Tuesday Feature Episode 33: Natalie Gardiner

Episode 33 of the Tuesday Feature highlights Natalie: someone who is doing fantastic research and making a real difference for gender equality here in FLS.


 

Please explain your research to the general public in about ten sentences or less.

I work on diabetic neuropathy a disorder that can affect the nervous system in diabetes. It is associated with a die-back of the nerve endings that supply skin, muscles and internal organs. This can lead to a whole host of symptoms – from unpleasant gastrointestinal and bladder problems to increased skin sensitivity and pain, often even the pressure of clothes or bed sheets can cause discomfort.  A loss of sensation can coincide with the die-back of the nerves, and this increases the chance of tissue damage and ulceration – which sadly often necessitates amputation of toes, feet or lower limbs.  In my lab we are characterising key changes that occur in gene, protein and metabolite levels in the peripheral nervous system in diabetes. We are interested in finding out what causes the nerve problems and are looking for ways to promote regeneration of damaged nerves and protect nerve function.

A Minute lecture on diabetic neuropathy by Olly Freeman, see recent paper in Diabetes

How does this research benefit the general public?

The World Health Organisation estimated that almost 1 in 10 adults worldwide have diabetes, and the incidence of diabetes is ever-increasing. Approximately half of all patients with diabetes will develop some form of diabetic neuropathy, from mild to more chronic. This can have a huge impact on health, happiness and quality of life. There is currently no treatment. Basic research is therefore needed to better understand diabetic neuropathy and ultimately develop an effective treatment that prevents or limits the progression of the disorder.

What are your other roles here in the Faculty?

I am currently the coordinator for the Women in Life Sciences (WiLS) group here in the faculty and also a member of the Equality and Diversity Leadership team and ATHENA SWAN self-assessment team. I first started going to the WiLS meetings when they were organised by Kathryn Else.  At this time, I had just returned to work after my first maternity leave and started my RCUK fellowship, so I had a lot to learn – how to manage a lab, how to get lab work done in time for nursery pick-up time, and how to cope with very little sleep! I found the WiLS meeting really helpful – learning new management skills and strategies, making new contacts and friends and forging new research collaborations.  Since taking over as coordinator I have organised several bespoke training programmes and workshops based on demand identified through suggestions and surveys (such as a 6-month Coaching and Leadership Program) and talks from internal/external speakers (such as Prof. Dame Athene Donald). I would particularly like to get more students and postdocs involved. Last year I worked with a number of very talented and enthusiastic undergraduates to arrange talks and create a great WiLS photoproject around the time of International Women’s Day. I am always looking for more ideas for workshop/meeting/International Women’s Day events– so if anyone has any suggestions please do email me.

How important is it for Women to be represented in life sciences?

Very! Life sciences does have a better gender balance than some other STEM areas, if you look at the profile of FLS from our ATHENA SWAN Silver renewal application you will see that women are generally well-represented (61% of our undergraduates, 50% of postgraduates and 51% of research staff are female). The proportions do decrease in academic positions and with seniority (32% of all academic staff in FLS are female; 17% of the professors are female),  but there are signs that this gap is narrowing (for example, an increase in the proportion of female senior lecturers/readers over the last 5 year from 18% to 37%) hopefully this will continue.

Do you have any science heroes? who inspired you to do science?

Not sure I particularly have a hero – I was always interested in life sciences and was strongly encouraged by my teachers to study Biology at University. I caught the research bug during my final year project and decided to do a PhD.  I greatly enjoyed the Royal Institutional Christmas lectures given by Nancy Rothwell, and this helped convince me to pursue a career in neuroscience.  After some time doing postdoc positions in London, I moved to Manchester and Nancy became my mentor during my RCUK fellowship!  I try to mention the work of Rita Levi-Montalcini in undergraduate lectures – a key woman in neuroscience! During World War II, her academic career was halted by Mussolini’s ‘Manifesto of Race’ so she responded by setting up a research lab in a bedroom in her parents’ house to study nerve development. She moved to a lab in the US in 1946 and six years later isolated Nerve Growth Factor – a factor which promotes nerve development, survival and regeneration. She shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for her role in this discovery.

How has working in Manchester helped you?

Manchester has a great research environment and people are willing to collaborate, so I have got to do work that I would not have been able to do elsewhere. The support facilities, and most importantly the people who run these facilities, are fantastic – a great source of advice.

Finally, what do you do outside of work?

I have two young sons which means that home life is loud and busy.  We try and burn off energy at the weekends going walking, kicking/throwing/hitting balls around and recently by digging – as we have just taken on the challenge of an overgrown allotment.


 

 

 

Faculty of Life Sciences awarded the Athena Swan Silver Award

The Faculty of Life Sciences are proud to announce that they have been awarded the prestigious Athena Swan Silver Award. The award was created as a way to recognise institution’s commitment to tackle gender inequality in higher education.

Equality Challenge Unit awarded the Athena Swan Silver Award to just 87 departments in the whole of the UK. The Faculty was one of only 6 departments who were able to retain their silver award from 3 years ago. In order to retain, The Faculty had to show progression in its efforts to address gender equality on both an individual and structural level. The award will last for the duration of 3 years and will promote the Faculty as a champion for gender equality.

On the value of the award, Sarah Dickinson, Head of Equality Charters at Equality Challenge Unit said:

“In an ever changing higher education landscape, we realise that participating in the charter is a significant undertaking, and we would like to take this opportunity to thank and congratulate all those who participated for their demonstrable commitment to tackling gender inequality.”

Amanda Bamford, Chair of the Athena Swan Self-Assessment Team and Associate Dean for Social Responsibility, said:

“I am really thrilled with this award which recognises the efforts made across the Faculty to ensure a supportive working environment for all our staff. The award reflects an enormous amount of work and commitment to provide the most progressive and supportive environment possible for career development and work-life balance in the Faculty. We strive to develop a culture of fairness, opportunity, flexibility, and respect. We want to be a beacon in gender equality so there is no pausing in our efforts especially as are now working towards our Athena Swan Gold award!”

Hema Radhakrishnan, Deputy Associate Dean for Social Responsibility, Faculty of Life Sciences, who also took an active role in the application, said:

“We are delighted to receive the Athena SWAN Silver award which recognises the tremendous effort from the Faculty of Life Sciences towards advancing gender equality amongst staff and students. Even though we are a long way forward from the Suffragette movement, women are still more likely to be discouraged from pursuing careers in Science, Engineering and Technology. Women who do take interest in these subjects often progress in their careers at a rate that is slower than their male counterparts. Athena SWAN Charter was established in 2005 to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science. This Silver award shows that we as a faculty are working hard to reduce the gender gap and the efforts taken by the faculty are benefiting women and individuals with caring responsibilities.”

The Faculty will be presented with the award at a ceremony in the coming months and will be able to proudly wear the Athena Swan Silver badge.

AS_RGB_Silver-Award

Faculty events for International Women’s Day

IWD LOGOThe Faculty will be running a short series of events for staff and students in the lead-up to International Women’s Day on March 8.

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell will kick the series off with her talk ‘A Life in Science’, which will be followed by a Q&A session. It promises to be an intriguing account, covering Prof Dame Rothwell’s research in the field of neuroscience, her contributions to the understandings of brain damage after stroke and head injury, and her path to becoming the first woman to lead The University of Manchester. The talk will take place on Tuesday March 3 in Stopford Lecture Theatre 1. Doors will open at 12.50 and the talk will start promptly at 1. You can pre-submit any questions by completing this survey and please book online if you wish to attend.

On Thursday March 5, there will be a panel discussion on ‘Women in Science’. This will take IWD posterplace in the Roscoe Building between 5 and 6.30pm. The panel, including female members of the Faculty, will discuss the under-representation of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and possible ways to resolve the issue.

The series will close with two events on Friday March 6. Dr Sheena Cruickshank asks the question ‘Are we too clean?’ in her 1 o’clock talk in Stopford Lecture Theatre 1. With improvements in hygiene and the availability of treatments increasing life expectancy for many, the talk will look at how this may make us more vulnerable to other diseases. Sheena will then join Dr Joanne Pennock and Professor Kathryn Else, who will be presenting the Worm Wagon initiative in the Stopford foyer from 12-3pm. The Worm Wagon raises awareness of global worm infection through interactive games, traditional Indian art, and informative displays. The team won the 2013 Manchester International Women’s Day award for Women in STEM.

The series offers a fantastic opportunity for staff and students to learn more about the work of women in life sciences. We hope to see you there.