Becoming the Best: Women in Science

Women have made great strides towards achieving equality in science, but there’s a still a long way to go – according to a leading scientist from The University of Manchester.

Dr Hema Radhakrishnan, one of the nation’s top sight researchers, today launched a programme of events at The University to encourage women to advance in their field.

Called ‘Becoming the Best’, women from across science spoke to an audience of female academics and students on International Women’s Day.

The event was organised by Dr Radhakrishnan, Deputy Associate Dean for Social Responsibility and Professor Amanda Bamford, Associate Dean for Social Responsibility – both at the Faculty of Life Sciences.

The move builds on the prestigious Athena Swan Silver Award given in October 2015, which recognised the Faculty’s commitment to tackling gender inequality in higher education.

The Equality Challenge Unit gave the award to just 87 departments in the whole of the UK.

The Athena SWAN charter was established in 2005 to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science.

Dr Radhakrishnan said:

 “Even though we are a long way forward from even 10 years ago, women are still more likely to progress in their careers at a rate that is slower than their male counterparts.

“Men and women do things differently and offer different perspectives; it doesn’t make sense to lose the talents of half the population.

“Women often drop out of science in the period between getting their PhD and finding an academic position and it’s family life which can act as a barrier.

“Sometimes, though it’s simply a question of women not putting themselves forwards for promotion.

“So to break that barrier, we have implemented flexible working, coaching and mentoring schemes – as well as establishing a Women in Life Sciences Group.

“And this programme is part of that ethos.”

Professor Bamford added:

” We strive to develop a culture of fairness, opportunity, flexibility, and respect and want to be a beacon in gender equality.

“So there is no pausing in our efforts, especially as we are now working towards our Athena Swan Gold award”

The event included a keynote speech from Professor Teresa Anderson MBE, Director of the Jodrell Bank Discover Centre

Other speakers at the event included:

Lopa Patel MBE – digital entrepreneur and founder of inclusion think tank ‘Diversity UK’.

Dr. Heather Williams – Director of ‘ScienceGrrl’, which celebrates and supports women in science.

Dr. Narmeen Varawalla – Executive ice-president and chief scientific officer of Lambda Therapeutic Research.

Dr Santos Bhanot – Chair of Asian Circle, a charity which supports vulnerable and disadvantaged women in India.

Professor Susan Kimber – Co-director of NEWSCC.

Angela Saini – Science journalist, author and broadcaster.

Professor Amrita Ahluwalia – Deputy director, The William Harvey Research Institute.

Professor Aline Miller – Professor of biomolecular engineering, The University of Manchester


Awards for Venturing Further

Two businesses that were established by Faculty Alumni have been awarded financial prizes as part of the prestigious Venture Further competition. The companies, Joy and Joe Ltd. and Metriculate won £10,000 and £2,500 respectively.

The annual competition, hosted by the Manchester Enterprise Centre, allowed students and alumni to showcase their businesses with the hope of securing financial rewards. The awards were split into four categories: business, social, digital and research. Joy and Joe won the business category for their innovative ‘kangaroo care’ carrier. The product, designed to help facilitate the kangaroo care technique in infants, has proven to be extremely popular. The all-British company was established by Olumayowa Osundeko, who finished his PhD in Biotechnology last year. He says:

“We would like to invest the £10,000 into developing our packaging, which is at the moment only really suitable for online customers and we intend to launch the product on the high street later this year. We’d also like to develop our accessory range.

We’ve gained a lot from entering Venture Further and the team at the Manchester Enterprise Centre has taught us a lot about how to present our product and howto build our brand. We’ve also gathered useful tips and trends to look out for as our business grows.”

In the digital category, second place went to Metriculate, a company that was established with the help of Mark Ashworth, who completed a PhD in Biochemistry. The company helps design intelligent lab management tools for research. The three man team are now looking at ways to use the £2,500 to further expand their business.

Award Winners

Tuesday Feature episode 10: Kat Machin

From the ‘sunny’ gardens of Fallowfield last week (since then, the Manchester weather has returned back to its rainy norm) to the Seychelles this week, our Faculty is far flung and international. This week we feature another one of our graduates!

What was/is your role in the Faculty?

I was an undergraduate student, studying Zoology with Industrial Experience.  The course was fantastic, covered a wide picture three katrange of topics and offered loads of travel opportunities through field courses in places like South Africa, Belize (now Costa Rica) and Ecuador.  The Industrial Experience year allowed me to gain hands-on conservation work with the Island Conservation Society, an NGO in Seychelles.  In my second year, I co-founded the Zoology Society, which continues to be run by a committee of students, and in my final year I was a student ambassador.

What are you up to now?

After graduating in July, I travelled to Canada with a fellow zoology graduate and we volunteered at an eco-lodge, where we led guided nature hikes for tourists and helped out with the general maintenance of the lodge.  Then, after a couple of months at the lodge, we travelled around Alberta and British Columbia, stopping off at friends’ houses, who I’d met when they came to Manchester as exchange students.

Once back on home soil, I started the tedious process of applying for jobs, mostly in the conservation sector.  After a few months, I got offered a job as a Tern Warden with the RSPB and will be starting with them in a couple of weeks.  I’ll be working in Anglesey and my job will involve monitoring the populations of Artic and Common Tern, as well as one of Britain’s rarest breeding seabirds – the Roseate Tern.  I’m really excited to get started and put everything I learnt at Manchester to good use!

Why did you first get interested in your area of research?

I’ve been interested in animals for as long as I can remember but I suppose I really got hooked when I was a teenager and picture one katDavid Attenborough’s Planet Earth series was released.  I became obsessed with learning about how animals were adapted to their environments, was captivated by animal behaviour and probably most importantly, became really concerned with the conservation of the species that fascinated me.

When it came to choosing unis and courses, Manchester topped my list mainly because of the option to take a placement in your third year.  As a placement student in Seychelles, I was involved with the sea turtle and sea bird monitoring programmes and loved it. I was also involved in the Giant Aldabra Tortoise breeding programme and had the pleasure of sharing my house with tiny giant tortoise hatchlings, which were under my care.  Furthermore, I got the chance to design, implement and analyse my own research project, which looked into the forest rehabilitation of Desroches Island. My placement allowed me to get a real taste for conservation research and confirmed for me that that was the type of career I wanted to pursue.

Do you have any science heroes? Who inspired you?

It’s a bit of a cliché, and I suppose he’s more a science communicator than a scientist per-say but David Attenborough has definitely been my major source of inspiration. Growing up in Telford, there wasn’t a lot of nature around really, so the television was my window to the natural world.  I doubt I would have been inspired to pursue a career in conservation without having watched all those nature programmes.picture two kat

I was also very lucky to have a geography teacher, who after spending a decade travelling, really inspired me to get out and see the world.  She got me really interested in ecosystems, and I continue to be fascinated by ecology today.

How has studying in Manchester helped you?

Enormously.  Not only did the course provide me with the theoretical knowledge essential for a career in conservation, but I also gained practical field experience and developed a range of skills from analytical thinking to public speaking.  I decided to do a science media project in my final year, giving me an insight into science communication, and this project diversified my skills even further.  The placement year provided me with a year of hands-on conservation experience, without which I doubt I would have gotten the job with RSPB.

What do you do outside of work?

I like to be outside.  I like to feel connected with nature and, for me, there’s no better way to do this than to simply immerse yourself in it. So, I walk a lot and hike as often as possible. Travel is a big passion.  I got my first taste of travelling as a

student at Manchester.  I went to South Africa on the Animal Behaviour field course in my first year, travelled to Belize for the Marine and Terrestrial Ecology field course in my second year and nabbed 10 months in Seychelles for my placement, it was incredible! Both travel and hiking tie in quite nicely with my other hobby – wildlife photography.picture four kat

Thanks for the interview and stunning photographs Kat,  and good luck with the new job!

I hope you can see the exciting opportunities our undergraduate students have and it might just inspire you to come to the Faculty! 


Manchester graduate on course for Mars mission

marsDanielle Potter, a Life Sciences graduate who is now studying cancer research as a postgraduate at the University, is hoping to land a place on the first manned-mission to Mars. From 202,000 applicants, Danielle has become one of the final 1058 candidates. The 29-year-old will now be tested to see if she makes the grade and becomes one of the final 24. They then hope to embark on a one-way-trip to the red planet.

Mars One is a privately funded project set up by two Dutch men in 2011 with the aim of establishing permanent human life on Mars by 2025. Danielle, originally from Manchester’s Moss Side, only found out about the mission on application deadline day but signed up straight away. She said:

“What has always driven me with my research is that hunt to find something new. This is what I’m looking at in my research into cancer. When I learnt about this opportunity I thought it would be great to be a part of the most historic thing to ever happen in our galaxy.”

Danielle completed a Molecular Biology degree at the Faculty before being accepted for a PhD at the CRUK Manchester Institute. The former pupil at Trinity School in Manchester City Centre is in the third year of her PhD researching colorectal and lung cancer therapies. Her lab work looks at how different drugs interact and how they may be used to target the disease. She added:

“I never thought going to space would be within my grasp, but it would be great to do research there and look at something no one has ever seen before. My PhD has given me the skills to think outside the box and look at how to go about analysing data found on Mars. If I’m successful in getting into the next round I’ll get to train with some of the best of the best in the space industry and get a lot of experience with training in the Arctic Circle. With my scientific research background, I’d be trained to look for possible extra-terrestrial life on the planet.”

The Mars One team will now continue the shortlisting process. Danielle plans to finish her PhD studies before the training schedule begins.

‘Meet the Sloths’ with Faculty alumni Becky Cliffe

slothsSwansea University PhD student Becky Cliffe, who graduated from our Faculty in 2011, will be discussing her experiences of working at Costa Rica’s Sloth Sanctuary on the Animal Planet TV channel at 8 pm on Thursday, November 14th. ‘Meet the Sloths’ is an eight part documentary series which will feature dramatic sloth rescues, emotional releases, and all of the daily dramas associated with providing a home to over 100 orphaned and injured sloths.

The series will also feature a lighthearted look at the groundbreaking research undertaken in Costa Rica. Becky and her colleagues will be doing exclusive interviews and Q&A sessions in the coming weeks, so keep a look out for updates.

A Faculty Graduate Discusses his New Career in the Bahamas Based Sharklab

CJ Crooks graduated with a Zoology with Industrial Placement BSc in hammerhead2012. He spent his placement year in the Bahamas, working at the Bimini Biological Station Foundation ‘Sharklab.’ The Sharklab is a non-profit organisation offering internships and placements to people interested in shark research and ocean ecosystem conservation. They’ve published scientific papers, appeared in TV shows, films, and documentaries, and they possess the largest genetic database of a single shark species in the world.

After graduating, CJ returned to the Bahamas as the Media Manager of the Bimini Biological Field Station. He relishes the variety in the role, which sees him heavily involved in bringing in income and exposure via production companies and social media. He is the primary contact for every production they host and is leading their website reconstruction and the improvement of their Facebook andTwitter accounts. He also releases details of their fascinating research to media outlets.

sharkupcloseMost important to CJ is the fact that his role makes scientific research accessible to the public. He currently organises a non-technical Naturalist Course focusing on shark biology and ecology which is open to anyone over 18. He also runs Research Experiences for people who are unable to commit long-term or are too young to volunteer. Of course, the most exciting element of the role is his involvement in research: whether tagging a free swimming great hammerhead or catching a 12 foot tiger shark, no two days are the same.

CJ also gets to indulge his strongest passion while working in the Bahamas. As a keen photographer, CJ documents the research via still and motion pictures which he sells on a freelance basis to the public, the media, and production companies. The images that accompany this article are his and there are many more to be seen on his website. CJ had this to say:

“I’m living the dream right now. I learn and see new things every day and live on an idyllic Caribbean island. None of this would’ve been possible without the Faculty; the opportunities provided were second-to-none and shaped my prospects as a graduate. I highly recommend the placement year; it helped me to realise my passions and dreams.”

Outstanding Alumnus Award for Dr Duncan Casson

Many congratulations are offered to Dr Duncan Casson, a Faculty of Life Sciences alumnus who was this week presented with an Outstanding Alumnus Award. These awards are presented only to alumni who have achieved distinction in their profession, provided exemplary service to the university or wider community, or demonstrated outstanding service of a personal or humanitarian nature.

Duncan graduated from the University of Manchester in 1980 with BSc in Biochemistry. In 1988 he joined Genzyme as a Seniorduncancasson Project Manager. Here, he managed a team developing novel biological molecules for a hyaluronic acid-based range of products as well as cartilage replacement therapies, both of which continue, nearly 20 years later, to play a significant role in patient treatments.

In 1997, he moved to Cambridge Antibody Technology (CAT) as VP Manufacturing and Programme Management. He was responsible for the strategic and operational management of all CAT’s programme management and manufacturing. CAT, having grown to be one of the leading UK biotechnology companies through the development of fully human therapeutic monoclonal antibodies based on the phage display technology of Prof Greg Winter of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, was acquired in 2006 by AstraZeneca (AZ) for £702 million.

In 2005, Duncan joined newly established PanGenetics as Chief Operating Officer. The firm has been highly successful in the crucial transition of antibody drugs from scientific concept to adoption by the pharmaceutical industry. Duncan has played a significant role in the interface between scientific and business enterprise, translating new bioscience into successful treatments. He has been of pivotal importance in the establishment of a new business model known as the “virtual” biotechnology company, where many of the activities are outsourced to specialist vendors. He represents the sort of drive, enthusiasm and willingness to innovate that we wish to foster in our current generation of students.

Sam Pearson tells us of his career in science communication after graduation

attenboroughSam Pearson graduated with a Zoology degree in 2009 and has already had the privilege of interviewing Sir David Attenborough. We talked to him recently about life after graduation and he told us all about his career in the media and gave some useful advice to current graduates.

What was the best thing about studying at The University of Manchester and more specifically your course?

One of the best things was probably the city, it is uniquely diverse, and probably the best city in the UK to be a student. Living in the ‘student village’ of Fallowfield and being only a short commute from the University and the city centre on one of the best bus services I’ve come across was fantastic! Public transport will never be as easy (or as cheap) again! With regards to Zoology, undoubtedly the best things were the field courses. Getting the opportunity to study in Ecuador, on a Scottish island and even getting out and about in Manchester were all brilliant. The culture, practical knowledge and ability to work in a team have proved very useful professionally, as well as being great experiences.

What career path were you interested in pursuing when you were a student?

Wildlife film making (or pretty much anything relating to wildlife communication!)

“Getting the opportunity to study in Ecuador, on a Scottish island and even getting out and about in Manchester were all brilliant. The culture, practical knowledge and ability to work in a team have proved very useful professionally, as well as being great experiences.”

How did you get into working in TV?

Getting into TV takes a lot of hard work and perseverance. Some of my friends and colleagues chose to do Masters courses in media-focused subjects, which are great for learning the practical skills and industry knowledge, but I’d had enough of formal learning and chose to dive in head-first! This meant starting from the bottom, securing internships and work-experience whilst working in menial runner and production assistant positions in order to get the necessary industry experience. After a year of struggling and on the brink of deciding it wasn’t for me, I managed to secure a job at ITV Studios working in the Factual department. This proved to be the turning point and has subsequently led to a variety of roles in several businesses, both in production and online.

I imagine the highlight of your career was interviewing David Attenborough – can you tell us a bit about it?

In my current position at UKTV I work as the Multiplatform Producer across all the factual channels, one of which is the natural history and science channel, Eden. I produce online support for our programmes, including David Attenborough’s Natural Curiosities, where Sir David addresses some of the curios that first inspired him to pursue a career highlighting nature’s wonders. One of the supporting pieces for this series is an online interview using questions collected from Eden’s fans across Facebook and Twitter, this provided a great excuse for me to go and meet him! Watching him work is an absolute inspiration. Not only is he a font of knowledge, he works incredibly hard for long hours, retaining focus throughout the shoot. Before each scene he will take a quiet moment by himself to piece together what he’ll say, and then deliver his piece to camera with incredible precision, usually in only one take. It is an incredibly humbling experience meeting one of your personal heroes, never mind one of the most famous and admired people in the world! To say I was a bit nervous when the time came to ask him the questions would be an understatement!

Based on your own personal experiences, what advice would you give to recent graduates?

First and foremost your CV is most employers’ first impression; make sure that yours is great by seeking advice from careers advisors or those in the profession. Work experience is a very useful way to bridge the gap between academic and professional experience, make relevant contacts, it’s also a great way to find out whether you’re suited! However, make sure that you aren’t exploited as free or cheap labour — there needs to be a plan for you while you are there; shadow the right people, gain the right experience and don’t end up just filing their paperwork.