International Women's Day Interview: Lesley-Anne Pearson
In recognition of International women's day, we interviewed scientists from different backgrounds to discover the challenges faced by women in science.
What inspired you to get involved in science and eventually, drug discovery?
When I was growing up I always just wanted to know stuff. At every step of education, I felt I needed to know more than that and my natural bent seemed to take me down towards biochemistry. I remember when I was 12 years old and I was asked by a careers advisor what I wanted to be when I grew up. I answered that I wanted to be a biochemist, specifically, a clinical biochemist because I wasn’t sure about the whole animal testing thing at the time.
For me, science has always been a drive to know and as that’s progressed, what’s taken me to drug discovery is that it’s not just about knowing, it’s about applying that knowledge to make the world a better place.
We’re recording the day after the Academy Awards, where Patricia Arquette made a plea for wage equality. Do you feel that this is a problem in science?
I absolutely do. One of the difficulties that you will find in science is that women seem to peter out the further up the line that you get. There are a lot of women scientists that I work with who are really brilliant women, but the further up the chain you get, the less of them there are. That’s a major Issue.
I don’t think anybody is intentionally being paid less, but I think the way that women are being progressed through the career ladder results in women not being paid as much as men.It also results in their contribution to science not being fully taken advantage of.
Do you think there needs to be more support for women in science?
I genuinely do. There are a lot of gendered issues that aren’t necessarily taken into consideration by employers. Again, I don’t think they do it intentionally, I just don’t think they see things the same way.
One of the things that will often be asked is “as a woman, can you have both a family and a career?” and nobody would ask a guy that because it is assumed that he has the family support behind him. So women absolutely need more support.
Who are your female scientific heroes?
I’ve got two main idols, because I’m a nerd and I can’t help myself. The first is Rosalind Franklin who was not given the credit she deserved for her involvement in the discovery of the structure of DNA. She did some amazing work and she was a pioneer, especially working back when she did.
My second Idol is Professor Sue Black who is a professor working in forensics here in Dundee and she’s an absolute trailblazer; becoming a professor, becoming head of department when there are so few women at that level certainly in academia.
You’ve been involved in public outreach; I saw you were involved in the Dundee Science Fest. Why do you think this is important?
From my perspective public outreach forms 2 tranches. Firstly, I think that the public are woefully underserved by woefully underserved by very poor scientific reporting. The number of times you’ll read a headline in a newspaper and it totally misrepresents an academic paper is crazy. Science reporting is appalling and that’s where you get a disconnect between the public and the scientists. For me, it’s about making science approachable and eminent and real for people.
Secondly, it’s about improving the representation of women in science. We need to encourage more young women and girls to take science careers and one of the ways to do that is to show that there are women scientists and they’re having a great time.
The theme for International Women’s Day 2015 is Make It Happen. What advice would you have for budding scientists to make it happen for them?
Just keep working with your passion. There will be obstacles along the way, there always are. I myself was actually out of labs, working in an office for three years and it was horrific. I woke up every day thinking that my career was over and that I’d never get back into the lab, but I made it back into the lab and I’m never leaving again.
I think Make It Happen is great advice, I think you just need to have passion and drive and you need to always be looking for opportunities to expand both your networks and also your areas of expertise. Most of all never be afraid to ask questions.
A biochemist by training, working in drug discovery in an academic environment.
Passionate about public engagement and improving the representation of women in science.
Ask me about drug discovery! @womaninsci
You can find more on International Women's day here