SUSTAIN: a programme for women researchers
SUSTAIN is a year-long programme of training, mentoring and peer networking for women in science. With the programme now open for new applicants, clinician and researcher Dr Alessia David gives us her experience of SUSTAIN.
I joined the SUSTAIN programme at a crucial moment in my career. It was during the final year of my MRC fellowship and I was due to make major decisions about my next steps. I was feeling overwhelmed by the challenges of delivering high-quality research, building a successful career in a competitive environment and raising two little children.
SUSTAIN has helped me in many ways. First of all, I was given a fantastic mentor, Professor Philip Quirke. Philip has helped me re-think my priorities and focus my energy on building a CV appropriate for my career progression. He helped me to think strategically and analytically and to identify, not only the right steps for me at this stage of my career, but also alternative ways of achieving my long-term goal of building a career as an independent researcher. As a result of his advice, I recently applied for funding opportunities I had not considered before.
I’ve also attended several extremely useful workshops such as ‘Managing a research group’ and ‘Media training’, which I am sure will prove valuable in the future.
Through SUSTAIN, I’ve gained a network of colleagues who are in career positions similar to mine and face similar problems. Being in a female-only group helped many of us to engage in discussions on personal issues, insecurities and fears that we would not have felt comfortable addressing in a mixed-gender environment. But I think it is important to have a network of both female and male colleagues we can all learn from and use to support each other.
SUSTAIN gathered 20 of us under the same roof. Our group was big enough to represent a variety of different personal and work-related experiences, but small enough to generate a warm environment that facilitated engaging in conversation and, most importantly, helped to develop friendships.
Personal circumstances often dictate important decisions that shape our career. For example, you might have to decline a fantastic job opportunity in another city or country because your partner or family can’t follow. My friends from SUSTAIN are ideally placed for talking this through. We understand the problems related to each other’s careers, and we aren’t competing for promotion in the same workplace.
Keeping in touch
I will certainly keep in touch with my SUSTAIN colleagues and this is a feeling shared by all of us. We have already organised a meeting towards the end of the year, which the Academy of Medical Sciences has very kindly agreed to support. Moreover, I am sure many of us will continue to meet on a regular basis through collaborations we have developed, conferences, invited talks or just over lunch!
I truly, strongly recommend SUSTAIN to other women in science who want to pursue an independent career as a researcher.
Alessia is a Clinical Research Fellow at the Centre for Integrative System Biology and Bioinformatics, Imperial College London. She is also an Honorary Lecturer in Endocrinology, in the Department of Endocrinology, Charing Cross Hospital.
Alessia studied medicine and trained as a specialist in Endocrinology and Diabetes before her PhD in molecular biology and genetics. She later took an MSc in Bioinformatics and System Biology, with support from an MRC studentship. After her MSc she took a three-year career break to look after her family.
During her career break, she kept in touch with developments in bioinformatics and continued to collaborate. She returned to academia with an MRC post-doctoral training fellowship in biomedical informatics.
The Academy of Medical Sciences, the MRC, the Royal Society and the Royal College of Physicians fund the SUSTAIN programme.