses and comments on issues related to the education and training of scientists. In his latest blog he shares his experiences and views on the Babraham Institute IWD 2017 symposium. Making science a more inclusive environment starts within everyone's own sphere of influence. Be inspired!

What it’s like speaking about shared parental leave at a female-dominated event

“I felt a bit like a new animal at the zoo, people were listening because they were curious about me in the way they would be about a rare creature,” says David Kent.

Earlier this month I was asked to speak about my parenting experience as a male group leader in an event for International Women’s Day (March 8) at the Babraham Institute just south of Cambridge. The event was dubbed “Gender equality: why the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” and hat’s off to the organizers for pushing the idea that men have to step up to the plate to help change the system. And by help change, this actually means helping – not dictating – the process of change. Needless to say, the audience was primarily young female scientists, with a small handful of young male scientists and one male group leader. It didn’t help that a senior committee meeting had been slated for the same time, but that’s another series of posts waiting to happen.

The first speaker, a former pro-vice-chancellor (institutional affairs) at the University of Cambridge was Dr. Jeremy Sanders and he gave a great opening talk about how bias against women was slowly getting better (e.g., male:female ratios of senior posts were improving, albeit slowly). He gave a very interesting perspective from the senior administrative ranks and appeared to be a strong advocate for women in universities. One story that really shed some light on how change is actually affected at those levels was when Dr. Sanders said that the single biggest motivator for changing the approach to women in science was when Professor Dame Sally Davies announced that the U.K. National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) would only fund medical schools for biomedical research centre funding if the school held an Athena SWAN Silver Award. In one fell swoop, a woman in a senior post had made the very sensible decision that medical faculties/schools not demonstrating their commitment to women in science would no longer have access to very large pots of money (that’s how policies change!).

The second speaker was Dr. Jill Armstrong, a research associate at one of the Cambridge Colleges (Murray Edwards), and she gave an incredibly well-researched and well- prepared talk. She engaged people with quick games to assess their perceptions of bias and prejudice in the workplace and took the audience on a comprehensive tour of institutional bias against women – men speaking over women, misplaced kindness (e.g., not giving direct/useful feedback), and assessing men on potential and women on performance.
Overall, the clear message from Dr. Armstrong’s talk was that men and women both have a role to play and men didn’t always know how to pull their weight. An example Dr. Armstrong gave was for men being invited to speak at conferences – they could respond that they have a policy to not accept an invite unless a certain percentage (dare we suggest 50 percent?) of the session speakers were women.

After this I was up – and I didn’t really have a presentation with a pre-defined message like the others and this made me much less comfortable than a normal talk I would give on my research. I certainly didn’t feel like an authority on the subject (I was one man with one set of experiences and that was only for four months) – but I also recognised that I was a unique creature (a new male group leader who had taken a substantial chunk of parental leave) and people were intrigued.

In fact, I felt a bit like a new animal at the zoo, people were listening because they were curious about me in the way they would be about a rare creature – what are its motivations and its behaviours? Simply put, despite very progressive policies around shared parental leave, male group leaders did not take substantial amounts of time off (>1 month) and most people in the room (maybe even all) had not met anyone who had done so. So my talk started with simply sharing my experience – I took time off with my son, it was great, here are some pictures, we did cool things. I shared some experiences about how my partner (also a scientist) and I worked out things and also some reactions from colleagues (very mixed!) about the whole idea in general. Basically, I just shared… and then the questions and comments began – How did your colleagues react? How did your lab members feel about it? Did you actually stop working? Do you feel more connected to your son as a result? One of the most interesting comments about the imbalance was from a young mother who explained that male scientists could be fathers and people just wouldn’t know about it (some men simply disappear for two weeks of leave and then return) whereas this obviously wasn’t the case for women. She suggested (I presume jokingly) that men should have to wear an “expectant dad” hat or something so people could ask them how many months of parental leave they’d be taking.

After the session, more discussion – lots of people sharing their experiences, two dads querying the mechanics of shared parental leave (did you actually get paid? How many months are you allowed?), and an overwhelming sense that women took the job of bringing a child into the world a lot more seriously than men and more information needed to find its way to men if they weren’t going to go looking. At the end of the day though, while it is easy to say that attitudes and opinions will take a long time to change, the change has to begin with individuals – so I hope that our male (and female) readers will try to improve their own environments and social circles where possible. Be proactive or even just supportive where possible, but please don’t sit idly by while the system continues to select against young female scientists. Academics need to change their own system, because nobody else is going to do it for us.

February 2017: Open Access – Sharing experiences on a life in science

by Danielle Hoyle
As part of the My Life in Science seminar series the equality4success team invites speakers to talk to Babraham Institute staff and students about their life, career, marrying the two and the challenges they have overcome throughout. However, asking them to cover all those topics in a single talk can be a challenge in itself! Especially for Danny Kingsley who had the daunting brief of talking about all those aspects, whilst also evangelising about Open Access and Open Research Data. Thankfully Danny rose to the occasion and gave a very entertaining and thought provoking talk to a sell-out crowd.
Danny told us about her early career in Australia, including anecdotes about writing her honours thesis in the mid-90’s, an analysis of the ‘debate on [using] electronic journals in science communication’. “Scientists publish in print journals - using the internet to share information and publish data is a fad, it’ll never catch on” was a frequently heard opinion, something the intervening 20 years have proven very wrong.
Post degree she worked as a science journalist and quickly realised that open access publishing would revolutionise how data and information is disseminated. To dive deeper into the matter, she embarked on a PhD looking at discipline specific engagement with open access. As an example of how work and family life sometimes intersect in the least convenient ways she told us how she “signed the contract on my PhD from a hospital bed the day after my first child was born”.
The knowledge and expertise Danny developed during her PhD enabled her to undertake various roles in the Open Access arena in Australia, culminating in establishing the Australasian Open Access Strategy Group. To start with, working in a relatively new field, often as the lone voice (and a young, female one at that), brought many challenges and. “It was often a struggle to change the hearts and minds of people who were set in their ways”. However, Danny talked about how she dealt with these trials and championed the concept of having a mentor, someone who will provide you with unbiased advice and advocate on your behalf.
 In 2013 Danny moved to the University of Cambridge as Head of the Office of Scholarly Communication (OSC). She explained the current open access publishing model in the UK and how her team embed best practise within researchers at the University through outreach events, training, policy development and building user friendly infrastructure.  The OSC also actively promotes the Open Research agenda. Danny’s thesis is that “sharing your results throughout the lifecycle, appropriately rewarding people for doing so and not relying on publishing the end results in a ‘fancy pants’ journal will lead to an improved scholarly record and a fairer system of review”. This lead to an interesting discussion with the audience about alternative mechanisms and metrics that could be used to measure quality.       
Are you interested to become engaged with open access, open data and want to increase your expertise with research data management? The Office of Scholarly Communication does offer considerable support and an overview on their extensive resources can be found under
Danny has built a successful career by pursuing her interests, which has brought considerable benefits to research communities both in the UK and overseas. She very honestly explained the personal challenges that resulted from her career choices, shared her hectic diary and explained that going to the gym is the primary way she keeps sane whilst balancing all this. At any point Danny’s passion and enthusiasm for her chosen career shone through and it was a great demonstration of the important contribution non-academics bring to research.  

January 2017: Circus Skills in Science - can we learn the balancing act?

by Cheryl Smythe
I have to admit I was sceptical. Despite having helped write the work package on work-life-balance for the Horizon 2020 LIBRA Gender Equality project, I wasn’t sure that this particular balancing act could be taught. Prepared to be proven wrong, I attended the Work-Life-Balance training course organised by our project and EU-Life partner institute CEITEC (Brno, Czech Republic). There was a certain irony that a fair amount of life re-jigging was needed to attend the meeting; but the love of my life & family logistics co-manager has developed his own circus skills of concurrently spinning the familial plates alongside his career ones.

Andrea Handsteiner from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna began the challenge by looking at institutional approaches to work-life-balance. She highlighted evidence demonstrating that employers with family friendly policies have lower levels of sick leave, less staff turnover, less time taken as parental leave and increased numbers of highly motivated staff. We were asked to consider whether our employer understands employee needs, whether measures put in place by the employer are communicated effectively, and whether the employer has changed in its attitude over the last 5 years. This was a useful exercise and I came to the conclusion that with the advent of the Athena SWAN and LIBRA projects, BI has been listening to its staff’s needs through consultations which has resulted for example in the promotion of flexible working and job-sharing. A little more work promoting a cohesive community with effective internal communication would work well alongside this.
She concluded that in addition to support from senior management, state-of-the-art equipment to enable working from home and the provision of good food at work are key elements to support an effective integration of work-life and away-from-work-life. Thinking about BI, the equality4success team is working together with the Computer Strategy Committee to further enable home working and the food is looking good in the new Cambridge Building. A shop (I’m thinking bread, milk, pasta and pesto) on campus would be a fantastic addition.

Moving on to consider individual approaches to work-life-balance, we were encouraged to self-reflect. I am really not one for naval gazing. However, I had to admit that it was useful to identify the aspects of my job that I really enjoy, to think about what my life goals are and to consider whether any adjustments are needed.

What resonated for me was a discussion on how work goes through cycles of being “crazy busy” - putting outside life completely on hold - and then returning to “normal busy”; but the habits developed during the crazy period are maintained. So emails still get checked first thing in the morning and last thing at night, even when the workload doesn’t require it.

Finally, it was emphasised that a “good” balance is different for different people and there needs to be visible institutional recognition that those who choose to work part time or work flexibly are equally passionate and exceptional at their job as those with more traditional working patterns – perhaps even more so.

So my thinking still stands that work-life-balance can’t be taught. However, there are useful and interesting lessons that both senior management and individuals should have in the back of their busy minds as they manage their own circus skills.

December 2016: Your Life, Your Science: Getting the balance right for you

What does “Life” actually mean and how do you integrate it with your work?
 This is a very personal decision which strongly depends on your values, your personality and the circumstances that you are in. To provide inspiration from scientists who have successfully negotiated ‘life’ challenges in their careers, The Babraham Institute hosts a “My Life in Science“ seminar series as part of the LIBRA project.
How do you recharge and where do you get your motivation from? What is balance for you?
Of course answers to these questions will be highly diverse. For example, life can mean caring about other people and indeed yourself. It may be the joy of parenthood balanced with exciting research, as Adrian Liston from the Translational Immunology Lab at the VIB in Leuven, Belgium tells us. The title of his story - “Baby and me, plus an ERC”- already points to two of his strongest values: gender equality and work-life-balance. Projected onto parenthood this means equality between parents from day one onwards. “It will be good for you, good for them, good for your child, good for your relationship.
The role mLecture 1odel you provide to your children will influence how they will perceive gender equality later in life. In Adrian’s case, both he and his wife are working full time. The arrival of a baby suddenly changes the perceived roles of partners “from love of your life to logistics co-manager”. This does not need to be a bad thing. It requires a brushing up of time management skills and the ability to prioritise strictly. Avoiding perfectionism and “saying no” are valuable skills, as they enable priorities to be put into practice. Adrian also stresses the mutual benefit of delegating to staff. In addition, one often neglected priority should be your own well-being. “Do things for you.
 Being a parent should not mean being miserable.”
Factors that help to achieve a good work-life-balance should be a consideration when applying for positions. After doing his PhD in Australia and a postdoc in the US, Adrian moved to Belgium. This decision was not only based on the scientific excellence of the new work place, but also on factors that would support the whole family. Examples are childcare, education and appropriate sick leave (education of the child’s immune system comes at a cost…).
Being a parent even inspired Adrian to carry out some intriguing research
How hard is parenting? Harder than severe gastroenteritis....“
“For 3 years I had a baby with me at every [working] dinner and the reactions were polarised.”
So setting the right priorities while sticking to your values might not always be appreciated and for sure is hard work, but it can pay off.
This seminar series at the Babraham Institute together with those held at the LIBRA partner institutes provide a unique set of perspectives on this complex topic. Feelings about work-life-balance impact on intrinsic motivation - the driver of creativity, an essential factor for scientific progress.
If we understand a healthy work-life-balance as an inner attitude, we might be surprised what it can do for our career.

November 2016: International Man’s Day… Men and Gender Equality at Babraham Institute.

19th November marks International Man's Day. November is recognised as a month to highlight men’s issues, in past years many men at the institute have grown their moustaches to raise funds for men’s health charities.
This year, the Athena SWAN team are challenging institute staff to ‘Move’ for Movember; to get up, walk and speak to the person we need to instead of sitting at our desks and sending another email.  Not only will this increase the number of steps we take in a day, and hence improve our health, but it will improve internal communication and relationships amongst colleagues.  
In this spirit, the Human Resource and Athena SWAN teams are releasing updated policies on shared parental leave and improving awareness of work life balance (WLB). Men and women being able to take shared responsibility for all aspects of family life leads to benefits for the entire family.
In our recent LIBRA survey (2016) 78% of male researchers at the institute strongly agreed or agreed that the institute has the facilities to enable them to achieve a good WLB.

Dan, a technician in our Biological Support Unit (BSU) said that ‘BSU have always been supportive when I have required time off with my children if they are ill and have also allowed me a little bit of time in lieu to attend events special to my children. I feel that it is important for both my partner and I to share this responsibility. Being available to share those duties with my partner now has taken some stress off of her. BSU management has also been very good in allowing me to be flexible on my start/finish time, which has enabled my partner to get a new job. The benefit of this support is excellent and is one less stress for our family.’

Our internal Athena SWAN consultations (2016) have shown that a few members of staff have concerns that the project is focussed on women. Indeed, a lot of the work that has been done, especially within the LIBRA project, has been with the aim of improving the number of females and hence gender balance in senior roles in science. However, the Athena SWAN team are very concerned with the progression of everyone’s careers and areas of the institute that currently have low male representation. By improving equality, we hope to improve institute life for everyone.  
I spoke to Benjamin Smith from Babraham Nursery

‘Ben, what is it like to work in an area of the institute that is heavily dominated by female staff’  
“I have found that working at Babraham Nursery, a predominantly female environment, has been met with great enthusiasm, not only from staff but from parents of the children who attend. l find that I leave the more typical ‘male’ attitude at the door; this may be what hinders some others from considering a role, it’s not really considered a macho, stereotypically male role."
‘Do you have any ideas on how the institute could improve the number of men applying for roles similar to yours?’
"I think this is a grey area because of the times we live in with regards to gender biased jobs and discrimination acts – I feel that the way to attract men to these kinds of roles may be to think about the role specification and to highlight more stereotypically male activities e.g. forestry courses, building and fixing - teaching these things to the children, that may appeal to more men."
‘How important do you feel that it is for children of nursery age to receive care from both males and females and in their child care setting?’
"I feel this is of utmost importance. This is how most children are typically brought up i.e. with a father and mother. Why should it be different within the Nursery and/or the teaching field because of outdated views on what a male or female should do?"
‘What do you feel Babraham does well to support staff with family and/or caring responsibilities?’
"I have 2 young boys (Oli 5 and Zach 6) who I take to and from School on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays – I then work at the Nursery on a Thursday and Friday to accommodate this. I have also been reassured that if at any point I needed the time off for a genuine reason relating to the care of my children, this would be accommodated."

October 2016: What Are Your Unconscious Biases?

Implicit or unconscious bias occurs when our brains make incredibly quick judgements and assessments of people and situations without us realising. Our biases are influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences.
From birth we begin social learning: babies imitate facial expressions, adults aspire to be like those ahead of them in their careers. This isn’t good for our science, we don’t want everyone to be the same, think in the same way, or take the same level of scientific risk in their experiments. We need to give conscious attention to improving the distribution and diversity in science in order to improve the quality of our science.
Implicit association tests (IATs) can reveal your unconscious attitudes and beliefs towards a variety of topics such as race, gender and age.
At the end of September the Babraham Institute launched the LIBRA IAT. This test was specifically designed by Project Implicit for the LIBRA project and identifies your biases related to gender and STEM/art disciplines and gender and family/career.
On October 10th Femi Otitoju from Challenge Consultancy came to address unconscious bias at the institute. Femi provided a general seminar for all staff where she revealed what unconscious bias is and provided us with many every day examples. This was followed by a focussed discussion with group leaders, line managers and committee chairs to talk about what we can do to reduce the impact of our unconscious biases on recruitment, promotion and staff support at Babraham.  By being consciously aware that these biases exist we can reduce their impact.
The Royal Society have produced this video to help explain unconscious bias.

Nicolas LeNovere, Group Leader at Babraham attended the seminar. "As scientists, we strive to stick to relevant facts and correct for all known biases. What the IAT and the seminar showed me was that no-one, and in particular not me, was immune against unconscious biased, engraved in us during all our life by family, peers and society. I think unconscious biases are therefore potentially more damaging than conscious ones, since they are very hard to detect and to correct for. We must not underestimate the effort needed to infer their existence and minimise their impact."


September 2016: Job Sharing at Babraham Institute

Job sharing is less common in science than many other professions and work places. On 27th September Babraham held an event about job sharing to address why this is and to hear about the benefits and challenges of job sharing in science from our post-doctoral job sharers Dr Claire Senner and Dr Sarah Burge.

We opened the event by addressing the need for opportunities that allow people to enjoy and improve their careers whilst also balancing their home lives. 43% of male and 51% of female researchers at Babraham believe that work life balance is the biggest challenge to their personal progression in science when compared with competition and required mobility (LIBRA, 2016 staff survey).

Penny Coggill from CamAWiSE steering group joined us for the event, she introduced CamAWiSE and its aims. Penny discussed the value of networking in support for women in science and engineering.

Sara Horsfall, the founder of Ginibee a job sharing platform, defined job sharing as a ‘partnership in a full time role’. She discussed the importance of communication, handover and shared ownership. Sara addressed the importance of maintaining a career while dealing with whatever is going on in life. This seems particularly relevant at a time when many scientific institutes, like ourselves (see our current Daphne Jackson Fellowship vacancy), are introducing measures such as career re-entry fellowships to enable scientists to return to research after a career break. However, creating job sharing opportunities could prevent a skilled and talented pool of individuals from leaving their career in the first place. Sara discussed potential benefits to the employer: two brains instead of one; continuity; diverse experiences and skills; increased loyalty and commitment from more content employees; and improved productivity.

Dr Claire Senner and Dr Sarah Burge, our current post-doctoral job sharers (see our June 2016 blog), shared their thoughts on aiming to be successful scientists and successful mothers. Claire said ‘I was beginning to feel like I wasn’t doing either of my jobs well – as a mummy or a scientist’. Sarah discussed how in her family the 2 body problem was solvable, still felt possible with 3, but with 4 the solutions just weren’t coming together - until she found and began her job share post doc.
Both post docs feel that the job share had enabled them to stay in science at a time when they were contemplating leaving their successful careers. They feel that their job share is a success and has benefitted both their family lives and careers. They did address challenges to job sharing: being realistic about what you can achieve; missing out on some of the fun at work; and the tough mental gear change between work and home time. Despite these, both Claire and Sarah now feel like they have a future in science again.

August 2016: The Importance of Annual Leave

It’s summer holiday season; the time of year when many of us take a break away from work.

Holiday entitlement
Babraham Institute employees are entitled to 25 working days plus bank holidays and 3 Christmas closure days.  
In our recent LIBRA staff and student survey only 54% of BI researchers either strongly agreed or agreed that they use their annual leave entitlement. Interestingly, 66% of women who answered strongly agreed or agreed, while only 36% of men felt the same.

Why is it that many of us struggle to let go and take a break?
The way in which many of us now work means that leaving the lab or office doesn’t mean that we leave our work behind: popping into the lab to feed cells before heading off to the beach; checking emails on our phone or laptop by the pool; skyping from the hotel en suite bathroom. It’s hard to avoid checking the inbox to ensure nothing important has come in or that there won’t be too much to do when we return. Some of us feel more comfortable when we are working. However the benefits of changing our daily routine and shutting off from work can be great both personally and professionally.

How important is annual leave?
We all experience some stress in our lives, whether that is stress that we feel from work, from our personal lives or from the constant juggle of both. Following the same routine day in day out can lead to tiredness and boredom. Holidays break this cycle, whether it’s a few days at home or a trip abroad; holidays rejuvenate, relax and recharge us. They allow us to feel better about ourselves, spend time with our families, form happy memories for the future and increase our productivity upon our return to work.
Research from the Family Holiday Association, a charity that helps families struggling financially to have a break shows that 91% of the families they have helped had reduced stress and worries after their break and 90% got on better as a family. The benefits last much longer than the break itself (
What are your favourite holiday memories from this year?

Here are a few from Babraham...

I’ve relaxed and had fun with my family, I spent quality time with them without looking at the time’ Cris Cruz, Post Doc, Epigenetics.

‘I’ve enjoyed spending time with my family and getting outdoors’ Michael Wakelam, Institute Director

The pure excitement our 5 year old and 3 year old experienced sleeping in a tent after roasting and enjoying marshmallows by the campfire’  Laura Norton, Athena SWAN Manager.

‘Singing along to the Gruffalo song in the car. We bought some audio CDs to see us through the long drive to Cornwall and back. Our three year old daughter is now word perfect!’ Louisa Wood, Communications Manager.


July 2016: Daphne Jackson Trust/Babraham Institute
Career Re-entry Fellowship

daphne jackson trustThis month we are advertising an opportunity for a scientist to return to a career in research after a break of two or more years. Applications are invited for a Daphne Jackson Fellowship that will be hosted and half sponsored by the Babraham Institute. The fellow is welcome to work within any of the institute’s four main areas: Epigenetics, Signalling, Lymphocyte Signalling and Nuclear Dynamics .

Career re-entry fellowships offer professionals wishing to return to research after a career break the opportunity to re start their research career with full support.

Diane Proudfoot is currently a British Heart Foundation Career Re-entry Fellow at Babraham. Diane says 'I have been very well supported by the BHF throughout my career. The BHF Career Re-entry Fellowship gave me the opportunity to return to work after a 4-year break, once my 3 children were all at school. I am passionate about my research area; why bone-like particles in our arteries increase the chance of having a heart attack or stroke. I found that returning to research after a break was not such a huge leap as I had kept up with science through publishing papers, reviewing for international journals and attending conferences. I had always planned to come back. The biggest challenge in my experience is that high quality publications are expected in a very short time after returning. This is not easy after a fresh start but I have been fortunate to have a research assistant and good collaborators.

Diane has been very happy at Babraham ‘My research at BI has gone well, mostly due to excellent facilities and helpfulness of Babraham staff. I have been working full-time and this has been possible for me as I live only 10 minutes away from home/school.

Daphne Jackson Trust Fellowships offer a unique combination of support, mentoring, and career development to give Fellows the confidence and skills they need to return to their career and to compete for research positions.

July 2016: Jo Durgan - Work-Life Balance

Jo DurganJo Durgan is a post doctoral researcher in the Signalling ISP at the Babraham Institute. Jo’s position is supported by a Marie Curie Fellowship from the European Commission and last year she received the L’Oreal/UNESCO For Women in Science Award.

‘I’m married with two young children, Jack aged 5 and Lily aged 2. Lily spends time at the lovely institute nursery and Jack attends the fantastic village school. Currently, I work part-time with a flexible schedule, to get the most out of family life while continuing to develop my research. Most days I come to the lab between 9.30-3.30, working around Jack’s school hours. However, I really appreciate having the flexibility to choose the hours that suit me best on any given day.’

As part of our LIBRA project a recent survey on work life balance was carried out at the institute. When asked ‘What does your institute do well to promote a healthy work life balance’ over 85% of researchers answered Babraham’s family friendly facilities and social atmosphere.

Jo believes that ‘the key to achieving a happy and productive work-life balance is flexibility. We are extremely lucky at the Babraham Institute to have a supportive environment and a collection of helpful facilities that make striking this balance achievable.’

Jo Durgan familyJo and her family benefit from her flexible schedule, part time hours, the on-site nursery, after school, holiday club and on-site housing. ‘The institute nursery is fantastic. If you need to be away from your child for some part of the day, it’s essential that you trust they are happy and well cared for. We are extremely lucky to have a nursery where the kids are looked after by warm and friendly staff, with access to lots of interesting activities. The onsite housing offered at Babraham is quite unique and can be a great benefit, especially for those here temporarily or with kids. Living so close to work means that if I really need to return to the lab to finish an experiment, I can wait until after the kids’ bedtime and be here in minutes.’

‘I really enjoy my work as a scientist and feel quite strongly that doing a job I love is an important part of living a happy life. We’re lucky to have found a home where great science comes with so much support for family life and look forward to continuing work here.’

Read the full article (pdf)
Watch Jo’s L’Oreal video at

June 2016: Job Sharing at the Babraham Institute

Dr Myriam Hemberger’s lab is the first group at the Babraham Institute to have set up a unique post-doctoral job share opportunity. Job sharing is more common in other professions and work places, however in science and in particular in lab-based work this is a novel and huge step forwards in good practice and the advancement of diversity in STEM.

Feeding my kids, feeding my cellsDr Claire Senner has been a post-doctoral scientist in Dr Hemberger’s laboratory for 7 years:

‘While I was on my second maternity leave I started to worry about how thinly stretched I would be when I returned to work. My eldest child was about to start school adding another degree of complexity to our daily routine. My husband works long hours in London which means I am entirely responsible for dropping off, picking up in the evening, and being the primary contact when either child falls ill.

I love my children and caring for them is not a burden to me but I was beginning to feel like I wasn't doing either of my jobs well- as a mummy or a scientist.

Many friends suggested working part time but at first I was sceptical. I had never heard of a postdoc working three days a week or doing a job share. Faced with the possibility of having to leave my job and possibly forfeit my career I decided to ask Myriam if I could work three days a week. She agreed and recruited a bioinformatician to work two days a week to job share with me.’

As a silver Athena SWAN award holder Babraham is proud of this initiative, which began in April 2015. We are highlighting this as good practice, it is transformative to put measures in place that prevent women from leaving the workplace at this stage of their careers and family life, which has the highest rate of attrition.

Many institutions are working on measures, such as career re-entry fellowships, to re-introduce women into the work place but this opportunity allows scientists to maintain their careers and not feel that they need to leave the workplace at all. This in turn prevents science losing invaluable ‘brainpower’ as well as significant levels of training and accomplishment.

Messy floor, messy benchClaire says:

‘From a family point of view this job share is fantastic. I am at home on Mondays and Tuesdays so I can pick up my eldest son from school and have plenty of one-to-one time with the baby- now toddler. I try to schedule hospital appointments on these days and do any extra shopping, cooking, or other errands, so that Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, our three hectic days run a bit more smoothly.

From a work point of view I am delighted that I have been able to keep being a postdoc which I love! I didn't want to leave Myriam's lab or the Babraham Institute and I am so grateful that this has all been possible. I enjoy working with Sarah, my job share partner, very much.

When we started this our main motivation was being able to give more to our children but now we are doing it we feel very strongly that we want to be able to show how successful a post-doc job share can be so that others can also benefit from such an arrangement.’


April 2016: Athena SWAN consultations

Silver Athena Swan logoAs part of the Athena SWAN project the team are carrying out one to one consultations with all staff and students throughout April and May 2016. This is a repeat of a consultation process that was carried out in 2014 with research staff and PhD students. This year we are expanding this to include representation from all Babraham Institute staff with equal representation of women and men.

Participants are given a list of questions covering their experiences of working at the institute, career progression and their management and supervision and then they meet with a member of the Athena SWAN team to discuss their thoughts on these topics. All data will be anonymised, collated and analysed to understand and appreciate everyone’s views. Many of the initiatives that we are currently working on have come from ideas or opinions that were expressed in the previous set of consultations. We would like to thank all staff for their participation.


March 2016: International Women’s Day

Elena Vigorito receives first Athena SWAN best practice awardOn 8th March 2016 the Institute held an event to celebrate International Women's Day, with the theme of Pledge for Parity. In 2015 The World Economic Forum predicted that it will take until 2133 to close the gender parity gap. Everyone - men and women- can pledge to take steps to help achieve gender parity more quickly. The Institute event brought together current staff with five female alumni to celebrate success and discuss how to develop more inclusive and flexible cultures, remove workplace bias and provide inspirational role models. Our returning alumni discussed their careers and perspectives on life in science:

Our celebrations also included the inaugural award of the Institute’s Athena SWAN Best Practice Award. This award will be given annually to a group or individual who has shown great commitment to supporting women in their careers. Examples of such support include enabling and supporting flexible working patterns; mentoring and supporting individuals through their careers at the Institute and beyond; or setting up an initiative to support scientists in their career development.



Dr Gina DoodyDr Gina Doody
Associate Professor,
Faculty of Medicine and Health,
University of Leeds

Professor Alison CondliffeProfessor Alison Condliffe
Professor of Respiratory Medicine
University of Sheffield

Dr Sarah MoltonDr Sarah Molton
Strategic Partnerships Manager
Wellcome Trust
Dr Zoe NorgateDr Zoe Norgate
Head of International Climate Fund Team
Department of Energy and Climate Change

Dr Michelle MorrowDr Michelle Morrow
Senior Scientist