Women in science: GOSH research leaders

10 Feb 2020, 5:03 p.m.

To celebrate International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we'd like to introduce some of the fantastic research leaders at GOSH and its academic and charity partners. They all lead broad programmes to support, fund and enable child health research at GOSH and beyond. And today we're celebrating one of the things that unites them: their love of science.

Professor Rosalind Smyth (CBE)Director, UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health

“I knew I wanted to pursue a medical career at a young age, but I ended up in research rather serendipitously. I was married to another hospital doctor and the nature of that career meant we moved a lot around the UK. I felt I needed to make sure my CV was as strong as possible, so spending time doing research was a clear choice – it’s considered an extremely valuable skillset. The focus on child health came when I realised that by intervening early, with prevention or treatments, we have a much better chance of making a difference.

“Like many young women, I lacked confidence. But over time, I have learned how to formulate the right questions and develop the methods to answer them. I was lucky to work in a very successful, dynamic group, where everyone wanted to become a professor (except me), but I slowly became more confident and then more ambitious.

“Today I feel very privileged to have oversight over a broad programme of child health research at the UCL GOS ICH. I still carry out research and see patients, which certainly presents challenges, but these are far outweighed by the value it brings. For me, it is the best job in the world!”

Dr Jenny RiversDeputy Director of Clinical Research, GOSH

“Science has always been my family; my mother taught me maths, from times tables to A-level, and my PhD supervisor gave me away at my wedding. The colleagues and friends I have worked with along the way, male and female, have inspired and supported me and informed my aspirations. I don’t feel that my gender has shaped my career choices or hindered my ability to achieve. But, equally, I see how imbalances and inequality persist.

“There are fewer women in senior academic positions than men: women acquire 59% of undergraduate degrees but occupy 21% of senior faculty positions. I’m pleased to say that various initiatives are underway to encourage women into a career in science. But I want to stress that these programmes do not necessarily specifically target women and I think we need to be cautious of positive discrimination.

“I still see myself as a scientist, but I’ve moved away from a role where I actually carry out research. My decision not to pursue an academic career was carefully considered, based on an ambition to contribute in a different way. Success means different things to different people and the wide range of roles that support and enable research - alongside academic roles – shouldn’t be under-valued.

“I now help to push forward an enormous range of world-class research at GOSH, working alongside amazing colleagues. We coordinate a huge portfolio of research projects, including those taking place in our dedicated clinical research facility at GOSH. We also help researchers apply for funding, work with pharmaceutical companies and manage large studies. We ensure all clinical research at GOSH is rigorously assessed and governed. And, vitally, we make sure patients and families are advising and feeding into everything we do.”

“To do this, I believe in myself, our team and the dedicated, inspirational colleagues working with us who share this vision, regardless of their gender. In the future, when I look back on my career, I don’t expect my achievements to be clouded by the fact that it was harder as a woman.”

Dr Laura Turner

Dr Laura TurnerDeputy Director of Operations, NIHR Great Ormond Street Hospital Biomedical Research Centre (BRC)

“I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in science. My parents tell me I used to ask them questions constantly and I was always interested in how things worked.

“I think my interest in medicine stemmed from seeing my brother going in and out of hospital throughout my childhood. He went through a lot and thankfully is fine now, but I was fascinated. I even wanted to see procedures happening, which horrified my squeamish parents!

“Seeing my brother get healthy again was an inspiration for me – I decided I wanted to help people get healthy too. For a long time, I thought I wanted to go medical school, but eventually I realised I was more interested in finding out why things happened, rather than necessarily administering the treatment. That’s why I love research.

“I studied molecular and cellular biology then spent some time working in the pharmaceutical industry as a scientist. It was amazing seeing new treatments reach the final stage of their journey, where they’re made available to patients and actually making a difference.

“My career has evolved now to focus more on the oversight of research programmes, looking at the bigger picture of what we were trying to achieve. I love the variety this allows and in my current role I learn about a huge breadth of science every day. I can balance my love of science with the joy I get from seeing big, complex programmes running smoothly and making progress. As for GOSH? I used to read books about this hospital as a child and it has been in the back of my mind ever since. I still have those books on my shelf at home.”

Kiki Syrad

Dr Kiki SyradDirector of Grants and Impact, GOSH Charity and Sparks

“My role is to ensure the money our supporters raise is spent as wisely as possible and used to fund the highest quality projects that will have the most impact for seriously ill children. To do that, my team work extremely closely with the hospital and its academic partner, the UCL GOS Institute of Child Health, to understand their priorities.

“I have always been passionate about science. After completing my PhD at Melbourne University, I came to the UK to work in a lab studying cancer. After a while I decided that I wanted a change in a career that would give me a strong sense of achievement, whilst at the same time allow me to use my skills and knowledge. I put a lot of thought into that career change and I feel fortunate to now work in the charity sector to help steer the allocation of funding and demonstrate its impact.

“I’ve been here for eight years now and I still find it so inspiring. It is a privilege to be a part of GOSH and to watch progress being made thanks to the generosity of our supporters. While my own research background is in cancer, my current role means I get to learn about all areas of child health. Children require a different approach to adults and I feel passionately that we need to support their entire journey through a holistic and integrated approach to care, in which we don’t just treat symptoms but truly think about the child’s overall wellbeing and experience, as well as their wider family, both at GOSH and after they leave us. The charity already supports this in many ways, and it is an area that will become increasingly important if we truly want to see a positive shift in outcomes for these children.”

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