Today is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, and to celebrate, we spoke to some of the women funded by Breast Cancer Now to find out more about them, what they do and any words of wisdom they have for aspiring female scientists.

Women and girls in science, female scientist

Dr Charlotte Coles, Consultant Oncologist at the University of Cambridge

Many women who develop breast cancer will have surgery to remove the primary tumour. Some of these women will require a mastectomy, but less than half will be satisfied with their physical appearance after the surgery. This can have a detrimental impact on their psychological well-being and body confidence. Dr Charlotte Coles is investigating whether receiving radiotherapy before surgery could reduce the need for mastectomies and leave more women satisfied with their appearance after treatment. 

Can you describe what a normal working day is like for you?

“My working day is never the same, which is good, it keeps it interesting! This week I started in clinic, planning radiotherapy treatment for patients. I then worked with some of the scientists based in the lab to put together a grant application for some new research we’re hoping to carry out. At the end of the week I’m off to Paris for a research meeting. There is also the usual stuff such as making several meals for the family to heat up whilst I’m away!”

What’s your proudest moment?

“Personally, my proudest moments have been when each of my three children were born. In terms of my career, winning the Breast Cancer Now (then Breast Cancer Campaign, one of the legacy charities) research team of the year 2007 was amazing. This was the first clinical trial I had developed as a trainee clinical oncologist and I went to the House of Lords to be presented with the award. I considered myself to be quite clueless at the start of the project, but I learned so much which shows that if you set your mind to something, you can exceed your own expectations.” 

What inspired you to work in science?

“I wanted to do medicine as I was, and still am, fascinated to learn about how the body works. It’s so complex and clever. The more you look into it, the more you realise that so much is still to be unravelled.” 

What advice do you have for women and girls wanting to pursue a career in science?

“Go for it, you’ll never be bored! Make sure you aim as high as you can, we often underestimate our own capabilities, me included! We need more women and girls to come into science, particularly in the leading roles. You can do this”.

Professor Leonie Young, Professor of Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland

What makes your research so important to you? 

Professor Leonie Young is working to improve the lives of people who develop secondary breast cancer in the brain. She wants to develop new treatments that could help to control, or prevent the formation of these secondary tumours. 

“Working in research is very motivating for several reasons. I get to unravel problems and find new ways by which cancer cells can survive, which is really interesting. I work very closely with my clinical colleagues and have a warm relationship with our patient ambassadors. It’s fantastic to think that what we do now may have an impact on them in the future.”

What advice do you have for women and girls wanting to pursue a career in science? 

“Try to get involved in lots of different things and give it a go, you might be very surprised which branch of science you end up loving the most.”

Can you describe what a normal working day is like for you? 

“After dropping my kids at school I head into the lab and get there for around 8.30 am. I then check and respond to my emails before setting up for the day. Each day is different – I could be in meetings, writing scientific papers, applying for new funding or helping with experiments in the lab. I also teach our undergraduate medical students and organise overseas research placements for them. I always try to head home at around 6 pm. In the evening, I have one last check of my emails and respond to anything urgent before heading to bed!”

Dr Violet Warwick, Programme Manager for the Breast Imaging Research Group at the University of Dundee

Dr Violet Warwick works with a team of scientists who are trying to predict how breast tumours will respond to chemotherapy given before breast surgery. Not everyone benefits from chemotherapy before surgery, so it’s important that we can identify these people quickly, to avoid any unnecessary treatment and the associated side effects.

What advice do you have for women and girls wanting to pursue a career in science?

"If you want it, just do it, there’s nothing holding you back but you.

"Make sure you keep asking the ‘stupid’ questions that no one wants to ask, half the time they’re not stupid!  There’s nothing you can’t work out. Some things just take a bit more time or effort but it’s all possible if you want it.” 

What makes your research so important to you?

“I know that I have a particular set of skills that I can bring to the team. I can see how it makes it possible for the group to achieve together, what none of us could do alone.”

Can you describe what a normal working day is like for you?

“On any normal day, I might be working on a new study our team want to carry out or I could be out meeting patients face-to-face to talk to them about taking part in one of our studies. I might also be working with research data or holding a meeting with the rest of our team so we can update each other on the progress of the projects going on. No day is the same - I love the variety of my job!”

Dr Georgia Mavria, Group Leader at the University of Leeds

Can you describe what a normal working day is like for you?

“Every day is different. I meet with my team regularly to come up with new ideas we want to test and to discuss data we’re getting from our experiments. Other days I spend writing papers, and grant applications to try and secure funding for further research we want to carry out. I could be teaching, helping a student in the lab, travelling to a conference or delivering a talk. It’s so varied and exciting!”

What inspired you to work in science?

“I had really good science teachers at school and found the subjects naturally easy to learn, which led me to do a science degree. I became engrossed in the idea that science helps to answer questions about life. Ultimately I was fascinated by the power of molecular biology and how it can help treat disease.”

What makes your research so important to you?

“My team are working to understand how tumours develop their blood supply and how this causes them to spread to distant parts of the body. There are so many unknowns about this process, which is accountable for many breast cancer deaths. Being funded by charities such as Breast Cancer Now makes us think of those who generously donate and fundraise, and the patients waiting for the benefits of our research. It helps us to realise just how vital our research is.”

What keeps you motivated?

“I am exploring the fundamentals of how cancer develops and spreads. This research could lead to the development of new therapies which could ultimately save lives.”


We're incredibly proud of and grateful to all the women who contribute to our research at Breast Cancer Now. To find out more about what we've been working on, click the button below.

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