This interview is part of a series of interviews of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting to increase the visibility of women in research (more information for and about women in science by “Women in Research” on Facebook and Twitter).
Rhiannon Edge, 25, from the UK, is a senior teaching associate at the Lancaster Medical School in Lancaster, in the UK. She completed of her PhD in Statistics and Epidemiology in 2017. Enjoy the interview with Rhiannon and get inspired.
What inspired you to pursue a career in science?
I think rather than aspire to have a career in science, I chose to study and work on things I found interesting (first mathematics and disease modelling which has developed into interests in population health). Some parts of my life have helped to shape these interests – for example, I grew up on a farm and I was embedded within this community during the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic in Britain. I have often reflected on this experience particularly when thinking about epidemic models; I think this has definitely encouraged me to better understand certain elements of science, but I wouldn’t say that this alone has provided inspiration for a career in science.
Who are your role models?
I have many role models from various settings, my academic role models definitely include my supervisor and good friend Dr Rachel Isba – because she can juggle the work of at least four people whilst maintaining some work-life balance. Also, my sister Giselle Edge, who recently started a PhD at Dundee University, she has a completely unique way of thinking about problems – I believe that people who think outside the box will revolutionise science in the future.
How did you get to where you are in your career path?
My parents have always encouraged me to believe that anything is possible. I did not particularly excel early on in school, but I was good at mathematics and logic. After some debate about whether or not to pursue a career as an artist I ended up attending Newcastle University to study Mathematics with Biology. Towards the end of my degree, I became quite interested in the effects of social mixing patterns and social networks on disease spread (and later on the social influences on health behaviour). I approached Dr Rachel Isba to do a PhD in this field in 2013. By the time I completed my PhD in 2017, it had evolved and developed, and I had acquired several more supervisors (Dr Thomas Keegan, Dr Dawn Goodwin and Prof. Peter Diggle) to inform my academic development.
What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
So far, the coolest project I have worked on is a qualitative research project investigating the seasonal influenza vaccination behaviour of healthcare workers. I think this is the coolest project because the methodology was so different to the types I had used previously. I immersed myself in a research environment completely different (and yet sometimes quite similar) to my quantitative background.
What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself or your work?
I really did feel very proud of myself on the day I passed my PhD viva. It was an incredibly significant day for me.
What is a “day in the life” of Rhiannon like?
My days are completely variable! I’d love to say that I started every morning with a protein shake and a 5-mile run, unfortunately, this is not quite the case! At the moment, I have a very variable timetable; I do some teaching and teaching related work as well as some research.
What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?
I haven’t really figured out exactly what I hope to accomplish in my career yet. I am definitely looking for the next big challenges post-PhD. Ultimately, I want to leave my career knowing that I made a difference – that I have used my scientific ability to help people in some way. I very much enjoy teaching students and I would like to be able to encourage the next generation of scientists & medical professionals to push the boundaries of science further.
What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?
When I’m not doing work I love being outside; I really enjoy taking my dog for walks in the countryside. I like playing sport and try to play netball two or three times a week. I think maintaining a good work life balance is the best way to be productive.
What advice do you have for other women interested in science?
My advice to women interested in science is much the same as my advice to anyone doing anything – to jump into it with both feet – I fully believe it is best to be committed wholeheartedly to whatever you are trying to do (that way you will never completely fail). Find a subject you enjoy and do things your own way. Too often, we are told what is expected of us, how things should be done, what should happen and when – my advice is to avoid this wherever possible and do exactly what feels right for you. I think we are entering a new age for women in science, and we have a responsibility to exploit this opportunity wherever possible – I hope that by the time I retire, women will make up 50% of the scientific workforce regardless of seniority. If this happens we will have truly broken the glass ceiling for future generations.
In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in physiology or medicine?
The next major breakthrough in science and medicine I think will probably come from gene editing – there is a huge potential here that we are only just realising. I think future ground-breaking developments will come through interdisciplinary work and collaborative problem solving.
What should be done to increase the number of female scientists and female professors?
I think that the number of female scientists and professors will increase gradually over time regardless of interventions. However, if we hope to speed up this rate of change to get to equality faster I think that there has to be greater incentives for women to stay involved in academia as they approach the middle of their careers.