Women in Science
Dr Christina Philippeos
I am a senior post-doctoral cell biologist in Professor Fiona Watt’s lab at the Centre for Gene Therapy and Regenerative Medicine, King’s College London. My current research focuses on different subpopulations of fibroblasts in human skin and using these cells to develop a fibroblast cell therapy for wound healing, resolving scar formation and as a potential treatment for various skin diseases.
Although a great gender disparity exists in science, I feel fortunate to be a woman in science today. I obtained a BSc. in Natural and Environmental Sciences from Rand Afrikaans University in South Africa, and after gaining an MSc. in Biochemistry from the University of Johannesburg, I moved to London and obtained my PhD in Cell Biology at King’s College London. I have had strong female role models throughout my science career as all my supervisors to date have been very successful women. I believe these women inspired me to be the scientist I am today. Credit is also due to my parents, who raised me without any gender stereotyping. For example, I particularly remember my father teaching me how to change a flat tyre on my car. All these experiences culminated in a mindset that I could do anything my male colleagues could.
Unfortunately, despite starting from an even gender balance in undergraduate degrees, women make up less of the research workforce as they move up the academic career path; a phenomenon known as the ‘leaky pipeline’. The most significant barrier seems to be the transition from postdoctoral researcher to principal investigator (PI). This period usually coincides with the age at which women have children. Science can be a demanding career with limited job security (fix term contracts), limited PI positions and the pressures to publish in high impact journals. Successive breaks for maternity leave and subsequently working part time makes women less competitive in the field, particularly for making the step to PI. The lack of job security is also concerning when you have a family to support. It was only recently, in becoming a mother myself, that this resonated with me. I underestimated how difficult it would be to balance a demanding science career and a busy home with a toddler. I now realise the importance of having a supportive team (in both environments) for this to successfully happen. I believe that flexibility is fundamental to managing this balance and a combination of self-belief, female role models and a strong support structure are key to correcting the gender inequality in STEM.
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