The academic route is not for the fainthearted: Meet Samantha Terry

samathaDr Samantha Terry is currently a lecturer in Radiobiology at King’s College London. She is a biologist and has participated in many different type of science communication, including ‘I’m a scientist, get me out of here’ and ‘Pint of Science’.

Here, she describes her experience of working in research and how being a woman in science should not detract from achieving ones goals. Catch Samantha on her Soapbox on Saturday 28th May in London where she will be discussing ‘Is all radiation damage bad?’.



SS: Samantha, how did you get to your current position?

ST: I am currently a lecturer at King’s College London, which means I give lectures (as the name suggests) and I lead my own group of PhD students and postdoctoral researchers who carry out the research I (and they) are interested in. At least, that is the plan. Currently the size of my group is 1: me. I first did an undergraduate in Cell Biology, followed by a PhD in Radiobiology, 3 postdoctoral research positions (at Oxford, in the Netherlands, and at KCL) and finally a lectureship position in 2015. I got this position by great teamwork, hard work and by gaining experience in a mix of research fields, which makes me as a researcher stand out from the crowd.


SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?

ST: I really only followed my own intuition. I didn’t especially set out to have a career in science, but I simply took it one step at a time. At school, I had never had much biology and yet I did enjoy it, so I decided to do an undergraduate in the subject to see what else I might enjoy. I also took classics, however I realized that my potential to get a job with studying biology was greater.

A 4th year undergraduate research project put me in a great position to get a PhD in the same group. I would love to say I had a plan, but I just thought it would be interesting to carry out the PhD research project and I had no other plans so I did that. Next, Oxford happened – despite it meaning a 2-year long distance relationship between Oxford and Seattle, I simply could not say no to working at Oxford. No need to worry, we are now married with a house 🙂

The Netherlands position was perhaps the first time I made a conscious decision of what kind of research I needed to do next in order for my research career to thrive. I choose the field of radionuclide imaging because it would allow me to learn new skills in an excellent and world-renowned group.

Finally, I landed at King’s College London, which was mostly down to luck but also down to being able to use my network. I got a great position, which led to my lectureship, at a great university in a city where my husband, a physicist, was also able to get job fabulous for his scientific career.


SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research/work?

ST: In my case, what fascinates me most is that with the work I carry out now, I might be able to carve a completely new research field and become an internationally respected leader in the field. This is what drives me from day-to-day. What I absolutely love about the job is the fact that I get to collaborate with many different research groups from different countries with a range of research interests that initially might not look related to the work I carry out. Also, I get the chance to work with industry and potentially see my work translated to the clinic much faster than I could possible achieve on my own.


SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?

ST: Some of my colleagues had participated in the past. Also I like to push the boundaries and I think it is a great opportunity to show people that you can do well as a woman in science. Rather than sitting in my office writing grants or discussing papers/theses/experiments, I get to see how well (or terribly) I do when I am pushed to try something I normally never get the chance to do.


SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day – excitement? Fear? Thrill? Anticipation?

ST: Fear – definitely fear. Oh and apprehension.


SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it be?

I unfortunately have to mention two things.

  1. My first bugbear is the temporariness of the contracts of postdoctoral researchers. It is hard to produce excellent work when you have a contract of only two years as this in reality means you almost need to be looking for the next job just as you have started your new position. This is even more pronounced when you have to move countries to gain a new position, as we all are recommended to do.
  1. The scientific culture is very much oriented around funding and publishing papers. This in turn means that science is often not pursued unless we know the project will work. There is very little scope for blue-sky research where the potential impact to the world is unclear.


SS: What would be your top recommendation to a female PhD student considering pursuing a career in academia?

ST: I have no female-specific recommendations, as I firmly believe that being a female should not detract from achieving your goals, regardless of how big they might be. I would however recommend any PhD student to seriously think about whether the academic route with all its uncertainties is the way for you. It is not for the fainthearted. Also, if you do decide to stay in research, make sure you integrate yourself into the field and make connections. These, if positive, will help you along every part of your career.



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