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In her footsteps…

Dr Ellie Williams interviews Associate Professor Erika Mancini, a Group Head in the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, about her experiences as a woman in science. Erika started out her career as a physicist before moving to Molecular Biology. They discuss Erika’s career pathway, Dorothy Hodgkin and whether Erika thinks things are changing for women in science.

Introduction

This is a podcast of the Nuffield Department of Medicine (NDM). As part of in her footsteps series,

We are speaking today to Professor Erika Mancini.

So hi Erika. I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about yourself.

Erika Mancini: Hi Ellie. So my name is Erika Mancini, and I'm a PI here at the NDM. I started off my career as a physicist, and I moved on to microbiology. I did a PhD in crystallography. I now lead a small team of people, and we work on proteins that are important for the epigenetic control of DNA.

Ellie Williams: So, what do you find the most rewarding part of your job?

Erika Mancini: The most rewarding part of science, I think, is the act of discovery, so the little discoveries that you make that are really going to make a small but important difference on the understanding of a mechanism and so, biology. And I also enjoy very much working as part of the team. So, I lead a small team of persons, and I really enjoy the fact that we are all working together towards a common line.

Ellie Williams: This is the international year of crystallography, and as a fellow crystallographer, I'm sure you found Dorothy Hodgkin as inspiring as I found her. She often used to say that she thought that the future was looking hopeful for women in science. What do you think she'd say about the situation today?

Erika Mancini: Yeah, obviously Dorothy Hodgkin has been a great inspiration. She is famously a Nobel Prize-winning crystallographer and also a mother of three. She famously would comment that, in fact, people should not say anything about the fact that she had a Nobel Prize because, in the future, it would be so common for women to have Nobel Prizes that it wouldn't even be an issue. Obviously, things haven't really gone that way. Since she had her Nobel Prize, there actually hasn't been since a British-winning female Nobel Prize. So, I think she would be a little bit disappointed about the low level of women achieving high positions in academia. On the other hand, I think she'll be very pleased that a lot more women start a career in science, and perhaps there is no such overt discrimination as there was at her time on women starting a career.

Ellie Williams: So how's it been for you?

Erika Mancini: It's been great; I love doing research. Since I've had my family, I have had two small ones, which has been very challenging. I would say that having a career and a family is a challenging task. Nonetheless, I think that it is possible. It just needs a lot of organisation and really, a good skillset timekeeping.

Ellie Williams: Can you tell me one initiative that you found helpful in your career?

Erika Mancini: Well, I think that throughout my career and specifically in these last years of having a family, I've been supported very much by the department. So the NDM has provided a very nurturing environment. A lot of the initiatives, including the NDM Athena SWAN initiatives, have made it possible to really talk about the issues surrounding women's careers and the difficulties that everyone faces constructing a young family. And also, specifically for me, I think that it's been beneficial. I have benefited from the initiatives or re-entry after maternity leave. So the NDM provides some support for women that have taken a career break and want to get back. So I think that's made a huge difference in my research, both really financially in terms of giving the lab running, but also psychologically. I really think it made me valued as a scientist, and I know that NDM values my contribution.

Ellie Williams: Thank you very much.