The Back to Science Fellowship was established by the University of Lincoln in September 2014. The one-year fellowship was launched to provide an opportunity for men and women, who have taken extended carrier break, to return to academia in one of the STEMM subject areas. The School of Life Sciences (SLS) devoted to establish a good practice for providing opportunities for scientists who took longer carrier break to return to research. Fellows awarded by the Back2Science Fellowship are joining to an established research group in the School of Life Sciences and are supported for a year on a full time or for two years on a part time basis. The School of Life Sciences recognises the need for and committed to support the Fellows to develop an independent research project in order to gain confidence, up-to-date research experience, successful research publications and research funding applications to re-establish their own research carrier in academia. Since the launch of the Back2Science Fellowship in 2014 the School of Life Sciences successfully recruited two female scientists, ecologist Dr Graziella Iossa (2014) and molecular biologist Dr Anika Tauchen (2015).
We have asked Anika and Graziella to share with us their ‘inspirational story’, experiences and expectations as Back2Science Fellows.
Last January 2015 I took up my position as Back to Science Fellow here at the School of Life Sciences of the University of Lincoln. I had a mixture of feelings, from excitement to worry and trepidation to getting back into science. After obtaining my PhD and a brief postdoctoral experience, I had left academia because I felt that starting up a family and working in academia were not compatible. A change in career and several maternity leaves later, I really missed the challenge and stimulation of being a researcher: I wrote about it in a post for the SoapBox Science blog
Women who go back to work after a career break often lack confidence and I that was how I felt. If you have been dealing with children for a while, you need a completely different set of skills but you also gain high rewards. Achieving the right life-work balance is not easy, but a position like the Back to Science Fellowship is ideal with built-in flexibility and a personal development programme to go alongside it.
A year on, I am enjoying actively doing research again, searching and analysing. Working part-time has its challenges, good time management is essential, as it is to accept that certain events and meetings will take place outside working hours. However I found that my supervisor and the School of Life Science have been very receptive and accommodating to my needs. The Back to Science Fellowship has allowed me the flexibility I need.
My Back to Science Story
My career in science started off really smoothly. For my studies at university I simply chose the subject I liked best during my school years, Biology. Given the opportunity of rather flexible and open studies towards a Diplom in biology (a German university degree somewhere between a Bsc and Msc) I focused on the areas I always enjoyed most, cell- and developmental biology, as well as molecular biology. I completed my studies with bioinformatics as a minor subject. Being among the first students who were offered this opportunity was a very exciting experience, broadened my horizon and, possibly, also set off my general curiosity to explore new shores.
Once I held my degree certificate in my hands, my future career wasn’t as clear to me anymore. I was looking for a new challenge, undecided whether to stay in academia or to try to gain ground in private enterprise. I finally settled on starting a PhD in a, for me, new research area: Environment and Health at the School of Public Health. What followed over the next few years was a long, not always linear process of finding my place in science and my way to tackle the challenges of getting a PhD.
Two very inspiring women helped me on my way: My contact back at the School of Life Sciences who later became my PhD supervisor, and my line manager at the School of Public Health. As it turned out for me, my heart belonged to molecular biology research but I also wanted to gather experience beyond my research field. And so I became a part time research and teaching assistant at the School of Public Health and a PhD student at the School of Life Sciences on a very interesting multidisciplinary project on breast cancer.
During this period in my career the question about the right point of starting a family came up between my partner, whom I met at my first year at uni, and me. But tackling the challenges of two jobs I did not feel in the position to handle a third, possibly even more demanding, project. When my partner got offered a postdoc position at the University of Birmingham I was just about to finish the experimental part of my PhD and my contract was soon to expire. So it was an easy decision to take; I would follow him and finish my PhD thesis abroad. A few months later, the day I handed my thesis in, I found out I was pregnant with my first daughter. I only had to pass my viva and was then free to enjoy pregnancy, settling in in a new country, and the first months with my newborn. Just when I started to look and apply for new positions, my partner got offered an opportunity to start a permanent position at the University of Lincoln. So we were all very excited about starting a new chapter, moving to Lincoln, and also expecting our second daughter.
With my daughters growing up, starting school and nursery, I was first looking for random opportunities in and around Lincoln to go back to a working life. But soon I realised that all the positions offered were not quite what I saw for my future. I started looking at research groups in the UK that were working in my field of interest, molecular biology with a focus on medical applications. Then, five years after defending my PhD thesis, I found what I was looking for on my doorstep, the University of Lincoln’s Back2Science Fellowship! I started my position as Back2Science research associate in the School of Life Sciences in November 2015 and I can’t think of a position that would fit my needs better at this point of my career. It gives me the opportunity to build on my previous academic experience and gain new confidence whilst fitting my family commitments perfectly as I am able to research part-time.
From my first few weeks back in science I can report I am really glad I took this step and my confidence is growing that ‘I can still do it!’. It really helped that I had a very welcoming start and found a very supportive environment. For the upcoming two years I am hoping to build up new professional relationships and acquire up-to-date practical knowledge that will enable me to continue my career in research, even after an extended break.
Meeting my fellow Back2Science researchers with all their diverse backgrounds and wide range of experiences was very positive and encouraging. I hope that, during our time as Back2Science fellows, we will all benefit from this diversity on many occasions and hopefully, our stories can encourage other women to find their own way back to science, too.