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Merck, Sharp & Dohme Scientists support Women in Chemistry

Image courtesy Department of Chemistry

Three outstanding women scientists and senior members of the Merck, Sharp & Dohme research team visited the department in May.

The researchers described how as role models they are helping to address the gender imbalance in the chemical and pharmaceutical sectors.  

Athena SWAN Committee Chair, Dr Nick Bampos, introduced the speakers, Dr Emma Parmee, Dr Caroline McGregor and Dr Rebecca Ruck, who then spoke about their backgrounds in chemistry, and how they found themselves pursuing careers with MSD which have taken them to the very top levels of the company.

Dr McGregor fondly remembered her days in the department, where she gained her PhD under the guidance of (now Emeritus) Professor Tony Kirby.  Tackling the question of gender imbalance in the industry Dr Ruck said: “My experience as a grad student parallels my experience today. We don’t have that many women in senior and leadership roles and that can be challenging.  What I can say is, I see an opportunity to change things and the onus is on the likes of us and our male colleagues to help change the environment.”

A lively question and answer session brought out a number of themes:

  • Forming a strong network is very important, so find people who can point you in the right direction and that you can trust.
  • Make thoughtful work choices that also suit your home life but also be courageous with your choices.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for an opportunity, as some of the best opportunities you can make yourself.
  • In today's industry 'change' is the norm so, get comfortable with the idea of change.
  • Don't be afraid to say 'no' sometimes.
  • Call out casual sexism when you experience it, not just for yourself but for all those who follow you.

Dr Bampos suggested bringing outstanding women chemists into the department to share their experiences and discuss career paths in today's pharmaceutical industry with current graduates and postdocs goes some way to facing the historical gender imbalance in the sciences. He said the discussion will also help inform the department's own initiatives through the Athena SWAN program to be aware of and to improve opportunities and participation for women in chemistry.  

Dr Bampos hoped the event honoured the department's commitment to prepare the next generation of scientists for the world outside Cambridge by providing pathways to great career opportunities.  He said of the department's commitment to postdocs and graduate students: "We attract brilliant scientists, male, female, local, international. Our job is to prepare this generation of scientists to go out and do great things. We want to make sure that we give you every opportunity to do what you want to do in the future."