International Day of Women and Girls in Science 2020

11 Feb 2020

For Women and Girls in Science Day we asked women RSTMH members about their careers in tropical medicine and what advice they would give to their younger selves – and other female scientists - just starting out in the field.

Behind the microscope - field work in Mali

Dr Stefanie Meredith has had a long, global career in Onchocerciasis (also known as river blindness or ‘Oncho’), Leishmaniasis, and other diseases. She completed her BSc Hons in Zoology at Glasgow University, and both her MSc in Applied Parasitology and Entomology and PhD at LSTM.

'Contrary to what most people advise, my career just happened, I did not really plan it. I simply followed the opportunities that came my way. I started out as a research scientist at the LSTM and spent several years as an entomologist in the field in West Africa. After 2 years post-doctoral molecular biology training, I led a laboratory at the KIT in Amsterdam doing applied research on Onchocerciasis and Leishmaniasis before moving into public health and the challenges of public-private partnerships.

After a personal move back to Europe, I moved into consultancy work covering a range of issues from Product Development Partnerships, access to medicines, NTD programme evaluations, strategy, policy and more.

Here are the things I wish I had known:

  • It is ok to take a break between studies and starting work. I started my career as a consultant to WHO on the Onchocerciasis Control programme in West Africa straight after 9 years in academia without a break. Taking a break can be really good to maintain a broad perspective on work, life and priorities, check if you are on the right path and follow your real interests/ passions.
  • Have confidence in your own ideas or study results, even if they are not conforming to what is the scientifically accepted situation. It’s ok to be assertive.
  • Work and family are possible – but they will require flexibility and compromise. The quality of the time spent with your children is more important than the amount.'
The all-female VL team, Axum Ethiopia 2018 (from the left: Sinead Rowan, Deputy Programme Manager, Stefanie Meredith, Programme Director, Sarah Hanka, Programme Manager, Margriet den Boer, Africa Technical Adviser )
Aleksandra Barac, MD, PhD, Scientific Associate

Dr Aleksandra Barac M.D., PhD, Scientific Associate, is a clinician at the Clinic for Infectious and Tropical Diseases, Clinical Centre of Serbia, Faculty of Medicine, University of Belgrade. She is the awardee of “Women in Science 2019” for Serbia and Associate Editor of RSTMH journal Transactions (TRSTMH).

'Being a woman in science is incredibly rewarding – but it is also an extraordinarily hard job. To be a scientist, mother, partner and friend, good time management is key.

So be organised. Throughout my medical career I realised that good organisational skills make my job twice as easy. Create priority lists for your days and weeks. If I knew this over 10 years ago, I would have had double the time for both science and life!'

Sarah Rafferty

Sarah Rafferty in Japan

Sarah Rafferty has a BA from the University of Nottingham, specialising in Medical Geography. She has an MSc in Demography & Health from LSHTM and is now undertaking a funded PhD at the University of Cambridge in the Geography Department. Sarah is RSTMH’s first Early Careers Trustee.

'My career, although relatively short thus far, has been shaped by inspiring and supportive women in academia and the field of global health. I first became involved with RSTMH after sending an email regarding volunteering opportunities whilst I was studying for an MSc at LSHTM. This - rather speculative - email led to a meeting with the CEO Tamar Ghosh and was the first step in my journey to becoming RSTMH’s first Early Careers Trustee, now brushing shoulders with doctors, vets and academics at the top of their fields.

My best advice is be fearless - this first email to RSTMH is a great example of how having the self-confidence to seek out opportunities can open doors that you didn’t even realise were there. I am very grateful to my academic supervisors and advisors that have been a constant source of support in this regard. They have encouraged me to apply for opportunities that I felt I wasn’t qualified enough, or experienced enough for, when in fact I always was.

I am now in my second year of a fully funded PhD at the University of Cambridge, having travelled to places such as Japan, Barcelona and Malaysia for work. I am constantly learning, but now I know that having confidence in your own abilities is half the battle. In the twenty-first century we have the luxury of seeing women at the pinnacle of scientific research – my supervisors and advisors included. Let them inspire and encourage you to apply for all opportunities possible and reach your full potential.'

NTDs Emerging diseases Infectious diseases