International Day of Women & Girls in Science

Today is the 6th International Day of Women and Girls in Science which recognises the critical role women and girls play in science and technology.

To mark the occasion, our Research Manager, Anna Lakey, talks to Sigrid Fey, a Pancreatic Cancer UK Future Leader, to find out more about her work and experiences as a woman in the world of science.

Anna Lakey, Research Manager at Pancreatic Cancer UK and Researcher, Sigrid Frey

Anna: Hi Sigrid, thanks for talking to us today in celebration of women in science! Can you tell us a bit more about your PhD project?

Sigrid: Hi Anna, thanks for having me. My PhD project is on targeting metabolism in pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer cells have specific metabolic needs in order to survive and I’m trying to identify targets that might offer a window for treating the cancer and reducing its growth.

Anna: Thanks Sigrid, that sounds really interesting and promising. As a woman in science myself, I always found the amount that we still don’t know about the world and how the human body works fascinating. The progress made over the last 100 years is incredible and has improved all of our lives in so many ways and I wanted to play a small part in this going forward. Why did you want to start a career in science and in particular pancreatic cancer research?

Sigrid: I’ve also always been fascinated by the human body and how many different processes are happening within our cells simultaneously. During my undergraduate project back in Germany I worked on pancreatic cancer for the first time and got interested in how pancreatic cancer cells specifically alter these processes and communicate with their surrounding neighbours for their own benefit. That was the time when I decided to pursue a career in science/research. The ways in which pancreatic cancer cells do this are still fully not understood and I’m dedicated to play my part in research to find out more.

Anna: It’s great to see that your interest began during your undergrad. The female researchers I work with through Pancreatic Cancer UK are all incredibly inspiring, from our Future Leaders like yourself, all the way up to members of our Scientific Advisory Board. It’s a privilege to work with leaders in the field and I’ve always admired their dedication and drive to help improve things for people with pancreatic cancer. Did any women inspire you to pursue your career or is there anyone in particular you look up to as a woman in science?

Sigrid: I believe it was people more broadly along the way that inspired and impressed me. Starting with my chemistry teacher in school, but also colleagues and group leaders in the Beatson Institute that I’m currently working with, who give their best to push cancer research forward every day. A woman in research that impressed me in particular, was my former group leader Prof. Dr. Almut Schulze, who’s a leading expert in the field of cancer metabolism. Her kindness, persistence, dedication and intuition are impressive, while also balancing work and family life at the same time.

Anna: Getting that work life balance is definitely something to be inspired by. Although early in my career, I have certainly faced some challenges as a young woman in science. It’s sometimes hard to make your voice heard and valued in what can be a predominately male environment. Support from colleagues and friends really helped me to gain more confidence and overcome some of these. Have you faced any challenges and how have you overcome them?

Sigrid: Looking back, I consider myself quite lucky, that I have always worked in a supportive and cooperative environment. However, becoming a researcher can sometimes feel challenging and overwhelming as expectations from outside but also from yourself can put pressure on you. The research groups I’ve worked with so far were notably diverse and colleagues have always been supportive. It always helped me to talk to peer students who are in a similar place, facing the same challenges, reassuring me, it’s OK to sometimes feel unsure and overwhelmed.

Anna: I’m really glad to hear that you have has positive experiences and feel supported. One of my personal ambitions is to inspire as many women to get involved and take an interest in science as possible. Each year, I give talks at the all-girls school I went to with the intention of inspiring the girls who are in the position I was once in and showing them the importance of having a job you can enjoy and that they have the ability to pursue it. Is there any advice would you give to women wanting to pursue a career in science?

Sigrid: As a professional I recommend building a broad network within your chosen field. Especially as women, we should stay connected and support each other and help each other grow.

Personally, I encourage everyone to do what they are most interested in and not to be discouraged by the challenges that you might have to face. You’ll be growing over time and a future challenge that seems too big at first is a task that you are able tackle once the time comes.

Sigrid Fey