Each for Equal

CEB scientists share their thoughts on careers in engineering and biotech for International Women's Day


Dr Andrea Bistrovic-Popov, Postdoctoral Researcher, Bionano Engineering Group

“My research is focused on the design and synthesis of nanomaterials, as drug delivery systems for the treatment of pancreatic cancer.

“I am very proud of the opportunity to work with an exceptional and multi-disciplinary team, where I can conduct research that is of great importance for people with cancer.

I think we need to acknowledge that there are more women in STEM than ever before and that women have been responsible for some of the most important scientific breakthroughs that shaped the modern world.

“So far, I have not experienced any inequality in my scientific career, but from discussions with my colleagues I would say that one of the major challenges women are facing is successfully balancing work and family life. Institutions and team leaders have to work towards providing a supportive environment to promote equality.

“Choose a career you love. If you like to explore and solve problems, science is a great choice. It is always exciting and you can make a change. When you love what you do, work doesn’t feel like work.”

Peace Adesina, PhD student, Sustainable Reaction Engineering Group

"My research is centred around the electrochemical reduction of CO2 - one of the likely future major technologies for large scale chemical energy storage. My proudest accomplishment is the ability to not just survive but thrive in a challenging field in one of the world’s best universities as a woman up till the doctoral level.

"I have honed my adaptability and versatility having studied in four different countries. Although there is a changing dynamic with the increasing number of women in the male-dominated field globally, there is still work to be done in the area of mentorship. This includes instilling in young women the confidence and resilience to make ground-breaking research or even spin-off companies in a competitive environment, regardless of ethnicity.

"To those considering STEM as a career path, everything you need to succeed is within you amidst the hurdles. There are no limits to how far you can reach.

"You just have to be willing to work hard, to bring unique perspectives to the table, remain tenacious and self-driven, and unapologetically walk through new paths, for they often lead to new discoveries, not only for yourself, but the world at large.

Dr Róisín Owens, University Lecturer and PI, Bioelectronic Systems Technology Group

“I am a University lecturer and a proud fellow of Newnham College where I work as an Admissions Tutor for STEM. I am also co-director of the Sensors CDT and focus a lot on equality, diversity and inclusion related issues within the CDT.

“My research group works on bioelectronics of in vitro systems – specifically integrated with organs-on-chips and membranes-on-chips.

“I have many proud moments, but one of my proudest was receiving the Suffrage Science Award.

"I think there is a lack of acceptance of different ways of achieving goals from people of different backgrounds. For a long time, it has been white men who set agendas and whose working methods are deemed to be the correct ones. That needs to change.

“Persevere in trying to do something that makes you want to go to work in the morning. Take all the help you can get, and don’t feel that accepting help makes you less equal, it will actually contribute to making you more equal.”

Sina Schack, PhD student, Molecular Microbiology Group

"I think my curiosity lead me to study science. There is something truly fascinating about working out for yourself how the world works, and a constant thirst for wanting to know the answer is motivation enough to get through the tough times.

“I never regretted my choice because it is exactly what I enjoy. Science never gets boring because there are always more questions than answers. One challenge leads to another, and I learn something new every day."

Dr Ioanna Mela, Research Associate, Laser Analytics Group       

“I am working on developing correlative imaging platforms, such as AFM/STED and AFM/FLIM, with the aim to provide simultaneous characterisation of biological samples in terms of their functional, structural and mechanical properties. I am also working on the characterisation of the mechanical properties of neuronal cells, and how these differ between healthy cells and cells that carry mutations that lead to neurodegenerative diseases.

“Another aspect of my research that is a bit different to the main focus of the lab, but equally as exciting, is the development of a drug delivery system based on DNA origami that can sense and specifically bind to bacteria.

“I took seven months off when I had my little girl, and while I enjoyed having the time with her when she was tiny, it was a big break out of research. The nature of our job is such that it cannot stay static – projects run, students need to finish their PhDs, and publications need to keep moving. Keeping on top of that was an interesting exercise, and while I felt supported both within my family and in my workplace, it does take a toll on your output as a researcher. I found that it is things such as keeping collaborations active and maintaining your presence in your field the most challenging.

“It was also challenging coming back to work, and the main reason was the sudden lack of flexibility. Being a researcher usually comes with some flexibility in working hours. This is completely taken away when you have to work within nursery times. If an experiment overruns a little bit, an extra 15 minutes to finish it might seem like nothing, but it becomes a big deal if it is 15 minutes past the nursery closing time! It was a shock initially, but you do learn to plan better and work more efficiently.

"I did share the parental leave with my husband, which was very helpful, both for me as a professional and for us as a family. I feel that there is still a lot of room for improvement both within the University and at a national level, but I would like to focus on a scheme within the University that is indeed very supportive. This is the Returning Carers Scheme, which provides small amounts of funding for people coming back from having taken a break for caring responsibilities of any sort.

“I do not think it is obvious how beneficial it can be. I only applied to it because I was encouraged by an amazing woman in the Department of Pharmacology, Professor Laura Itzhaki. The first time I got funding to cover the costs of attending the 63rd Biophysical Society Conference in Baltimore, US.

"Being able to present my research in the foremost conference of my field was an invaluable opportunity after coming back from a career break."

"This also presented an opportunity to get in touch with collaborators and reignite an old collaborative project. This led to me applying for the second round of funding, which will help me visit Professor Hiroshi Sugiyama’s group in Kyoto, Japan, to establish a new line of our collaborative research.

“I feel that those two opportunities have helped rebuild my confidence as a researcher and have significantly boosted my opportunities upon returning to work.”

Dr Ljiljana Fruk, Reader and PI, Bionano Engineering Group

“There is something magic about taking a glimpse into the nature of things and the laws that govern our part of the universe. Science is not only for the curious, and those who want to understand, but also for those who can persevere, and enjoy the small steps as much as the giant leaps.

"I studied chemistry because I wanted to know why the leaves turn brown in the autumn, how my dad could turn sweet grape juice into wine (it was not my dad, it turns out, but rather the microorganism that drives the fermentation!), and how the International Space Station can stay in the orbit of the Earth and not fall down."

“And I learned all of this, and so much more… and the learning never stops.

“I’d like to be part of something that has a power to transform the way we live, the way we see the world, and something that teaches us to appreciate that same world a bit more. For me that was chemistry, for somebody else it might be marine biology, mineralogy or particle physics.”

Jana M. Weber, PhD student, Sustainable Reaction Engineering Group

“My research aim is to improve sustainability within chemical reaction engineering through the use of network science.

"I am most proud of seeing my own ideas become reality. For instance, planning, hosting, and leading workshops about sustainability were great experiences, which made me very proud."

“I wouldn’t be sure if it is the biggest hurdle, but I think one hurdle is the influence throughout childhood and afterwards, for example, from the media, society, family, cultural standards, or even biases in languages. I believe these influences can make equality difficult in basically every field.

“I would encourage everyone to choose a career that they are most interested in or curious about. STEM fields are exciting and you will find many amazing people, completely independent from their gender, who will support and listen to you if there are any problems.”

Dr Chiara Gandini, Postdoctoral Researcher, Open Bioeconomy Group

“I grew up in a small village in the Italian Alps with plenty of nature and silence around me. The professional choices I’ve made so far were aimed at challenging my views of the world. I did a degree in biotechnology because I had strong doubts in the usefulness of genetic modified organisms. It turned out I was wrong.

“Participating in the Skolar Award and being a part of the eight finalists was exciting and an immense honour as well. We were trained by an amazing team from Kaskas Media on how to communicate science to the public, including journalists, and how we can tap into the potential benefits of social media. During that time, we also had to work on how each of us could best deliver a three minute killer pitch in front of 2000 people at Slush, the biggest start-up event in the world.

"Keep doing what you like and work hard. Be strong and be nice."

"Unfortunately, some places aren’t conducive to a collaborative effort and you’ll need to survive them through resilience. Gender discrimination is one of the main reasons I don’t see myself moving back to Italy. I am particularly impressed and grateful for the efforts put in by Cambridge University and many UK institutions to fight all sorts of discrimination. This will certainly pay off for the economy as well as global research.”

Dr Andrea Bistrovic-Popov

Dr Andrea Bistrovic-Popov

Peace Adesina

Peace Adesina

Dr Róisín Owens receiving her Suffrage Science Award at the Royal Society

Dr Róisín Owens receiving her Suffrage Science Award at the Royal Society

Sina Schack

Sina Schack

Dr Ioanna Mela

Dr Ioanna Mela

Dr Ljiljana Fruk

Dr Ljiljana Fruk

Jana Weber

Jana Weber

Dr Chiara Gandini and Chiara on stage at Slush

Dr Chiara Gandini and Chiara on stage at Slush

Discover our research

Half of the research groups in our deparment are lead by women. Find out more about their research in areas such as imaging, sensor technologies for affordable health diagnostics and chemical process development.


Bioelectronic Systems Technology

Dr Róisín Owens

Bionano Engineering

Dr Ljiljana Fruk

Cambridge Analytical Biotechnology - Hall Laboratory

Professor Lisa Hall

Cambridge Centre for Neuropsychiatric Research

Professor Sabine Bahn


Professor Dame Lynn Gladden, Dr Mick Mantle, Dr Andy Sederman


Dr Ewa Marek with Professor John Dennis

Fluids and Environment

Professor Silvana Cardoso

Magnetic Resonance

Professor Dame Lynn Gladden, Dr Mick Mantle, Dr Andy Sederman

Molecular Engineering

Professor Jacqueline Cole

Molecular Neuroscience

Dr Gabriele Kaminski Schierle

Paste, Particle and Polymer Processing: P4G

Professor Ian Wilson, Dr Bart Hallmark, Dr Sarah Rough

Process Integration

Dr Laura Torrente