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WISE@QMUL presents ‘5 Minutes With’

WISE@QMUL presents ‘5 Minutes With’, a new, exciting project.

Every month we will be publishing a short interview with a wonderful female scientist that is conducting research at Queen Mary University London.  

You’ll see a sneak-peak on our social media channels. New, full interview will be available on our website at the end of each month.  

Help us spread the word and inspire the next generation of Women in Science! 

Professor Hazel Screen is Head of the School of Engineering & Materials Science, a Chartered Engineer, and a Professor of Biomedical Engineering. She is also Director of the UK-wide Organ-on-a-Chip Technologies Network (, Co-Director of the Queen Mary Centre for Predictive in vitro Models ( and Queen Mary Emulate Organ-Chip Centre ( Alongside her research interest in tissue structure-function. mechanobiology and the development of predictive in vitro models, she is very interested in supporting student learning, having previously held roles in student experience and been a Drapers Teaching Fellow.

Portrait photo of Prof Hazel Screen


1. What study path have you undertaken to get into science? 

I did physics, biology, maths and music at A-Level. Looking for degree programmes, I was really interested in prosthetics and orthotics and how engineers were supporting medicine.
Biomedical engineering was not available as an undergraduate degree programme at this time, but I found a degree in mechanical engineering with bioengineering, which allowed be to explore some of the medical applications to engineering, and to work on medical problems. After completing this, I did a Masters by Research in Advanced Instrumentation Systems, where I maintained my biomedical interest, exploring bioelectronics and bioinstrumentation.
I was looking for PhD programmes which would enable me to continue to bridge the engineering and biomedical area, and came across the Interdisciplinary Research Centre in Biomedical Materials at Queen Mary. I found the projects on offer really exciting, covering topics such as tissue engineering, where I would have to grow my understanding of biology and biomechanics. I was fortunate to join that team to do a PhD in tendon tissue engineering, and my research has steadily evolved from there to focus on exploring what drives health and disease in our tissues, and engineering systems such as organ-chip modes, to explore cell and tissue mechanobiology. 
I started an academic role on 2004, and have enjoyed pushing forward my research and teaching students. More recently, I have also taken on leadership roles in SEMS, hoping to help us to shape our community and keep SEMS an exciting, positive place to work.

2. What excites you about your work?  

I love the variety that is involved. Carrying out research work is exciting. Whilst tough at times, it is so rewarding and exciting when you discover something new, or data comes together to make sense of something which previous seemed so confusing.
I have also always enjoyed teaching and it is great to be able to share your enthusiasm for a topic with students in a classroom and to help students learn how to carry out research and hare in the excitement of new discoveries.
It is also a privilege to have the opportunity to lead the school and I enjoy the challenge. There is so much potential in SEMS, with amazing world leading research and education. I enjoy the opportunity to help build community and contribute to the direction of the school.

3. What changes, in your opinion, are needed in the scientific ecosystem to be more attractive to women in science and future scientists? 

It seems one of the biggest barriers remains a lack of confidence, augmented by not seeing female role models, to show that women can succeed. This is something we can all support by talking about our pathways through science or engineering and it is lovely to see the brilliant work of the Queen Mary WISE committee in this area. 
We also need to ensure we create environments where women feel like they fit and that their voices are heard, so it is a place where everyone can thrive.

4. As someone in a senior leadership position, what advice would you give to early-career women who want to stay in academia?  

Whilst academia is really rewarding and a wonderful area in which to work, it can be challenging at times. I think my top piece of advice would be to work on your networks and mentors and community. Take opportunities to get to know the people around you and build a team of allies so you can support each other. Watch out for imposter syndrome – you can use your network to help give you confidence to combat this and to help you build your reputation in academia.

Viji Draviam is a Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology and a Turing Fellow at the Queen Mary University of London. Viji's team is interested in understanding how cytoskeletal forces are generated to ensure the accurate segregation of the genome during the process of cell division. The group combines cell biology, biochemistry and computational techniques to explore dynamic processes in human epithelial and iPSC cell cultures. portrait picture showing Professor Viji Draviam

1. What study path have you undertaken to get into science?  

Following an undergraduate double degree in Biochemistry, Food Science and Nutrition, I chose to join a Master's through research program at the National Center for Biological Sciences in Bangalore, India where I studied how the Human Papilloma Virus cause cellular transformation and chromosomal instability by hijacking cell cycle. I decided to pursue a doctoral program to understand cell cycle mechanisms with Jon Pines at the University of Cambridge - here I was introduced to the beauty of live-cell microscopy. At this point, the kinetochore proteins were being discovered as key regulators of chromosomal stability, and so I worked with Peter Sorger at MIT and then Harvard Medical School to understand kinetochore protein regulation and function where I enjoyed working collaboratively with computational and systems biology experts. I set up an interdisciplinary group at the University of Cambridge to study the process of microtubule-mediated chromosome and cortical capture during cell division. 8 years later I moved to SBBS in Queen Mary where my team combines cell, molecular and computational biology tools to understand human cell division principles: how cells define their plane of division and how they segregate their chromosomes in a cell fate dependent manner. 

2. What excites you about your work?  

The hypothesis creating process, uncertainity and beauty of discoveries, ability to work in an interdisciplinary manner as a team with smart, curious and highly motivated staff and graduate students. With advances in human genome sequencing, we are now able to look at variants in cell division genes found in healthy humans and predict the impact of these variants in chromosome number maintenance, cell division and fate. Uncovering harmful gene variants could explain premature human ageing and cancer progression - this keeps me and my team very excited with our work.

3. What changes, in your opinion, are needed in the scientific ecosystem to be more attractive to women in science and future scientists?  

Better pay to retain the best minds. Science is a competitive field - in cell biology its a lot of fun to be the first person/team to discover an aspect of nature. If the research ecosystem can support individuals with better pay, flexible work arrangements, good infrastructure and long-term salary support, it will help young researchers to focus on the process of discovery.

4. Innovation works best when people with different expertise come together. What should we do to promote non-linear career paths? 

Create more collaborative grants; engaging meeting (for eg coffee) spaces; promote multidisciplinary student training; ability to work both in industry and academia (joint appointments); sabbaticals to and from industry. For non-linear career paths, interdisciplinary PhD and postdoctoral training are important. Researchers who take up interdisciplinary and collaborative projects find the process of discovery and innovation enjoyable and productive. 

Professor Mary Collins is an immunologist, virologist and a self-confessed ‘lab rat’ with a history of leading pioneering multidisciplinary research and a passion for scientific outreach. In her new role as the Blizard Institute Director, she hopes to build on our success by utilising our unique links with the East end community, expanding our outreach activities, and developing new national and international partnerships.

Professor Mary Collins staff profile

Professor Mary Collins LinkedIn

portrait picture of Professor Mary Collins
1. What study path have you undertaken to get into science? 

“A levels”, as they used to be called, in physics, chemistry, pure maths and applied maths, followed by a biochemistry degree. In those days Cambridge was the only University to offer a “Natural Sciences” degree which allowed me to find my scientific niche. Nowadays these courses are common and are recommended. I did a PhD at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, one of the founders of the Francis Crick Institute, and then post-docs at University College London and MIT.

2. What excites you about your work? 

In the lab seeing surprising data was a real buzz. Often, I had no idea what it was telling me, and sometimes I never did work it out. Now I’m mostly in a leadership role which is all about people; I’m meeting, encouraging, connecting, and mentoring scientists. 

3. What changes, in your opinion, are needed in the scientific ecosystem to be more attractive to women in science and future scientists? 

I think science is not a bad way to make a living for both women and men, and these days I think caring and domestic roles are often shared. Hours can be flexible, and the balance of teaching versus research versus enabling can be flexible to support people at various points in their lives. All of this needs sympathetic leadership. 
In general, I worry about attracting all the brightest young people into science, the whole enterprise is brain limited. If we don’t make the job attractive and communicate this, then science won’t progress. 

4. Outreach has been a big focus for you during your career, what impact would you like to see the Blizard Institute have on the local community in East London? 

Well, the Centre of the Cell at the Blizard Institute is an exemplary outreach project for visiting school children. So maybe we can think about adding other groups. For example, offering lectures at local further education colleges, or family sessions at local libraries, taking the science into the community.

The WISE@QMUL society is pleased to present our next edition of a series of interview-style Q&As with academics. This month, we sat down with Dr Cleo Bishop to get to know about her academic journey, and her thoughts on women in STEMM.

Cleo Bishop is a Reader in Senescence at the Blizard Institute in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, where her research group is interested in the interplay between senescence, ageing and cancer. 

She is Director of the Queen Mary Phenotypic Screening Facility, Academic Lead for our new MB PhD Programme, and runs the Blizard STARS programme, a widening participation scheme which provides A-Level students with the opportunity to experience scientific research first hand.

Dr Cleo Bishop staff profile

The following script has been lightly edited for clarity. portrait of Dr Cleo-Bishop

1.What study path have you undertaken to get into science?

From a very early age, I have been fascinated with and by Biology, so for my A-Levels I took Biology, Chemistry and Maths. I complemented these three subjects with an “AS side” of Art. This is something which I continue to dabble with in my spare time, and remain intrigued by the links between science, nature, and art. 

Never one to excel in written exams, it’s fair to say that my A-Level were not quite what I hoped for, or needed, to get into my university choices. So, I took the decision to re-sit my three A-Levels. This paid off and enabled me to study Biological Sciences at University College London. When I set off to university, it was with the intention of becoming a marine biologist. However, during my time at UCL, I discovered the universe inside of cells, and was hooked! 

I was very fortunate to get a number of paid summer internships during my undergraduate degree. These enabled me to meet scientists at all stages of their career, and to get a glimpse into the world of scientific research. These experiences were instrumental in helping me to decide if I wanted to be a researcher (or not).

2.What excites you about your work?   

So much! Being a researcher is a continual journey of discovery, with limitless opportunity to learn, invent, and develop. 

When I was a PhD student, I still remember the anticipation of looking down a microscope at my cells to see what they had done in my experiment. The feeling of seeing something for the first time is honestly one of the best things. My team will tell you that this is still a treat for me, even today! 

As a group leader, working alongside my fantastic team is stimulating and exciting. Watching them grow and evolve as scientists, bounce fresh ideas of each other, and be creative is one of the highlights of my job. I love the intellectual challenge of science and of being a scientist. Yes, it can be challenging, hard, frustrating, but overall, I feel so fortunate to have a job that I truly enjoy.

3.What changes, in your opinion, are needed in the scientific ecosystem to be more attractive to women in science and future scientists?  

Many of the pressures of a scientific career apply irrespective of gender. So, how can we stop disproportionately losing so many female scientists? This is a hard question without a simple answer. Our pyramidal career structure is unlikely to change. However, I believe perceptions (and the reality) can be shifted by local, all the way through to institutional, approaches.

Job (in)security. For me, moving around every 3 years was a perk of the job, but I know that for some this insecurity is unsettling. Incorporating more stable “jump off points” and expanded permanent roles with progression can help retain excellent people who don’t necessarily want to move around or be group leaders.

Flexible working has certainly come a long way, but we can continue to do more. 

Do I belong? Mutual support and proactively challenging what underlies our (frequently unfounded) imposter syndrome can go a long way. It’s a real thing, so we shouldn’t shy away from it.

Visible mentors (both female and male) can be hugely influential, so folding mentorship programmes into mainstream support can help at every career stage. Without a doubt, my mentors have proved pivotal in me staying in science and in my career progression (you know who you are, so thank you!).

Be valued. Institutionally we should transparently recognise and reward a more holistic set of criteria at every career stage, which value the full breadth of contributions that people make. A mouthful of a sentence, but with a genuine sentiment behind it!

4.In your previous role as Director of Graduate Studies at the Blizard Institute, did you notice an increase in the number of female student applications? How do you think we can continue to encourage women to study STEMM subjects, particularly those where women are most underrepresented, such as physics and maths?

The Blizard actually has a long-standing track record of having an equal balance of female to male PhD students, and if anything we have had slightly more female PhD students over the years. However, I know that this isn’t typical of all STEMM subjects, and there is always more that we can do. 

Inspiring the next generation is essential, so engaging with the scientists of the future early through outreach and challenging social bias is really important. In doing so, we can work to break down some of the perceived barrier to a STEMM career and actively encourage female talent. 

Expanding mentoring programmes can also be very powerful at every career stage (see above!). 

Small but important changes around the language that we use in learning material and to describe opportunities can help make STEMM feel more accessible and attainable to female students.

These students also need to see that there is a place for them in the career structure, so having visible, accessible female members of staff in senior roles is important. 
There are many other ways in which we can promote an open and inclusive route into STEMM subjects and jobs, all of which require a level of altruism and a recognition that STEMM is richer through diversity.

The WISE@QMUL society is pleased to present our next edition of a series of interview-style Q&As with academics. This month, we sat down with Dr Karin Hing from the School of Engineering and Material Sciences to get to know about her academic journey, and her thoughts on women in STEMM.

Karin is a Reader in Biomedical Materials. Her group is engaged in the development of next generation bone graft substitution technologies and bioactive regenerative replacement materials through investigation of the physico-chemical and structural control of the rate, volume and quality of bone regeneration in synthetic bone graft substitutes.

As a Post-doc she invented a novel processing route for the manufacture of porous ceramics with a hierarchical porous structure. Her research formed part of the underpinning science behind ApaTech Ltd. a QMUL spin-out company that was founded in 2001 to translate pioneering research into clinical practice through the launch of Apapore and Actifuse synthetic bone graft substitutes. In 2010 Apatech was acquired by Baxter for $330m in recognition of its position as a global leader in the provision of their bone graft substitute technologies.

Queen Mary staff profile 

Hard graft: How Queen Mary research created a landmark range of synthetic bone-graft materials video 

Synthetic bone graft research gets stamp of approval article portrait of Dr Karin Hing with the Synthetic bone graft research stamp

1.What study path have you undertaken to get into science?  
Mine was a slightly unusual one, and not at all planned. Having had a chemistry set and being given my own microscope and dissecting kit by my Uncle Hebi around the age of 6, of all the sciences I only initially picked Physics to study at O-level (now GCSE).  However, I had very understanding 6th form and Chemistry teachers at school (Bushey Meads) – who supported me to take chemistry O-level in lower 6th and chemistry A-level in upper 6th so I would have the mandatory A-levels (Maths, Physics and Chemistry) I needed to get onto a 4 year Materials Science and Engineering thin sandwich degree programme at Brunel University.  Ironically considering what I do now – I have no formal qualification in biology and my best A-level grade is in Art!  While studying at Brunel I had three valuable 6 month industrial placements; one at the British Alcan, aluminium rolling plant in Newport, Wales, two with Cookson Group at their central research centres in Runnymede and Kidlington where I joined the research team developing Neodymium (NdFeB) magnets.  After I finished my degree at Brunel I took a year out to travel ‘round the world’, trekking to Annapurna Base camp in Nepal, hitching a ride on a racing yacht from Thailand to Malaysia and learning to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef.  Before setting off to travel, by chance I worked with Prof Serena Best during a summer placement at Cooksons, investigating Bismuth Strontium Calcium Copper Oxide (BSSCO) superconductors.  We became good friends and she offered me the golden opportunity to come and do a PhD supervised by her at a new Interdisciplinary Research Centre in Biomedical Materials that was about to be established at Queen Mary and Westfield College (as it was then) under Professor William Bonfield.  My PhD was sponsored by Merck investigating the biological response to a bone graft material that they had developed – one of my PhD supervisors was Professor Peter Revel, an eminent histopathologist, who very patiently brought me up to speed on bone biology. 
2.What excites you about your work?   
The complexity, ingenuity and beauty of science in nature – that there is so much we don’t understand about how our [bone] biology works and how it is so much more elegant than the solutions that we have engineered to date.  I also enjoy training and working with the next generation of UG, PhD and PDRA bioengineers and biomedical materials scientists.  I know I have done my job when I find they are teaching me as much or more than I am teaching them. 
3.What changes, in your opinion, are needed in the scientific ecosystem to be more attractive to women in science and future scientists?  
I think changes are needed well beyond the scientific ecosystem. Only when careers in science and engineering are widely regarded as being both prestigious and gender independent by the general public will careers in these fields be more extensively attractive to women (and men).  During unconscious bias testing even successful women scientists show a predisposition to associate science [careers] with men, and if we want to attract the brightest young people to science, irrespective of their gender, then the profession has to be more attractive in terms of both monetary return and status value. 
4. Based on your experience, what do you think are the best ways to nurture the collaboration between academia and industry? 
Good personal relationships are vital – and a willingness for both sides to embrace different perspectives and learn from each other.  If people want to work together, have a common interest that excites or benefits them all, have established respect and trust, and are prepared to be flexible, they will usually succeed.  Often the most exciting findings or innovations are not part of an original collaboration remit, but something that crops up along the way, so a research team’s agility and adaptability are key.

The WISE@QMUL society is pleased to present our first edition of a series of interview-style Q&As with academics. This month, we sat down with Dr Rosalind Hannen of the School of Engineering and Material Sciences to get to know about her academic journey, and her thoughts on women in STEMM.

Rosalind is an entrepreneur and lecturer in skin biology who obtained her PhD from QMUL in dermato-endocrinology. Her multi-award-winning technology transforms skin culture techniques to advance dermatology by eliminating limitations of preclinical testing. She spun out Keratify in 2018, after winning a MedTech Super Connector grant and multiple Innovate UK grants. In addition to creating new skin culture platforms, her research interests specialize in psoriasis and wound healing for which she has won numerous prestigious grants.

WISE at QMUL presents 5 Minutes With Dr Rosalind Hannen largescale image

Queen Mary Staff Page Link

Dr Hannen’s LinkedIn

The following interview has been edited for the sake of clarity:

1.What study path have you undertaken to get into science?  

My love of science started from a young age - I have fond memories of watching David Attenborough and ‘Tomorrows World’ with my dad. I have a vivid memory of being mesmerised when I had to draw a cross-section of the human eye at middle school and always wanted to know how the body worked. I initially planned to study medicine but for a multiple of reasons, that path didn’t happen for me - and what a good job too! I think science, and now entrepreneurship, suits me better.

I did a degree in Biochemistry at Bath, where I had the good fortune to spend a placement year in America. This experience made me want to do a PhD. After spending time trying to find a PhD in neuroscience, I decided the fit wasn’t quite right as this subject involved a lot of animal models. I landed on my feet with a degree in skin and endocrinology, a subject I never thought I would study at that level! Skin is a great organ and spans many aspects of our lives: from health and disease to beauty and psychology. There is no other organ that has the same impact in so many sectors. I went on to form my own business to advance human skin testing while maintaining a part-time lectureship role.
2.What excites you about your work?   

I have always had a desire to find practical ways to deliver good science to the world. Running my own company is enabling my team and I to create some of the most exciting science and we are now gaining clients who are using our technology. It is exceptionally rewarding to see this grow from a vision to a reality.
3.What changes, in your opinion, are needed in the scientific ecosystem to be more attractive to women in science and future scientists?  

I actually think we are doing a good job at PhD level - at least in the biology/biochemistry area that I am more familiar with. In this sector there is a high uptake of women working in science. From my personal experience and the stats, the bias seems to kick in later in a scientific career for senior roles. I noticed that the bias was particularly apparent when I fell pregnant. 
From this experience I would like to see more baby-parent groups aimed for men. We need to make it far more socially acceptable for men to look after children so that women have the right support to develop their careers too. We are starting to do this, now that men can take parental leave and maternity leave can be shared. I was disheartened to hear that some men who took this leave experienced not only the impact of social isolation from baby groups but also difficult work situations - so it seems that the greatest issue with gender bias shifts when the expectation of childcare changes. There is greater awareness of supporting women in work, which is great, but all infrastructure needs to be in place to do this successfully. I have rarely heard of anyone looking at the wider benefits of supporting men with childcare.  

I would also like to see more women trained in awareness of communication in professional roles. For example, a number of women have discussed their future personal life plans with me at interview. Whenever I hear this, I point out that this is not why I am interviewing them. I have yet to experience a man enter this discussion with me (and note, I’ve never invited someone to entertain this conversation at interview). It’s nobody’s business when you plan to have a family apart from you and your partner.
I would also like to highlight that performance at worked improved after I had my daughter. I decided every moment away from her would count. I became laser focused, cut anything from my schedule that was a distraction, and accelerated while enjoying time with my lovely girl. It’s not an unusual phenomenon but is also rarely discussed; that having children can improve career performance! 

Finally, the gender bias starts horrifically early: in nursery and school, from the clothes and toys that we buy, the character representation in books, on TV and in films, to the expectations that are imparted. We need to fix this. It’s starting to happen.

I could talk for hours on this subject. I appreciate the points I raise are general, across the board, not simply limited to science. But if we can improve them, we can support all of society better and get more women into STEM and, more importantly, keep them there. 
4. Based on your experience, what do you think are the best ways to nurture the collaboration between academia and industry? 

I’d love to see more young people in academia become industry - e.g., create the new entrepreneurs. I was fortunate enough to be selected for the first cohort of MedTech Superconnector. This was life changing, providing funds, training, and connections in the right places. I have since raised almost £1m in grants and private investment and started generating revenue. I chose this route as there is a limit to what academia can do. Publishing research and providing insight is phenomenal, but turning science into a desirable, usable format for the world is typically not possible solely within academia.

There is a gap between basic research and generating early prototypes to reaching manufacture. Innovate UK is brilliant for supporting early to mid-level prototyping and high-risk ideas, but investors are still nervous to help take products to manufacture. There is a gap here that needs to be looked at. 
As for linking basic research with industry, this is already happening. There are now lots of grants and mechanisms in place. I wish academics were a bit savvier about IP and the work involved to take something to market, as well as think more broadly about how their research could be applied. There is also a stigma in academia that an academic only goes into business to make money. Starting a business takes vision, courage, and determination - the demands are high, and the motivation goes well beyond finances.

This interview was transcribed by Pamela Swiatlowska, edited by Duncan Wotherspoon. Our thanks to goes to Nancy Schumann for technical support.

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