Women of Arctoris reflect on their science idols and career journeys
Today is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. It’s a fantastic opportunity for us to remind all of us of the need to commit to equality in participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
According to UN Women, just 30% of researchers worldwide are women, and only 35% of those studying in STEM-related fields are women. It is a complex issue including aspects such as structural inequalities and unhelpful stereotypes, though it’s encouraging to see a push for more constructive conversation and above all much-needed action towards more equal opportunities in our field.
As researchers and members of the biotech and pharma community, we continue working towards doing our part in bridging the gender gap. We are proud members of the WISE Campaign, and are committed to being an inclusive, supportive, and welcoming workplace. We are proud of and grateful for the fantastic women who contribute to our everyday success at Arctoris — highlighted by our recent five year anniversary.
The women behind Arctoris have chosen to reflect on their own science heroes today. So, let’s celebrate their heroes with them, and please do let us know about yours in the comments below!
Kate Adams, Business Development Intern
Throughout my life, I have been interested in STEM, and I have always felt supported and encouraged by my parents and teachers. I was further inspired by some of the historical female pioneers who achieved great things in their respective scientific fields. In particular: Florence Nightingale, who as well as being renowned as a nurse, was arguably the greatest statistician of her time; and Sophie Germain, who stands out for her determination to pursue her passion for mathematics, despite having to publish her work under the pseudonym ‘Monsieur le Blanc’. Her tenacity and determination to pursue her passion are traits that I admire, and that I try to embody in all I do. That includes my work for Arctoris, where I am a business development intern.
Looking forward, I hope to complete my MMath next year before trying to further develop my business acumen in a career in management or strategy consulting.
Lily Elsner MBA, Head of Strategy
My original inspiration to pursue science came from a combination of my family and my childhood idol, “Ms. Frizzle” of Magic Schoolbus fame. The iconic books by Joanna Cole were inspirational, capturing my and so many of my small peers’ imaginations, but also made scientific inquiry accessible to us. This set me on a path of wonder and appreciation for the natural world, encouraged immensely by my supportive family and excellent teachers. I even dressed up as The Friz for Halloween. My beloved high school biology teacher, Mr. Nickles nudged me to attend a STEM boarding school, and encouraged me to attend Wellesley College. The majority-female faculty in the biology department allowed me to see a myriad of pathways to pursue my passion. I found that my personality was not suited to hours of lonely lab and fieldwork, and as such, ultimately chose to apply the scientific method in law and then financial services. Arctoris’ mission to advance science and the future of discovery lured me back to the field, allowing me to bring my talents and scientific background together.
Wilfride Petnga DPhil, Senior Scientist
My journey into where I am today is quite an unusual one — or maybe not. I grew up with an innate desire to go into medicine. I have always been fascinated by human biology and growing up, I was the go-to person whenever my siblings returned with injuries after playing and needed them treated. However, my secondary school biology teacher was the least bit surprised when I told him many years ago that I would be completing a doctorate degree in Cancer biology. That is because, I eventually realised that I was too inquisitive, too investigative and too analytical to be satisfied with what medical school would offer — and my teacher knew it. I had been that one student he’d guarantee could not sit through his lesson without asking questions.
Whilst being a Research Scientist was a very unfamiliar term and a rather unknown profession to my family and the community I come from, they were very supportive. They were the ones who helped nurture my curious mind and I certainly would not have pursued this path without much encouragement from them. I was the first one I know of to have gone down that route and I am very grateful to my ever-present help in time of need for keeping me strong and focused.
I like this quote from Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it is done.”
Versha Prakash PhD, Head of Partnerships
From a very young age, I had a natural interest in learning new concepts and solving problems, to the point that I was obsessed with reading encyclopaedias and constantly jotting down information! I moved to the UK to study biochemistry and more importantly, science communication. A year into the degree, I became fascinated by DNA and how things functioned at a genetic level. I ended up writing an entire magazine on ‘telomeres’ (aka ends of chromosomes) celebrating the work of Nobel Prize winners Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider, as my final year science comm project. I was astonished by how tiny variations in DNA led to excruciating outcomes and it was no doubt in my mind to pursue a doctorate in genetic therapies. A field that soon saw a rise in strong, successful female scientists. Jennifer Doudna being one of them, inspired me with her scientific rigour, and equally with her transition into other roles — global advocate of ethical genome editing, an effortless communicator and founder and advisor to several biotechs.
Sometime during my postdoc, and with support from an incredible group of mentors (shout out to Prof Julia and Alessandra!), I reassessed my career interests and decided to switch from bench research. I was also fortunate to come across a network of successful and determined women in biotech in London (heroes all around!), who helped me further my interest foraying me into my current role at Arctoris.
Poppy Roworth DPhil, Head of Laboratory
I am not someone who can say I have a definite, singular role model. There was no real epiphany moment in my early years towards science. But I have had the absolute privilege of being surrounded by people, as friends, teachers, colleagues who have given and continue to give me inspiration, direction, and mentorship.
Whilst a lot of my school teachers were excellent at inspiring my interest in science and the quest for knowledge (shout out to Mrs Mo, the coolest of all science teachers!), my 6th form science teachers were really crucial in helping me make that decision. Every one of those lessons was fun, interesting and challenging. Dr Cropper entered a small group of us into a 6th form Chemistry competition. We won our regional heat and got to go to the finals. Dr Cropper’s belief that we could do it, encouragement and mentorship were outstanding. Not only that, it was the first time I had been given the opportunity to completely try and work out how to plan an experiment to get to the correct answer and so I got my first taste of what being a scientist was actually like. So that was the defining moment when I chose sciences over humanities — Thanks Cropps!
I’d also like a special mention to go to my tutor for undergraduate work, Mark Coldwell who was (and still is) unfailingly supportive and encouraged me to take the next steps towards my career.
Hester Sheehan MBiochem, Research Scientist
I have always been fascinated by how things work and gravitated towards science from a young age. I love gaining an in-depth understanding of the principles underlying the objects and processes of daily life that many people take entirely for granted. My passion for understanding how things work on a molecular level meant that my decision to do a degree in Biochemistry came as no real surprise to the family members and teachers who always encouraged me to be curious about the world.
One woman who has particularly influenced my scientific journey is the British chemist Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin (1910–1994) who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1964 and greatly advanced the technique of X-ray crystallography as a means of determining the structure of biomolecules. Hodgkin, who had to fight for recognition as a woman in the male-dominated world of science, made a number of key discoveries including determining the structure of penicillin, vitamin B12 and insulin. I grew up in Egypt where my father was an archaeologist and my recent discovery that Hodgkin was born in Cairo and her father’s ruling passion was archaeology makes her an even more fitting choice as a role model.