To celebrate ‘International Day of Women and Girls in Science’, we caught up with Izzy Matthews, a Laboratory Technical Specialist for Newcastle University, based at Life. Izzy carries out cutting-edge research into muscle degeneration in dystrophic patients (these are people who have genetic conditions that lead to progressive deterioration and loss of muscle).
What does your role involve?
The main aim of my role is to find new drugs that may help slow down muscle degeneration in dystrophic patients. It’s an amazing project and continues the line of research of my masters.
I also meet with collaborators and funding bodies to discuss projects, and ensure the lab runs smoothly by maintaining stock and samples, as well as dealing with muscle biopsies that come in.
How did you get into this role?
After completing my masters project at Life last year, my then supervisor (now manager) encouraged me to apply for the Laboratory Technical Specialist vacancy. I enjoyed my project and liked the Centre for Life so much that I couldn’t say no!
What does a typical day at work look like for you?
I do a lot of cell culture, which means growing and looking after cells so we can test potential new drugs on them. I also carry out tests like viability assays, which is analysing how many cells are alive or dead to determine how toxic a drug is.
We have regular lab meetings – the collaborative ethos at Life is one of the best things about it – and I’m helping train new masters students, whose position I was in last year!
What do you enjoy about your work?
I love lab work and the methodical nature of my project – it’s satisfying to get results and then figure out the next step. I find it really exciting to use all the technology and equipment I learned about at school – the novelty has not worn off!
I also love how so many of the team here are women. I find it really empowering when we are on team calls and such a large number of the faces I can see are women, and across so many different disciplines, researchers and clinicians and more!
Why do you feel it’s important to encourage more girls and women into science?
While the discourse is much better than it used to be in terms of equal opportunities for the sexes, I think there are still big disparities in what people choose to pursue, or even believe they should or can pursue. For example, I know a lot of STEM degrees are still heavily male dominated, and the workforce even more so, which just doesn’t make sense.
I’ve had amazing female supervisors throughout my university career, and it has definitely given me greater self-confidence and belief in my abilities than I think I would have felt in a totally male-dominated environment.
It’s also important because we need all the brains we can get! We need more female and non-binary scientists to help combat gender bias in the industry – everyone brings something different to the table. We can’t solve all of the problems with half of the brains.
And finally, for any girls and young women considering a career in STEM, what advice would you give them?
Aim high and go for it! When you are the youngest in the room – let alone one of the only women – there can be a lot of imposter syndrome, so just back yourself and know that you belong there as much as anyone else.