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Celebrating International Women's Day in the Faculty of Life Sciences & Medicine

The theme of this year's International Women’s Day is #BreakTheBias, aimed at addressing the stereotypes and biases at the root of sexism in our society. We wanted to highlight a selection of achievements from women in the Faculty that demonstrate how they are breaking the bias as role models, helping us to imagine gender equality within the sciences.

One way that women are breaking the bias is through appointments to senior scientific positions. Professor Lucy Chappell was appointed Chief Scientific Adviser for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), playing a key role in providing expert advice on a variety of health topics to the DHSC Minister.

In addition to her role at the DHSC, Professor Chappell and Dr Caroline Jolley were named role models for Women in Academic Medicine by the British Medical Association. The pair spoke about the additional barriers that mothers working in academia and medicine face, as well as the challenges of embarking on a ‘non-traditional’ career path.

Another leader recognised for her work over the past year is Dr Katie Doores, who was named one of the Medical Research Foundation’s 2021 Emerging Leaders in November. Her rapid research into COVID-19 was widely recognised as vital to developing lateral flow tests, providing important foundational science as to how antibodies respond to COVID-19. 

Dr Anita Lim was named a trendsetter of the life sciences in the Movers and Shakers in BioBusiness 2021 report for leading the YouScreen trial, which evaluated the effectiveness of home smear tests for human papillomavirus (HPV). YouScreen offered mail at-home tests to ~31,000 women in London to help break barriers in traditional testing that require women to be smeared by doctors in clinics. The hope is that more women will test for HPV, detecting cases before they develop into cervical cancer. This was awarded in conjunction with ground-breaking trial results that found a new HPV vaccine could reduce cervical cancer rates by 87% in women when they were jabbed between 12-13 years.

Two of our students, Shreya Kalyanasundaram and Nitya Dintakurti, won an award for their start-up, CoolZEN, to produce a wearable device that detects the onset of a hot flash for menopausal women. Shreya Kalyanasundaram argues that "the hush-hush surrounding the menopause has to stop” and hopes that CoolZEN will address a problem that’s historically been ignored.

Though not all their work was recognised by new awards, jobs or titles, colleagues in the Department of Women & Children’s Health continued their research in a field that has not always put women's interests first. Professor Rachel Tribe was part of new research that found new molecules to identify eclampsia before women experience symptoms. The researchers noted that the diverse group of women who participated in the study helped to ensure that the molecule was a reliable basis for new tests.

The Fetal Medicine Foundation recently donated £1.5 million to King’s for research into pregnancy-related diseases. The founder, Professor Kypros Nicolaides, stated that he wanted the money to prevent women from “fall[ing] between the cracks of the various academic and clinical disciplines and services”.

Dr Claire Steves is another researcher breaking the bias against women in science. She continued her important research on long COVID and has been instrumental to the continued success of the ZOE COVID study. In this role she has provided regular updates on the pandemic to the public.

Dr Steves has become a regular interviewee on COVID-related stories in the media. You can hear her interview on how to predict long COVID with BBC World Service, or with BBC Inside Science discussing the signs of long COVID. 

Our researchers aren’t just breaking the bias in traditional media. Ella-Louise Hubber has been breaking new ground with her science communication via social media. Her TikTok account big_science_energy recently celebrated 100 thousand followers, reaching out to people with scientific facts and videos about life on the bench. She also began co-hosting a podcast that has already made the podcasting charts!

To commemorate International Women's Day 2022, Professor Georgina Ellison-Hughes, School of Basic & Medical Biosciences Academic Lead for Development, Diversity & Inclusion (DDI) interviewed Professor Cathy Shanahan, the Vice-Dean DDI for the Faculty in her new podcast ‘Let’s Talk EDI’.

In our regular ‘5 minutes with’ interviews we learnt more about the women who keep King’s at the forefront of research and teaching excellence. Dr Megan Rossi explained how she has harnessed the power of social media, using her Instagram account to  debunk dietary falsehoods, as well as telling us who inspires her as a woman. She was just one of the many women featured, including Kimmy Lam; who spoke of her passion for reducing barriers in palliative care; or Kirsty Massetti who discussed her work as a Technical Manager in the dissection room.

Another inspiring figure we profiled this year was Dr Elsa Desmond, one of our medical graduates. Dr Desmond became Ireland’s first ever Olympic luger in the 2022 Winter Olympics, completing her MBBS degree whilst training for Olympic competition.

Dr Monica Agromayor set up the inReach programme to help break the bias for the next generation of scientists. inReach provides undergraduates who are interested in a research career with a PhD student to mentor them. Targeted at students who are underrepresented in science, 7/10 PhD mentors and 19/20 undergraduates taking part are women.

As a Faculty we are immensely proud of not only the women mentioned in this article, but of all the women in the Faculty of Life Sciences & Medicine. The work undertaken by women and men across the Faculty is one part of King's collective effort to #BreakTheBias against women in science, and in academia as a whole. 

Women in STEMM Season

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

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