Double-blind reviewing to eliminate unconscious bias: Meet Sylvia McLain

Sylvia_mclain_2015Sylvia McLain (@girlinterruptin) is a researcher based at the University of Oxford. Her work is about understanding the interactions between biological molecules at the atomic level in physiologically relevant environments. Catch Sylvia on her Soapbox near Princesshay Square, Exeter City Centre, today this June 13th 1-4pm, where she will be talking about “The importance of water in biology – insights from the atomic scale”.



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

SML: I was competitively awarded an EPSRC Career Acceleration Fellowship to start my own research group at the University of Oxford.


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

SML: Definitely not one thing or person, but many things – although it is difficult to put a finger on exactly what.  I do aspire to be a good scientist now that I am one and have had several role models a long the way in this respect.  Both my PhD and post-doctoral supervisors were excellent, thoughtful scientists and this is the kind of scientist I aspire to be.


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

SML: My group looks at the structure of molecules on the atomic scale using neutron scattering techniques.  This is one of the few techniques that allows you to directly see things like hydrogen bonds between water and drugs for instance.  We are able to look at aspects of life on the molecular level which is extremely exciting.


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

SML: I was asked to apply and I thought why not?  I am very opinionated and like to talk so I am all too happy to talk about my research to anyone who is willing to listen.


SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day – excitement? fear? thrill? anticipation?

SML: Daunted


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

SML: I would have double-blind reviewing for all scientific journals – where the referees don’t know the authors names. This has been done in some economic journals in the US and they found and increase in acceptance of work for both women and early career researchers over what happens when the referees know your name.  This would be a significant step towards eliminating unconscious bias.



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


Go for it, try not to be over come with fear/depression/worry about unconscious bias, which always exists but if you want to do it, just go for it and try your best to stay positive


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