How do we get more women into science? A talk with psychopharmacologist Cathy Montgomery



In our fifth part in our series to celebrate International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we speak with Cathy Montgomery, one of LJMU’s top female scientists, about the work that needs to be done for gender equality in science to be achieved.

Cathy Montgomery
Cathy sets up the functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy system which measures changes in oxy and deoxy haemoglobin in the brain in response to experimental stimuli or changes in different experimental groups.

Meet Dr Cathy Montgomery, Reader in Psychopharmacology and co-leader of the Research Centre for Brain and Behaviour. Cathy was an undergraduate at LJMU which led to a PhD and eventually, a lectureship with the University. Her current role involves teaching and admin at undergraduate and postgraduate level, research, and supervision of postgraduate research students.

Why did you choose to study in your particular field?

"I have always been interested in why people do things, which is psychology in its simplest form. I also had a love of science at school, in particular biology and chemistry. Psychopharmacology incorporates these three topics as it is concerned with the effects of drugs on the body and brain, including changes in behaviour acutely and in the long-term. I chose to study the BSc (Hons) Applied Psychology at LJMU then moved on to specialise in psychopharmacology in my PhD. And 20 years later I’m still here!"

Do you find there is a lack of women in your subject area?

"As a discipline, psychology generally has an even gender distribution, however we can see that there are fewer women in more senior roles in many institutions. The undergraduate student population is heavily skewed to females, but it gradually declines at postgraduate, junior academic and senior academic roles. This suggests that while there is not a lack of women in this field, there is a lack of women in more senior roles. I think there are a number of possible reasons for this. Firstly, women may not apply for available promotions as readily as men, despite being equally qualified. Secondly, many (not all) women are more likely to have had career breaks, for example, maternity leave and caring responsibilities, which could affect their career progression such that they don't feel able to apply for promotion as soon as their male counterparts."

Are there any women in science who currently inspire you or did inspire you to take up your subject?

"I’ve taken inspiration from both men and women in various disciplines throughout my life and I can’t really pinpoint a well-known inspiration. Some of the earliest influences were my school chemistry, biology and physics teachers and I remember wanting to pursue a career in science from early high school onwards."

How are you helping to get more women/girls into science?

"I enjoy talking to prospective students at Open Days about my work and I have taken various Nuffield STEM placement students, where A-level students come and work under your guidance on a project for six weeks in the summer months. All of the students I have been allocated from this programme have been female so far, and they have all gone on to study STEM subjects at university, as they had intended to do prior to the placement." 

Why is it important to recognise International Day of Women and Girls in Science?

"Sometimes women are not as forthright when promoting themselves and their work. Having an International Day of Women and Girls in Science encourages women and girls to showcase their work and gives them a platform to do this. This will enthuse and inspire the next generation of scientists (both male and female)."


If you're inspired by Cathy and interested in studying psychology, why not take a look at the courses within the School of Natural Sciences and Psychology?

Take a look at the other features in this series on women in science:



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