Can you tell us a little about your career and the path you took to your present role at FoDOCS?
I carried out my PhD in Developmental Biology at Oxford University investigating pattern formation in frog embryos. I then came to Guy’s for my first postdoc and switched to the mouse model. Here I fell in love with how the face is patterned, and the mechanisms that control shape. I moved to the Centre for Developmental Neurobiology for a Wellcome Trust Fellowship focused on the chick embryo in 1999 before starting as a Lecturer in Craniofacial Biology in 2002. During my Fellowship I had my first child, then two more whilst a Lecturer, working part-time for 12 years (2000-2012) while my children were little.
I am now Professor of Development and Evolution within the Centre for Craniofacial and Regenerative Biology and study evolution, development and repair of structures in the head focusing on the jaw, ear and dentition. I am easily side-tracked, so the lab works on many questions using many model and non-model organisms. I have been the Dean for Research for FoDOCS for almost 5 years, helping to shape and strengthen research in the faculty. This position has allowed me to get a really good idea about what research is carried out in the faculty and given me the opportunity to get involved in research initiatives across King’s from enhancing research culture to the use of big data.
What, if any, challenges did you encounter along the way, and how did you navigate them?
Having children and paying for childcare on a researcher’s salary is financially difficult. You have to realise that it’s only going to be for a relatively short time as it’s a huge financial hit. Having to race off to collect children from childcare also changes your working hours, as you have to fit experiments in to a normal working day. There are no options to stay a little later to finish things off. Trying to fit everything in also means you become quite antisocial with no time to have tea and lunch breaks with colleagues.
Having supportive colleagues, who understood the issues, was really helpful.
If you could, what advice would you give your younger self at the start of your career?
I would probably have told myself to take a bit more of a breath and relax and importantly learn to say ‘No’. I am still not very good at this. I tend to say yes to things before finding out what they actually involve. It’s very easy to commit yourself to things that take a huge amount of time. Often saying yes can bring new, unexpected opportunities, but it’s better to have a bit more of a system for prioritisation and think before jumping in.
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is ‘Embrace Equity’. What does equity mean to you, and how can everyone (regardless of gender) embrace it?
Equity, rather than simply equality, is really important. We need to shape our work environments so that everyone can benefit and have equal chances of success. For me this means thinking about how to support the researchers in my group, and more widely in the faculty, to be successful, but being aware that the support needed will differ.