Skip to main content
KBS_Icon_questionmark link-ico

5 minutes with Aileen King - International Day of Women and Girls in Science edition

Women in STEMM Season
Dr Hannah Rosa

Lab Technician

10 February 2021

Dr Aileen King is a Senior Lecturer in Pharmacology in the Department of Diabetes, School of Life Course Sciences, and is the School Academic Lead, Development, Diversity & Inclusion. As a celebration of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we sat down with Aileen to learn more about her field of work and advice for those considering a similar career path.


Pictured: Dr Aileen King during her thesis viva

Why did you decide to pursue science as a career?

I spent a year in a diabetes lab in Sweden as an undergraduate student and just loved it so I wanted to continue. I never really chose diabetes, I wanted to spend a year abroad, thought Sweden sounded exotic, and found out later it was diabetes research. So, I did my first islet isolation aged 19, and have never looked back. Although I sometimes find it stressful to juggle all the tasks of an academic I love that every day is different and I love the flexibility we have.

Tell us about your experiences in higher education?

I did my PhD in Sweden so not sure how much the difference in experience compared to nowadays is due to the era or culturally Swedish things. Some techniques were identical to what PhD students do now. I spent hours sectioning as a PhD student! Islet isolation was really tedious. I had to handpick islets from the exocrine digest. We used mouth pipettes! The other thing was that we didn’t each have a computer, we would share a computer for about 4 students. To find papers you read a magazine/book called “current contents” that listed all papers published that week. When publishing papers you sent printed copies by post and the figures had to be printed on fancy paper.

The culture in the lab was fantastic, the whole lab stopped at 8am and 1.30pm for a coffee break and we all sat down and had a chat. Each week someone different was responsible for making the coffee, from PhD students to professors. We also had monthly pasta and wine-testing at lunchtime. And PhD students went out to lunch together on a Friday and had Friday Sangrias after work in the coffee room. I’m starting to wonder if we ever worked!!!

What has been the biggest challenge so far in your career?

For me, it was getting on to the PhD programme in Sweden. I had to study the 2nd and 3rd terms of medicine in Swedish and that was quite a struggle. I failed my first exam and felt I would never make it. But I borrowed a coursemate's lecture notes (I was writing down Swedish words that didn’t exist, this was before Powerpoint) and bought a textbook (I had previously been too tight to buy a £50 textbook) and did much better after that. I still remember being in a lecture wondering why they are talking about baking and they were actually talking about the placenta, which literally translated to “mother-cake”.

As a supervisor of current students, what do you think are the biggest differences, either positive or negative, compared to your own experiences?

The fact that you can get any information just by googling and/or PubMed is both amazing and problematic. I think students really suffer from information overload. There’s so much out there that it becomes hard to find what you are really looking for. Things were simpler when we didn’t know so much!

What advice do you have for people considering a career in research?

It’s the advice my mum gave me before starting my PhD studies. “The glory in life is not in never falling, but in getting up every time you fall”. I think that accepting that things don’t always go your way and things don’t always work is part of research. I’m still working on that one!! Related to that is don’t underestimate (or take for granted!) the benefits of being in a supportive group. I wouldn’t be where I am today without excellent mentorship.

In this story

Aileen King

Aileen King

Reader in Integrative Physiology & Diabetes

Women in STEMM Season

A month-long celebration of women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine.

Latest news