This chapter focuses in on the field of supramolecular chemistry. It gives an overview of the kind of interdisciplinary STEM research it encompasses, as well as the history and background to WISC. WISC was launched in November 2019, and aims to support women and those who are marginalised to progress within supramolecular chemistry through creating a sense of community and kinship. WISC’s ethos is to be area-specific, and to embed high-quality qualitative and social science research approaches to research with and not on scientists.

This chapter focuses in on the field of supramolecular chemistry. It gives an overview of the kind of interdisciplinary STEM research it encompasses, as well as the history and background to WISC.

It was Jean-Marie Lehn who first coined the term ‘Supramolecular’ and, alongside Charles Pederson and Donald Cram, won the 1987 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for innovations establishing this scientific field. Lehn described supramolecular chemistry as ‘chemistry beyond the molecule’ with the aim of ‘developing highly complex chemical systems from components interacting by non-covalent intermolecular forces’.1 Therefore, supramolecular chemistry can simply be defined as the study of the non-covalent interactions between molecules. This is often referred to as a host–guest scenario in which reversible interactions temporally hold together two or more chemical species, thus forming a supermolecule. In essence, you can think of these supramolecular reversible interactions that hold molecular species together as a type of atomic hook and loop fastening, similar to those developed by VELCRO®. If you pull the hook and loop partner strips apart, they remain unaltered; bring them back together and they will stick to each other, holding two pieces of material in place. This is a process that can be repeated, depending on the quality of your hooks and loops, an infinite number of times, and is the key principle behind all areas of supramolecular chemistry.

However, despite the scale and scientific diversity within this area of study, there is a significant lack of representation for women. For example:

  • Only 12 publications were included in a 2018 Special Issue of Supramolecular Chemistry highlighting the achievements of women across the international community. This can be compared to the 27 articles included within a 2013 Special Issue dedicated to Professor Rocco Ungaro.2

  • Only 5 international women principal investigators attended the 2018 UK RSC’s annual Supramolecular and Macrocyclic Chemistry (MASC) interest group symposium (150 attendees).

  • Male speakers outnumbered women 4:1 at the 2019 International Supramolecular and Macrocyclic Chemistry (ISMSC) conference.

  • Only 2 women have won the RSC’s Bob Hay lectureship prize for supramolecular chemistry in the period 1991–2021. Similarly, in that time only 2 women have won the Izatt–Christenen Award, and only 1 woman has won the Cram Lehn Pedersen prize 2011–2021.3

  • Until 2019 only 2 women had served on the RSC’s MASC committee since 2001, and in 2021 2 out of 25 were women, and all committee members presented as white.

As we saw in Chapters Three and Four, the chemical sciences are a discipline that has had less success at achieving parity or representation when it comes to gender balance and diversity. When women are in a minority, then it is more likely that they will feel isolated. One way to combat feelings of isolation is for women to establish their own networks to help themselves and each other. This is how WISC began.

History of WISC

WISC developed along a number of different threads that coalesced at the same time. The first, and probably the most important thread, was the friendship between a small group of young, early- and mid-career women in the field: Jennifer Hiscock, Anna McConnell, Cally Haynes, and Claudia Caltagirone. They realised that they needed more support and organised themselves to have bi-weekly online meetings to generally connect, talk about their research, publications, and grant proposals. These women had something that earlier generations of women in science did not have – a peer group. Their friendship laid the ground for what became an informal online peer-mentoring group. They read each other’s grant and fellowship applications, collaborated on projects, and supported each other through job applications and moves to different countries. By 2019, they began to be approached by other women in the field who wished to join their unintentional peer-mentoring group, including Marion Kieffer, and realised that the successes they were seeing as a result of their support of each other was something that could be of benefit to others. They felt that the reason their peer group was so valuable was because it was a field-specific approach to mentoring rather than general or even discipline-specific. They garnered the support of two of the most senior women in supramolecular chemistry – Professors Kate Jolliffe and Michaele Hardie – to support their idea to roll out clusters of mentoring to other women. However, before they rolled anything out, they wanted to survey the supramolecular community to ascertain whether their own ideas about supporting early-career researchers were the same as those in the rest of the community.

The second thread comes in at this stage. As they had little experience of designing and implementing surveys or any form of social science research, Jennifer Hiscock reached out to another friend, Jennifer Leigh. The Jens had met while Jen H took a mandatory teacher training programme as a requirement for her probation as a university lecturer. Like many of the scientists forced to take this programme, Jen H was a challenging student, who would much have preferred to spend her time on research, as opposed to being locked in a room with a bunch of social scientists. Jen L was the unfortunate teacher of the class, and quickly realised that if she failed to win Jen H round then the whole group could easily become disrupted. Luckily, she was able to draw on her own background in science4 and the pair formed a connection. When asked by Jen H to have a look at the questions that the group wanted to put to the supramolecular community, Jen L first gave a quick lecture on the need to write survey questions that would give the answers to the research questions, then offered to write the survey herself and put it through ethical approval processes in her department. Jen H responded by co-opting her onto the WISC Board. Jen L brought rigour and knowledge of traditional social science research methods such as surveys and the like to the group. As a higher education researcher she also brought her expertise in academic identity and marginalisation in the academy, and, more controversially, a focus on embodied and creative research approaches designed to reveal and capture the unspoken stories that exist in society.5 The methods WISC has utilised are described in Chapter Two.

WISC believed that mentoring would be the most valuable thing to offer initially. From their own experiences they were particularly aware of the ‘jump’ from post-doc to independent researcher, but they were cautious of projecting their own experiences and assumptions onto others. WISC set about designing a logo and initial website with Rosa Burton (Burton Designs) and put out its first survey. This garnered 100 qualitative responses within the year it was open, reaching data saturation long before this.6 At this time these initial WISC members began reaching out to other members of the supramolecular community to help support WISC’s growth. This included Emily Draper and Anna Slater, followed by Davita Watkins, Nathalie Busschaert, and Kristin Hutchins, who also now hold official Advisory Board positions within the WISC network.

In addition to the small group mentoring programme led by Marion Kieffer, and as a direct response to the results of this first survey, WISC has set up community clusters. The first of these, spearheaded by Emily Draper, was the Parenting Cluster. This included all parents, of any gender, whether they were biological parents, step-parents, foster parents, adoptive parents, or prospective parents. WISC has since formed two new clusters: for those with a disability/chronic illness/neurodivergence and for first-generation supramolecular chemists. These clusters act as arenas for targeted support and discussion that have arisen from survey responses and emails to WISC, and they all approach this targeted support slightly differently. The Parenting Cluster is very research-focused, and aims to provide support, a place to share experiences, to learn, and to document its findings. The Disability/Chronic Illness/Neurodivergence Cluster arose out of Jen L’s work on ableism in academia,710 and is supported by Anna Slater. This group meets regularly to provide a safe space for people within the field to share experiences, give support, and learn from others. The cluster supports much of the advocacy work that is carried out by the NADSN STEMM (National Association for Staff Networks’ Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine) Action Group and members.11,12 In 2021, four members of the cluster, Kira Hilton, Orielia Egambaram, Jen L, and Anna Slater, won funding from the Royal Society of Chemistry for a project to imagine the future accessible laboratory.

The third cluster, for first-generation supramolecular chemists, was launched September 2021, and will likely be much more structured in terms of its activities and research. Half of the WISC board identify as first generation, and it has been recognised that those who are new to higher education experience more barriers than those who already have ‘capital’ and understand the ways in which higher education and career progression work in academia.13 Capital is anything that confers value to its owner, and is used here to represent the idea that some people have knowledge, or connections that enable them to gain knowledge about the way things work.14,15 Within academia and higher education, this might include pre-university understandings of which combinations of subjects are required for study at university, which universities are determined as ‘good’, and, as a graduate student and early-career researcher, access to the ‘hidden handbook’ of academia that lays out what is needed in order to gain funding, publications, promotion, and progression. Capital does not necessarily mean that you know the information yourself; rather that you know the right questions and the right people to ask. The 1st Gen Cluster is likely to encapsulate a large proportion of people from ethnic minorities and diverse backgrounds, including refugees. WISC aims to support equality and diversity within the supramolecular community and hopes to give tools to others by acting as a model for how this framework can ‘call in’ the community to support its own in other fields.

The final threads came as a result of WISC forming officially. WISC initially secured finances through the Royal Society of Chemistry Diversity and Inclusion fund to develop the network, and started to put together grant applications for other funding streams, several of which were successful (see later in the chapter). WISC now has a formal structure, a website (thanks to the Biochemical Society and Dave Robson), and a programme of events and ongoing funded research work, including a part-time research assistant in Sarah Koops, funded by Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel (Germany). Within a year of its official launch in November 2019, WISC had a paper on EDI accepted by one of the most prestigious international chemistry journals.16 The speed of the network’s growth has surprised us all. It speaks to the need to do something different to address marginalisation and inequality in science, and a willingness to try and play with new ideas.

WISC initially set out to address equality, diversity, and inclusion issues in supramolecular chemistry, and to support the retention and progression of women in the field post-PhD. It quickly evolved into an international network of women supporting these issues in the field, not limited just to gender, and to ‘calling in’ the community to support its own. It is easy enough to point the finger at science and scientists, at the structures that support academia and industry, and to call them out as being sexist, racist, and discriminatory.1719 In Chapters Three and Four we briefly touched on the fact that calling out, complaining, or ‘whistleblowing’ as a member of a marginalised group can have adverse career repercussions.2022 As a young woman in science, much as you do not want to be harassed, you also do not want to become known as someone who complains or who causes trouble. As we saw in Chapter One, the low rates of successful prosecution for sexual harassment combined with the minimal consequences for senior men in science who have been accused of the same2325 mean that the impetus is often going to be to ‘put up and shut up’ rather than to make a fuss. WISC’s approach of ‘calling in’ rather than ‘calling out’ aims to create an atmosphere where the community can talk about and address its problems and challenges, and work to find solutions.26 We have found an encouraging amount of support for this approach from senior members of the supramolecular community in person and on social media. One tweeted in vocal support of the reach of our first paper ‘WISC are putting my generation to shame’.27

‘Calling in’ and ‘calling out’

The concept of ‘calling out’ on matters of racism, sexism, ableism, and the like is commonly known.* Within STEM, we can all think of instances where members of the scientific community have been called out on inappropriate behaviour or for their use of inappropriate language. The act of calling out is a direct challenge to another. As such, it can be an intimidating thing to do, since standing up to someone senior to you and telling them that what they are doing is not okay can be frightening and requires a lot of emotional labour. Emotional labour means managing or regulating the feelings and emotions you may have around a task in order to express yourself in a way that means that the task gets done. The canonical example of emotional labour is flight attendants who are required to remain smiling and pleasant in the face of the most stressful of situations (or cantankerous passengers). For the one calling out, there may be unintended consequences to their career, as they might then be seen as a troublemaker. The converse is that being called out can be a threatening thing to be on the end of, particularly if you do not understand the transgression that you have been accused of, or you were doing your best to be supportive of EDI issues but did not get it completely right and are being called out as a backlash. Fear of a backlash might inhibit someone from even trying to make a change or statement on an issue related to EDI. Additionally, responses to being called out are quite often defensive, and can result in behaviour, arguments, or actions that become even more hurtful to those who are doing the calling out.

In contrast, ‘calling in’ has a different ethos. Rather than pointing the finger at others, it is an invitation to discuss something that might be uncomfortable in a safe environment, without fear of getting it wrong, and then to pull together to make positive changes. The field of supramolecular chemistry has an active group of senior researchers who saw the need to develop a field-specific community and welcoming environment for early-career researchers, eventually forming MASC (Macrocyclic and Supramolecular Chemistry Royal Society of Chemistry interest group28). WISC began by reaching out to this community through the two annual MASC symposia; first conducting an anonymous survey to ascertain their views of the problems facing women and those who are marginalised, and then to ask for support in addressing the issues by acting as mentors to those at an earlier career stage. This approach was deliberately non-confrontational, and as such was an invitation to be part of change that will benefit the entire community. To date, unlike some other advocates for EDI within STEM, WISC has had overwhelming support for its activities, and nothing but encouragement from those most senior in the field. We want the work we are engaged in to bring about actions and inspire change from others. In 1979, Audre Lorde, a self-proclaimed Black feminist, poet, and warrior, said that if we want to change things, we need to do them differently.29 Although scientists are not always willing to try things that challenge their assumptions of concepts such as rigour and validity, WISC has taken a creative and reflective approach to ongoing research projects to humanise the reasons why equality work is imperative. While WISC aspires to be an ‘agent of change’ or, to use the phrase Sarah Franklin30(p158) coined, ‘a wench in the works’. We want to do this in an effective way that does not put the careers of our board or members at risk. Even so, standing up and putting our heads above the parapet in this way can be terrifying. One member of the group wrote about how her heart felt when she intentionally put herself out in this way:

I am so aware of my heart pumping and expanding; not sure whether terror or pride mostly terror and fear and instantly on to the next thing but where is the

          p a u s e

the rhythm

the beat.

Projects

To date, WISC has secured funding and support for different projects through professional/learned bodies including the Royal Society for Chemistry, the Biochemical Society; national funding bodies such as UKRI, and the Royal Society/BA APEX;** institutions including the University of Kent, Universita degli Studi di Cagliari, and Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel, and companies including Scot Chem, ChemPlusChem, Crystal Growth & Design, and STREM Chemicals.

These aspects of work interweave and are interconnected (see Figure 5.1) and are all dedicated to meeting the wider WISC aims of supporting women and those who are marginalised to progress within supramolecular chemistry through creating a sense of community and kinship. We summarise some of the main activities we are engaged in in the following sections: the website and logo; events; surveys; support clusters and mentoring; research; and publications.

Figure 5.1:
Figure 5.1:

Interweaving threads of WISC projects

Website and logo

One of the first things WISC did was to create a website. WISC’s logo and website uses colours reminiscent of the suffragettes (see Figure 5.2 for the design of the 2021 pin badge for the first WISC skills workshop and future events, which incorporates the WISC logo). While WISC would never condone militaristic action, we recognise that if we want change to happen we must be responsible for bringing it about rather than waiting for someone to do it for us. We knew that having a logo and identity was really important to establish a presence within the sector. The website acts as a repository for resources, including papers and links to current EDI work in chemistry. There is information on events, such as webinars, and WISC’s own international chemistry skills workshop. There are short descriptions of the Board and Advisory Board members, our terms of reference, links and information on the support clusters, and links to any active surveys or research projects. From the website, people can sign up to the mentoring programme as a mentor or mentee, and contact us to enquire about activities. Although we have had relatively regular conversations about the need or desire for WISC merchandise (notably glitter-infused hoodies as well as more practical display boards and signs), the COVID-19 lockdown and cancellation of in-person events meant that these aspirations were put on the backburner.

Figure 5.2:
Figure 5.2:

Design for enamel badge incorporating the WISC logo

Events

After an initial in-person panel event at the early-career researcher MASC event held in the summer of 2019, WISC launched in-person at the December 2019 MASC symposium, which was attended by supramolecular chemists of all genders and career stages. The COVID-19 pandemic put paid to plans to run similar invited sessions at MASC and ISMSC (the International Symposium of Macrocyclic and Supramolecular Chemistry) and to hold the first WISC Skills Workshop in Cagliari in September 2020. However, the pivot to online facilitated a collaboration between WISC and vMASC (the virtual MASC early career group), which resulted in a successful series of webinars. These have included a WISC panel, a session on science communication with Vivienne Parry, work–life balance with Professor Jeremy Sanders, careers sessions focusing on options outside of academia, sessions on intellectual property and gaining research funding, and a session showcasing the work of mentors and mentees.

The first WISC Skills Workshop, led by Claudia Caltagirone, was postponed to September 2021, and was shifted to become a hybrid event, with vMASC running the virtual elements. The workshop focused on providing a gender-balanced programme of speakers, opportunities for early-career researchers to present, and retained the area-specific focus that WISC specialises in while championing equality. The virtual element, which was free to all who registered, allowed participation from across different continents and countries, including Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America. The workshop report31 and a conference report published in Nature Chemistry32 show that it met its aims. The plan is for the skills workshop to be a bi-annual event.

Surveys

Our first survey looked to explore what the supramolecular chemistry community wanted from an organisation like WISC.*** In one year, we had 100 responses, from PhD students through to senior independent researchers. Of these respondents, 81% identified as women, and 10% identified as having a protected characteristic (such as race, religion, ethnicity, LGBTQ+, disability). The largest group of respondents were independent researchers, followed by PhD students and postdoctoral researchers. The majority of respondents were positive about WISC, and what we were trying to do:

This is a wonderful initiative and I would be absolutely delighted to contribute to it at any capacity!

There is a shortage of role models for women. I have participated in conferences with 1% of women as speakers, it is clear that women are underrepresented. We need to support each other through experience sharing and make each other visible, at least among ourselves, to be able to promote each other.

Continue with the great ideas! It would be good to discuss issues surrounding the effects of parental leave on careers and how to minimise this, particularly with respect to getting funding bodies on board with these adaptations.

There was support for all the ideas we put forward for events, webinars, research, and mentoring. The importance of mentoring was mentioned:

From personal experience I have found that regular mentoring and support makes a world of difference in terms of career development. As a female in science, there are often other factors to consider, such as family constraints, and having support from other women who are in a similar circumstance may be advantageous.

Advice, knowing their route into supramolecular chemistry, mentoring sounds really useful too :-)

The findings from the first survey led to the development of WISC’s initial offerings to the community, including a mentoring programme that used a model where small groups of mentees were paired with a mentor at least one career stage ahead of them. Resources on mentoring were included on the website, and mentees and mentors were asked to complete a mentoring agreement, and to meet once a month. The mentoring groups are now regularly surveyed to check satisfaction, and to date 90% are very satisfied with the programme and would recommend it to others.

The survey also asked about barriers to developing as an independent researcher, and career breaks. We found that there was a divide in how people spoke about career breaks according to gender – the men who responded shared that their experiences had been positive:

Half a year parental leave. No troubles returning, at least that I noticed.

My return was smooth, as this was managed within my contract as a faculty member.

Once I returned, all of my former colleagues and peers were amazingly supportive.

Whereas women often had very different experiences:

Support is patchy, expectations are wildly different, and I lost a first authorship which may have affected how people perceive my career. Some in the community are incredibly supportive. Some less so.

I started as a professor immediately after finishing mat [sic] leave, so I didn’t have work to catch up. Overall, my transition was smooth. However, reviewers DON’T SEEM TO PAY ATTENTION to the ‘Leave of Absence’ entry in the CV. on my grant review, only 1/3 reviewers acknowledge the leave.

On returning I found I was behind on my research and unsupported.

Younger women were very apprehensive about taking career breaks in the future:

I am quite scared about having kids before getting permanent/more stable.

From past hearsay and departments I’ve worked in, it’s almost as though women who have taken career breaks in chemistry seem to just fall off the radar, with no support from the department, and that those that really push forwards with their career are seen to be really ‘pushy’ or ‘over-reaching’, which is awful! Needs to change.

Findings from WISC’s second survey, exploring experiences of being in and running research groups through COVID-19 and the impact on mental health were submitted to a leading chemistry journal, and are shared in more detail in Chapter Seven.

Support clusters and mentoring

As mentioned, the support clusters and mentoring programme have been running since early 2020. The clusters all have regular events, or activities, and the mentoring programme had 7 mentors and 19 mentees from three different continents as of July 2021. The mentoring groups were constructed to bring 1–4 mentees together around a more senior academic (one or two career stages ahead) in order to create a support network beyond the usual one-to-one mentoring relationship. The groups usually meet once a month, with more frequent informal catch-ups between the mentees encouraged. Mentees are given the opportunity to reflect on the sessions through a mentoring log. The doubling of numbers between the first and second year of the mentoring programme shows the increased interest of the community for field-specific mentoring. We expect the network to continue to expand, with the usual intake of new mentees increasing after conferences and events where WISC talks about the network and programme. Such events should be facilitated again in the post-COVID-19 world.

Research

WISC has a number of ongoing research projects, and the methods used within these are discussed in Chapter Two. These projects include a collaborative autoethnography project that crosses continents to enable participants to find points of connection as women PIs explore life inside and outside the laboratory. Findings from this are shared in Chapter Seven, and were used to feed into the vignettes woven throughout this book. The collaborative autoethnography was originally planned in order to explore how women PIs could enhance the communication of their teams, facilitate more moments of inspiration and creativity that occur in order to increase the quantity and quality of their scientific outputs.

Linked to this, Jen L has also worked with two research groups, using reflective and creative approaches directly to enhance their capabilities as scientists. The groups met with her bi-weekly, and each meeting had an aim, or topic for discussion. She enjoys this work, describing herself as “filled with fizz” after a session. Topics have included the qualities and attributes of a chemist, what pressure feels like, and motivations, for example. The work from the groups fed back into the collaborative autoethnography sessions, which then fed into the research groups of all the members.

WISC has a public engagement project running, linked to the BA APEX-funded study. This project specifically looks to engage with people without a science degree, and is aimed at young girls and those from marginalised groups. Outputs utilise materials and footage from the main study, and edit them into YouTube and YouTube360 video shorts. It will also incorporate in-person workshops using some of the creative and reflective tasks employed with the laboratory research groups, when such events are allowed again after COVID-19 restrictions are eased.

Publications

To date, WISC board members have published a number of blogs, an editorial,33 an article for the UK professional magazine,34 two peer-reviewed papers,16,35 and have more in the pipeline, including a chapter in a book titled Women in Academia: Voicing Narratives of Gendered Experiences in Higher Education.36 We wanted to ensure that our work was disseminated to a wide audience – of those who work in and around STEM, as well as those who work in and around academia.

Aspirations and plans

WISC has aspirations to increase its reach into other continents. Jens L and H were asked to contribute a workshop to a ‘bootcamp’ run by EFeMS (Encouraging Female Minds in STEM37) aimed at young Black women in Africa, encouraging more women to progress into STEM careers. The workshop drew on lessons learned from the public engagement project, taking from creative SciComm (science communication) techniques to explore how these young women experienced the barriers and challenges of being Black in science. The YouTube platform was then used to shape the footage generated in the workshop to form part of the public engagement content, thus increasing the visibility of Black women in science and reaching a wider audience. The RSC funded an extension of this collaboration, where Black ambassadors will be brought to the UK (COVID-19 allowing) in spring 2022, to spend time in research groups led by women. Depending on the career stage and interests of these ambassadors, they will either focus on SciComm elements, or be engaged doing actual supramolecular chemistry research. The University of Kent is funding virtual elements of the bootcamp and creative workshop, as well as a documentary on the experiences and journey of the ambassadors.

Our second survey highlighted the need to bring WISC’s successful model to other areas of the world. Nathalie Busschaert, Davita Watkins, and Kristin Hutchins are spearheading a US version of MASC, and will lead the second WISC Skills Workshop. We are keen to explore links already made with India, and to respond to and support WISC members who have made contact and who have responded to our surveys and attended events. We are aware that our virtual and online presence enables participation from women and those who are marginalised across the globe, but our focus has been concentrated on Europe and the UK as that is where the majority of the Board work and live. While we aspire to extend the reach of WISC and engage more people in our events and projects, we also measure success by looking at how our work affects people on a personal level as much as wider work in the field.

Above all, we want to hold true to our original aims – to support the retention and progression of women in supramolecular chemistry through building an inclusive community and sense of kinship. We feel that the model we have created – using an area-specific focus, utilising EDI expertise, and bringing qualitative research approaches to scientists – is something that can be replicated across other countries, subject areas, and disciplines.

Mira, 27, Post-doc

When I heard about WISC I was really keen to join a mentoring group for women. I’ve been offered mentoring before, but this was a bit different. The way they set it up was to have a small group of us all more or less the same career stage, and then to have a more senior mentor. All of us are in the same field, which means that we can be really specific about what we are aiming for, who we need to talk to, if we need advice when something isn’t happening, or if we need to look for funding or a job. I’ve always heard of the old boys’ network but this is a bit like a new girls’ network! Just not so exclusionary! I really liked that most things WISC do are open to everyone. They’ve made a big thing about being inclusive to those who are trans, and they have special support clusters for parents and for people with disabilities. I haven’t used any of them yet, but I recommended one to a friend and I think she’s been in touch.

It’s nice to feel that I am part of a community. It’s hard making friends and getting to know people when you’re on short-term contracts and moving about every two years. The precariousness of the whole thing gets me down. I guess I’m lucky I don’t have a partner because it means I’m ‘free’ to chase after new jobs no matter what country they are in and don’t have to worry about them having to follow me and find a job or deal with a long-distance relationship. My friends who have moved overseas for jobs say it’s the hardest thing. I do worry that I am going to be too old to meet someone and have a family when I finally get something permanent though.

The WISC community is even valued by the old guard. You know, the old white men who are the most senior and who everyone thinks can’t change or don’t want to. My old PI actually recommended me to get in touch with WISC. He said “Mira, I know I didn’t always make it as easy for you as I should have done, and I definitely didn’t for the ones who came before you but I know I need to do better. I need to learn more. I saw this and it looks like something worth being part of. Maybe they can help you where I couldn’t.”

My mentoring group are really close now. As well as the formal sessions with our mentor, we have a messaging group where we chat about everything else as well. We’ve helped each other by looking at fellowship applications and papers, and talking through major life decisions. One of us went for a major fellowship recently and seeing her do it makes me think that this is something that I can do soon. I don’t think I would have even known about fellowships before, let alone how to write an application or what makes a good one, or know that I have a network of people who will check it over, give me feedback, and a mentor who is really senior in the field who can write me a reference.

I’ve actually offered to mentor my own group now and I know more of us mentees are doing the same – mine are all PhD students. It’s an international group, and although sometimes the contexts they’re in can be different, we all have that connection of being in the same field. It feels good to give back to WISC and to the community, and hopefully I can act as a role model to them, help them not to feel so alone, and inspire them like WISC and my mentor have inspired me.

*

This section is based on an article that appeared in Chemistry World.34 Parts have been reproduced and built upon with kind permission from the Royal Society of Chemistry.

**

‘In partnership with the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society (‘the Academies’) and with generous support from the Leverhulme Trust, the APEX award (Academies Partnership in Supporting Excellence in Cross-disciplinary research award) scheme offers established independent researchers, with a strong track record in their respective area, an exciting opportunity to pursue genuine interdisciplinary and curiosity-driven research to benefit wider society’.38

***

The data shared here was published in Angewandte Chemie16 and is shared with their kind permission.

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