Dr Sarah Bailey is a Senior Lecturer in neuroscience and pharmacology at the University of Bath. Her research focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying depression and anxiety. Here, Sarah answers questions about life as a researcher, her inspirations and top tips. She is discussing “Is stress killing your brain cells” at the Bristol Broadmead Podium on the 16th July 2016.
SS: Sarah, how did you get to your current position?
SB: I don’t really know – there were many factors! I was the first person in my family to go to University, and I knew very little about academia or getting a job doing research. I had no ambition as an 18 year old to be a University lecturer because I didn’t really know that job existed.
What I did know, was that I was interested in how the body works and how drugs work in the body – so physiology and pharmacology – and I had some vague ideas about maybe working for a drug company one day.
At University I was able to do a placement year working in a research lab and that was the first time I really found out that you could have a career doing science research. The rest of how I got here is down to a combination of luck, perseverance, networking and being in the right place at the right time?!
SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?
SB: Two women inspired me. My mother was not a scientist, but she was very clear that I needed to know what I wanted to do with my life from quite an early age. She encouraged me to think about medicine – becoming a doctor – but I am just not that interested in sick people! This did help me realise that I am interested in medicines, and that’s how I found out about pharmacology. My next door neighbour, Mrs Brookfield, was also my biology teacher at school and she always had the most interesting classes on animal behaviour.
SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research/work?
SB: The complexity of the brain and how little we know about how it works at this point. We know the basic machinery of how a nerve cell works, but how networks of nerve cells combine to produce specific behaviours is really fascinating and we are only just scratching the surface of understanding that.
SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?
SB: The challenge I think. Slightly regretting it now though as the reality of standing on a soapbox for an hour is getting closer!
SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day – excitement? Fear? Thrill? Anticipation?
SB: Yes! All of those!
SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it be?
SB: I’m not sure. I have seen a lot of positive changes in recent years: more female lecturers and researchers, more female staff with families, greater acceptance of part-time working, greater openness in publications, more emphasis on collaborations & team working. I think all of these create a more positive and supportive environment for female researchers.
SS: What would be your top recommendation to a female PhD student considering pursuing a career in academia?
SB: I think for a PhD student one of the most important things is to network because you never know where your next research job is coming from, who is reviewing your papers or your grant applications. So my top recommendation is to get out of the lab; go to conferences, even talks within your own Department. Meet your peers and the leaders in your field – if you are unsure, get your supervisor to introduce you!