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Talking Salford Podcast: Women in Science Special

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A Salford bioscience graduate has talked about her experience working in a Government research centre during Covid, on a special podcast celebrating Women in Science.

International Day for Women and Girls in Science is this Sunday, February 11 and to mark the occasion the Talking Salford podcast spoke to Chloe James, Professor of Microbiology at the University of Salford, and Paz Aranega Bou, one of her past students, who graduated with a PhD in 2017 and now works at UK Health Security Agency, a government research site at Porton Down.

Paz, originally from Castellón in Spain, works with bacteria in food, water and the environment, but during covid she contributed to the national response to COVID-19.

Paz had never worked with viruses before, but quickly learned and adapted her skills to meet the new challenge.

She said: “We looked at the role of the built environment, things around ventilation, how to detect pathogens in the air and surfaces. It was out of my comfort zone but I realised I could apply my knowledge and I got over my imposter syndrome. I also learned how difficult it is to translate complex results for people who previously had no interest in this area.”

On her journey into the world of research and science as a woman, she said: “I had great teachers and lectures I’ve never felt that I was treated differently because I was female.

“As a woman I see that when you have kids that is when things change and people perceive you differently. When you do research it’s an important job, you have to be there in the lab a lot of the time. It’s more difficult to do flexibly.  And it’s difficult to see yourself in places when you don’t see anyone like you.”

And Prof James backs up the idea that role models may be lacking for senior women in science. Early in her career she gave a presentation to an audience of largely men and all the questions afterwards were directed to her male boss. The experience empowered her and drove her on.

She said: “I wanted to prove that I know what I’m talking about. In biology it is evident that the girls are dominating, and we need to keep that momentum but as you become more senior the ratio starts to change and I find myself counting how many women are in the room. Sometimes I’m the only one even in 2024.

“More and more women are doing science at undergrad level but we need to enable women in more junior positions to feel they can move up.

“It’s a complex issue, stating the obvious, there is not one model that we need to think about the challenges. Paternal leave needs to be looked at.

“Confidence and self-esteem are important. A lot of women will feel like they have to tick every box to feel that the job is for them, I feel like that is less common in men. Work needs to be done to help women feel more confident and self-assured to go for these jobs.”

To watch the full podcast , see below:

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