8 years ago, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science was created to improve gender equality in science and recognise the invaluable role women play. Each year the world comes together to celebrate inspirational women of the past, present, and future. While women continue to be under-represented in science globally, the conversation of gender equality in science is much louder than it was.
The MND Association has a track record of funding talented women who have made vital contributions in furthering our understanding of MND. This includes through our PhD studentships, where over 60% of our current PhD students are women. These studentships provide the essential experience and development needed to pursue a career in MND research.
To celebrate the day, we want to highlight some exceptional female MND Association funded PhD students. In the second blog in this series, we catch up with 2 more researchers about their journey to becoming scientists and delve a bit deeper into the research they are working on. Make sure to check out part 1 here.
Meet the researchers
Libby Moody is a final year PhD student at the University of Sussex. Libby aims to further our understanding of pathways in the body which lead to the development of MND. She is specifically looking at whether microglia (immune cells in the brain) contribute to inflammation and subsequently MND by releasing molecules called microRNAs. Libby is investigating these microRNAs to find out how they can lead to the development of MND and if this could be prevented.
Livvy Houghton is a PhD student at King’s College London. Livvy is investigating what causes the death of neurones in people living with MND. Her research focusses on the recycling system within neurones, which is needed to clean up and recycle unwanted waste in the cell. In MND this process is disrupted, and Livvy is trying to uncover why this happens and if it could be corrected.
What inspired you to pursue a career in science?
Libby: I have had a passion for science for as long as I can remember. Throughout my school years I was set on becoming an astrophysicist, however, I was actually deterred from this career path when I went to a career taster day and I was the only girl in the class! Instead, I studied biology and chemistry at A-level and they became my favourite subjects. I then studied Biochemistry at University and this is when my desire to pursue a career in science grew. I was so inspired by my lecturers; I loved the fact that I was being taught all about the current research in their labs and wanted to get involved in research myself. I undertook a summer placement in a lab researching Alzheimer’s disease and this sparked my interest in neurodegenerative diseases. When I learnt about the fast-progressive nature of MND, and the fact that there is currently no cure, I felt incredibly driven to contribute to MND research. I wanted to help work towards our understanding of how MND develops and progresses, because with this knowledge we will one day be able to find a cure for MND.
Livvy: I have always had a desire to investigate the unknown, and for me, the human brain is a fascinating focus. For an organ that controls so much we still know so little and my drive to discover more about it is intensified when it comes to disease. It goes without saying that MND has a devastating impact. I am motivated to contribute to understanding the basis of this disease, ultimately helping to find therapies and minimise the suffering of patients and their families.
What has your experience of being a women in science been like?
Livvy: My experience as a woman in science so far has been very positive, although I am acutely aware of challenges others have and still do face in this field. I feel lucky to currently be in a department that is working hard to tackle gender and other inequalities and I believe this creates an enjoyable, collaborative atmosphere to work in. I am particularly proud to be part of a lab group led by and largely made up of women, in which I feel supported and encouraged to achieve my potential.
Libby: As I mentioned, when I was in school, I did feel a strong male dominance in the physics field. However, 10+ years on from this I am privileged to say that I have had an extremely positive experience as a woman in science. I have felt incredibly supported and guided by my those around me and have fortunately not experienced any barriers/challenges associated with my gender. For this, I am thankful to those who have pushed for gender equality within science.
Web Story | 13 February 2023
Celebrating International Women and Girls in Science Day
What is the best part of being a scientist?
Libby: The thing I love most about being a scientist is the fact that no two days are ever the same, so I never get bored of the work I am doing. Every day I learn so many new things and am challenged to think critically and solve problems. Obviously, there are days when experiments don’t work or things don’t go as planned, but that’s the nature of research! I always keep motivated by reminding myself that we are doing this research to work towards finding a cure for people living with MND, which is so incredibly important.
Livvy: In neuroscience research there is a common drive to discover missing pieces of a big puzzle and it is always inspiring to interact and collaborate with those that are passionate about their research. I find working closely with others in a fascinating subject area to find those missing puzzle pieces extremely satisfying, and the best part of being a scientist.
What advice would you give to future generations of female scientists?
Livvy: Find your niche! Pursuing a career in scientific research demands constant motivation and a lot of resilience so finding an environment in which you thrive is key. Have confidence in yourself to seek or mould close working relationships as these will enable you to accomplish your goals in science.
Libby: While a career in science is incredibly rewarding, it is also very demanding. I would advise to gain as much experience as possible in the science field that you are interested in, for example through summer lab placements and lab-based dissertation projects, so that you can be confident that this is the path you would like to pursue. And if you are sure, then go ahead and do it! Also, remember to not to let other people’s opinions deter you from doing what you love doing.
We would like to thank Libby and Livvy for being involved in this blog.
You can find out more information about the research we fund on our website.