Getting girls into science
15 February 2018
GSK Chemist, Jo Redmond, tells us about her passion for inspiring the next generation to pursue STEM subjects and careers.
I’ve been a medicinal chemist working in drug discovery research for GSK for almost 10 years, working on medicines for different respiratory diseases. I love my job. I find it challenging and rewarding and I am privileged to work alongside some truly talented people.
I strongly believe that to achieve the best quality scientific research, you need a diversity of people and a diversity of thought. Limiting the people who are engaged in the research limits ideas and ultimately limits what is created at the end. Because of this, helping young people to understand more about STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects, and getting them excited about careers in science, is really important.
My own scientific journey
Before GSK, I did a PhD in Synthetic Chemistry at Imperial College London, and before that an MChem at the University of Oxford. I then joined GSK as a medicinal chemist.
As a medicinal chemist, I design and make molecules of very specific 3D shapes using a series of reactions in a lab – it’s a bit like making a sculpture. Then I put the molecules into a biological system to see what they do. I’ve always found the process beautiful, fascinating and really satisfying.
I typically work with a team of scientists from different disciplines, who share the desire to test a specific hypothesis about how to treat a disease. Our aim is always to develop new medicines that can be industrialised by GSK and offered to patients as a treatment. It’s a great time in my career: one of the drug molecules I contributed to the invention of is going into clinical trials this year. It will be the ultimate test and will determine whether what we designed is good enough to treat patients. It will be the first time something I’ve worked on has reached this hurdle and I’m really excited to see whether it’s as good as we hope it is.
Recently, I started a 12-month secondment in the Crick/GSK Biomedical Linklab, based at the Francis Crick Institute in London. I am working on a project related to searching for new cancer treatments. It’s such an exciting opportunity for me to grow and development myself as a scientist.
Inspiring the next generation
Prior to having my children, I volunteered as part of GSK’s STEM ambassador programme. I got the opportunity to visit several secondary schools and promote science as a career option for girls. I was taken aback by what I perceived to be the influence of gender stereotyping on the children. The stereotyping seemed so subconsciously ingrained that I got the impression the girls were afraid to try to pursue a field they perceived as more difficult to excel in.
I have always had a stubbornness and a desire to persist when others imply that I can’t do so; and I think this has always stood me in pretty good stead. So, I continue to accept invitations to speak at schools.
Now that my daughter has started school, I’ve decided to volunteer at every UK science week. My hope is that the presence of a positive role model, in the form of a mum in a lab coat doing some exciting experiments, might counterbalance some of the stereotypes. The science workshops I have run so far in my local primary school have been a huge amount of fun. I’ve talked about what a scientist does and what it means to do an 'experiment'. I’ve explained that it’s about asking a question about the world around you, exploring the world and then thinking about what you’ve seen.
The importance of role models
As a scientist, I don’t think you can underestimate the influence a female role model can have on the next generation of scientists. Providing access to inspirational female scientists is so important. At GSK, we have several excellent female role models in scientific leadership roles. These senior women, in my experience, have been very generous with their time and energy in mentoring and coaching woman less advanced in their career, like me. There is still a long way to go before achieving a more balanced demographic and gender equality in STEM industries, but I aspire to play a role in correcting that.
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