Strength In Numbers: Women leading the LMS

 8 March 2022   Institute News

For International Women’s Day 2022, the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences (LMS) is putting itself under the microscope, looking at the number of women we have working in leadership roles across the institute. 

In the UK, nearly half (46%) of science PhD candidates and more than half of medical students (54%) are female. Despite this, only 17% of STEM professors and 36% of consultants are women.

Internationally, women scientists are leading in ground-breaking research, and contributing to fundamental discoveries. But data shows that leading female scientists are paid less, tend to head-up smaller groups and are less likely to be successful in winning competitive grant applications. Female-led work is also often overlooked, less than 4% of Nobel Prizes for science have been awarded to women and women represent less than 10% of the Fellows of the Royal Society

The LMS is working hard to ensure that female talent is not overlooked or lost. A recent staff survey found 57.5% of LMS members identify as women, many of these hold leadership roles across research, admin or facility teams.

Commenting on the institute’s efforts, Professor Petra Hajkova, interim Director of the LMS said, “This issue not a new one. We’ve known for decades that women choosing to embark on a career in research face many more hurdles than men. Although I very much hoped the world had firmly left those issues behind in the 20th century; unfortunately the overall progress has been far too slow. Nevertheless, there has been a progress and women- scientists are no longer rare exceptions – as seen in our Institute!

“At the LMS we champion women. We celebrate their achievements and are reliant on the breadth of expertise they have. Without our leading women, the LMS would not be the success it is.”

Currently, close to a quarter (24.4%) of LMS Research Group Heads are female. This is an area we continue to make a concerted effort to increase, both through active recruitment and supporting our senior post-docs to take their first steps towards independence.

Dr Louise Fets, head of the LMS Drug Transport and Tumour Metabolism Research Group joined the institute in 2019 and has recently been awarded a £1 million Career Establishment Award by Cancer Research UK.

“I decided to come to the LMS because of the fantastic research culture here; we have a strong focus on basic science that is combined with a drive to understand how our work can have clinical impact” said Dr Fets. “There is a strong sense of collaboration and support at the LMS that was invaluable in my recent CRUK application, and as a young group leader, it is incredibly inspiring to see so many women in leadership roles.”

The LMS prides itself on supporting junior researchers in their steps towards establishing a career in science. Recently we shared news that two LMS post-docs have received ISSF Springboard Fellowships from the Wellcome Trust. 

One third (33.3%) of the LMS Facility Heads are female. Our facility teams are vital to ensuring researchers at the LMS have access to and training in techniques that will further their scientific endeavours.

Dr Laurence Game, Head of the LMS Genomics Facility joined the LMS in 2003. She has worked with over 100 research groups at the LMS and Imperial College to produce over 50 published papers including nine as a co-author in the past five years.

“I really enjoy interacting with researchers at the LMS and heading up the genomics facility. It enables me to keep abreast of scientific research in the fast-moving field of genomics and to advise my colleagues on state-of-the-art techniques and application that will best help them to answer their scientific questions ” says Dr Game.

Women are also strongly represented among our LMS Professional Services Heads, overseeing institute HR, operations, and student services to ensure things run smoothly, efficiently and effectively.

Dr Carole Swan, Head of Operations at the LMS, first joined the institute in 2011. She and her team help staff and students to successfully navigate their way through all aspects of operational life at the institute – HR, finance, governance, lab management – and ensure that our buildings are managed and maintained.

“Sometimes people ask me why I have stayed at the LMS for so long,” said Dr Swan.  “And the answer is – because I get to work with world-leading scientists in a collaborative and supportive environment. I am a valued member of the team and my professional advice is sought out and listened to. That’s not always the case for professional services staff in a scientific environment.”

The problems women face in science and the hurdles they have to overcome go far beyond the UK. It is an international issue where women are often overlooked in their excellence. The LMS recognises this and is seeking to look beyond our institutional walls to support female scientists across the world. That is why in 2011 we partnered with Central St Martin’s College to launch the Suffrage Science awards, which has created a global network of more than 100 women working in science, offering peer support and appreciation to female researchers.