To celebrate International Day of Women and Girls in Science, celebrated annually on 11 February, we asked some of our female staff to tell us about their work, and what being a woman in science means to them.
Victoria Carr – Principal Bioinformatician
I joined the Sanger in October 2020, first as a Scientific Programmer in the Pathogen Informatics team. The Pathogen Informatics team primarily develops software and provides technical solutions and support for scientists at the Sanger. I worked on, and then led, the development of bioinformatic pipelines and a data sharing platform for the JUNO project, a global genomic survey of Group B Streptococcus (GBS). After a year, I still missed the data analysis and research aspects that I’d done in my PhD before joining the Sanger. As a result, I joined Stephen Bentley’s group as a Principal Bioinformatician, where I'm pursuing research as well as leading on projects and building more accessible and sustainable software for biologists.
I owe it to the individuals in my life who have helped and inspired me to pursue a career in science, particularly my teachers at school. I am very fortunate to have been in environments where my passion for science was supported and encouraged, but there have been times where I’ve been made to feel like I didn’t belong, particularly during my undergraduate degree. Despite my experiences, I feel more positive for girls going into science. The ‘white male’ culture is being challenged and I’m seeing more women in positions of leadership as well as in science. There is no better time than now.
Sarah O’Meara – Head of Strategic Relations & Delivery
My career started at the lab bench. I always enjoyed science subjects at school and after my A-levels I got my first job as a Medical Laboratory Assistant at Addenbrooke’s hospital. Eventually I came to work for Sanger, first as a Technical Assistant in one of the teams sequencing the nematode worm genome and later as a Research Assistant in the Cancer Genome Project. During this time, Sanger sponsored me to complete my BSc in Cell and Molecular Biology by day release, which was challenging but an extremely rewarding experience!
In 2009 I started a new role as a Field Application Scientist at Life Technologies, which gave me helpful insights into the world of sales, marketing and customer services! In 2012 I returned to Sanger and this is when my career took a slightly different direction. I stepped into an operational management role, first as an Operational Manager in the Cancer, Ageing and Somatic Mutation research programme and eventually as part of the senior leadership team in Scientific Operations as Head of Strategic Relations and Delivery. It was at this stage I decided to do a Master of Business Administration through distance learning, which has given me the skills to think creatively about how teams can be best supported to work together effectively and how I can apply that knowledge to assist delivery of our scientific objectives.
I thoroughly enjoy my role and I’m proud of my accomplishments, but I am also extremely grateful for the opportunities, support and mentorship that I have had along the way, all of which have shaped me to be the leader and woman in science I am today!
Laura Olivares Boldu – Graphic Designer and Illustrator, Wellcome Connecting Science
I’ve always found science fascinating. But having started a career as a researcher, I realised that what I was most passionate about was drawing and communicating science visually. Whilst studying biotechnology, I would pin my eyes to my notes and my brain would make the words dance and twirl into a drawing - I’d be visualising those concepts and doodling at every single margin of my notebooks. I now work as a graphic designer and illustrator in Wellcome Connecting Science, where I create scientific illustrations and visual materials for everyone to understand and explore genomic science and its impact on our health and society.
We are all contributing to science in one way or another, and I feel so lucky to be part of it. But most importantly, we have incredibly talented women on Campus who continue to inspire me every day, within my team and beyond it, pushing the barriers of science and paving the way for future girls and women in science.
Kim Judge – Senior Staff Scientist
I joined the Sanger Institute as a Senior Staff Scientist in 2016 after a PhD at the University of Cambridge. Before this I worked as a research associate at Illumina. I grew up in a town called Kettering – it’s not that far from Sanger, but you’ve possibly never heard of it. It’s mostly famous for making shoes and Weetabix. I didn’t intend to be a scientist growing up – my school’s career service suggested I become either a shepherd or funeral director, and I imagined I’d work in one of the offices of the local factories until I accidentally took a science degree. From then, I was hooked, and now science is one of the great loves of my life.
One of my big passions within science is public engagement. I’ve had so many great experiences including sequencing DNA in a football stadium, shopping centre, on a moving train… not to mention in countless schools. It’s the best fun and it’s really helped develop my confidence and presenting skills. I’d recommend it to anyone and everyone! I was initially motivated to start public engagement as part of increasing the visibility of female scientists, and that continues to drive me to say yes to all the things I don’t have time to do, or am too scared to do, like appearing on the recent Royal Institute Christmas Lectures. I am what a scientist looks like, and I want young people to understand that they are too. That way, maybe their career in science won’t be an accident.
Tanya Brooklyn - Surveillance Implementation Manager
The path to Sanger was varied and exciting: qualifying in finance at the start of my career and then moving into consultancy, project change and programme management. After a career break as a carer, I joined the Sanger Institute in 2017 to programme manage the finance system upgrade. After a successful implementation and a few projects later, the COVID-19 pandemic emerged with the requirement for Sanger to manage large scale and rapid SARS-CoV-2 whole genome sequencing, to support the global effort. I gave up Biology when I completed my O-Level in it. However, my lack of scientific knowledge could be seen as bonus, as it allowed me to successfully challenge the thinking on several occasions, applying my business/commercial experience to some of the proposals being made.
The project required a vast multi-disciplinary approach to define and deliver a complex end-to-end process, from arranging the transfer of samples to Sanger, processing, sequencing, running analysis pipelines and returning data to the approved data repository, CLIMB. This was building from the ground up, in an ever changing and challenging environment and with no one person having all the answers. The network of contacts I had already established at Sanger proved invaluable throughout the project.
It has been a pleasure to work with so many dedicated people to create the successful operation, which now runs routinely seven days a week, whilst continuing to adapt to change driven by internal and external stakeholder requests and our desire to operate in an environment of continuous improvement. This effort took the skill and commitment from so many across so many functions, working collaboratively to achieve success and I am honoured to have worked with them.
Maggie Payne – Chief Financial Officer
I am not an obvious candidate for a career in science. My background was in Economics but after having worked in audit for four years training to be a Chartered Accountant I was keen to work at an organisation that had tangible products, where I could be proud to have made a contribution to its success. My first industry role was with Zeneca and I saw first-hand there how individuals with different expertise and responsibilities could work together to deliver great results. We were able to cascade the strategy down to objectives for each department so that every member of staff understood how their contribution helped the achievement of the mission.
I have always tried to broaden my experience and keep my options open rather than specialise too much, and I wanted the opportunity to lead an organisation as Finance Director. Varicose veins were my big break - a chance to be Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of a development company in clinical trial stage. They were also a lesson that not everything works first time in science! So the company didn’t survive long term but it gave me a springboard to other opportunities now I had slightly more understanding about pharma development.
Continuing a theme, I subsequently worked at Gilead setting up the European business partnering organisation as we launched the single pill combination treatment for HIV. I learnt a lot about the different healthcare models across Europe and a little about the mode of action of the treatment. A good start for a move to more specialised scientific education at the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult. This was my most direct involvement with the science itself as we were working to help bridge the gap between research discoveries and industry. I really enjoyed working with the scientists on their projects – budgets, costings, grants – knowing that the end results could be translated into near term treatments for hard to treat cancers. A far cry from auditing car dealerships and wool merchants in my early career.