8 March 2014

Celebrating inspirational female scientists

Genome Campus scientists talk about the women who have inspired them in their career

International Women's Day honours and celebrates the achievements of women all around the world

International Women's Day honours and celebrates the achievements of women all around the world [Credit: internationalwomensday.com]

International Women's Day celebrates the steps taken towards gender equality and highlights the ground left to cover. In line with this year's theme 'Inspiring Change', the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute has asked scientists on the Genome Campus to reflect on the female scientists who have inspired them in their career.

As part of this celebration of International Women's Day, the Sex in Science programme hosted a talk this week where speakers highlighted their inspirational scientists. The speakers at this event included Karen Steel, Professor of Sensory Function at the Wolfson Centre for Age-Related Diseases in Kings College London, Laura Huckins, PhD Student at the Sanger Institute and Richard Durbin, Acting Head of Computational Genomics at the Sanger Institute.

Below are some of the tributes to inspirational female scientists that have been shared with us to mark International Women's Day:

"There are several women scientists who have inspired my career, but Mandy Yogi, an inspirational secondary school teacher in Christchurch, New Zealand, is probably the biggest reason that I have had a scientific career at all. She was enthusiastic, driven and while she set high standards, she gave us the tools and encouragement to meet them. I can directly trace my recent work on the origins of human malaria parasites to a series of classes on human evolution in Ms Yogi's classroom."
Julian Rayner, Senior Group Leader in the Malaria Programme at the Sanger Institute

"I saw Dorothy Hodgkin present a lecture about solving the structure of insulin when I was a sixth-former. She was so excited her work and it was such a fantastic story that I was inspired by it. This was the first research talk I'd been to; I understood from it that research was very exciting and that there were lots of problems to solve. Also, that was the first time I had seen a woman doing top-line research like this. I wish I could have told her how inspiring that lecture was for me."
Karen Steel, Professor of Sensory Function at the Wolfson Centre for Age-Related Diseases in Kings College London

"Leena Peltonen gave me two invaluable gifts in my scientific career: the chance to come to Sanger, and the courage to become an independent scientist. When I came here I confronted a challenge faced by nearly everyone starting their first faculty job: find confidence in my ability to set my own research agenda, define the problem I wanted to work on, and choose how to tackle it. As a PhD student and postdoc I had always been put at ease by the knowledge that my supervisor or senior colleagues would provide a safety net to protect against crazy ideas. Leena's scientific vision and leadership were essential, but even more important was her belief that I could do it. That I could walk the tightrope without looking down."
Jeffrey Barrett, Group Leader in the Medical Genomics programme at the Sanger Institute

"I have been profoundly influenced by Janet Thornton over the past decade. Janet comes from the 'other side' of bioinformatics from me (structural biology rather than DNA) and our research areas did not at first overlap. So, when she came as director of the EBI I was concerned that she would not understand my perspective. Far from it - she was able to think outside of her specific domain and quickly appreciate the drivers for my area. From watching Janet in many contexts I've learnt many things: the value of not speaking first, intervening when you have influence; the importance of understanding your strategic goals before you think about tactical moves; and the ability to use scientific drivers to cut through otherwise intractable social or political cases. Above all, I've seen her fuse a passion for organisation, structure and strategic sanity with a vibrant connection to research. Janet has been an inspiration to many people around her, and I am no exception."
Ewan Birney, Joint Associate Director and Senior Scientist at EMBL-European Bioinformatics Institute

"My inspiration is Professor Karen Spärck Jones at the Computer Laboratory. She was one of the pioneers in information retrieval (IR) and natural language processing (NLP). She helped me with my Masters and the practical application of common sense reasoning to real life training for computer scientists and architects and linguists. She always had time for a cup of tea and a chat with me or with undergraduates."
Kate Taylor, Senior Software Developer in the Sequence Informatics group at the Sanger Institute

"My mother, Zofia Jordan, is a scientist who has been very influential throughout my whole scientific career. She continues to support me to this day - she's my biggest fan probably the only person who has read all of my papers. As children we don't always realise what our parents have done for us and as female scientists we also don't realise what the people who have gone before us have done for us; what barriers and hurdles they've cleared."
Laura Huckins, PhD Student in the Human Genetics group at the Sanger Institute

"I started out as a mathematician, and was awarded a fellowship in 1982 at the end of my first degree to go to Harvard for a year to convert to biology. Nancy Kleckner was running a course at Harvard at the time, Biochem 188 on Molecular Genetics, and it was the best course I ever took. It introduced me to genetics and helped teach me what it is to be a scientist. She taught me to think about experimental genetics and how you can get information from patterns of inheritance but also to think about mechanism: what is actually happening underneath. How can you get at a biological process by setting up an experiment and rigorously thinking about what the consequences might be? That way of thinking has had a profound influence on me."
Richard Durbin, acting Head of Computational Genomics at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and leader of the Genome Informatics group.

Notes to Editors

The European Bioinformatics Institute

The European Bioinformatics Institute is part of EMBL, Europe's flagship laboratory for the life sciences. EMBL-EBI provides freely available data from life science experiments covering the full spectrum of molecular biology, and about 20% of the institute is devoted to investigator-led research using computational approaches to unravel the secrets of life. Our extensive training programme helps researchers in academia and industry to make the most of the incredible amount of data being produced every day in life science experiments. We are a non-profit, intergovernmental organisation funded by EMBL member states. Our 500 staff hail from 43 countries, and we welcome a regular stream of visiting scientists throughout the year. We are located on the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus in Hinxton, Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

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The Sex in Science programme

The Sex in Science programme is a joint initiative of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the EMBL-European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) that aims to generate discussion and raise awareness about issues traditionally facing women in science, and to drive policy and practice changes to redress them.

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The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute is one of the world's leading genome centres. Through its ability to conduct research at scale, it is able to engage in bold and long-term exploratory projects that are designed to influence and empower medical science globally. Institute research findings, generated through its own research programmes and through its leading role in international consortia, are being used to develop new diagnostics and treatments for human disease.

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The Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. We support the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. Our breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. We are independent of both political and commercial interests.

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