How do we get more women into science? A talk with biomaterials scientist Gillian Hutcheon

How do we get more women into science? A talk with biomaterials scientist Gillian Hutcheon

To celebrate International Day of Women and Girls in Science, part three in our series of discussions with some of LJMU’s top female scientists features Gillian Hutcheon. Gillian talks about her experiences as a scientist and what needs to be done for gender equality in science to be achieved.

Studying science at LJMU

Meet Professor Gillian Hutcheon, Reader in Biomaterials in the School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences. In addition to teaching chemistry and pharmaceutics, she leads a research group investigating new delivery systems for drugs to make medicines more efficient. She is also currently the head of LJMU’s Institute for Health Research, a cross-University research team that collaborates with external partners on health and wellbeing projects.

Why did you choose to study in your particular field?

“I was always interested in science at school, especially chemistry, so this led to me doing a BSc in Forensic and Analytical Chemistry at the University of Strathclyde. I became interested in biological systems so my PhD looked at enzyme activity for organic reactions. Since then I have become more interested in the interface between biology and chemistry and this led to me using chemistry to improve the biological interactions of materials used for drug delivery. I still have a great thirst for knowledge and love learning about new subjects and what other researchers are doing to help improve human health.”

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

“There isn’t a lack of women in the field as such because at undergraduate, postgraduate and lecturer levels there is roughly an equal amount of males and females. However, there is a lack of women at the top. The proportion of female professors in all subjects is very low in comparison with males across the UK.

“I think in academia this is because of the heavy workload, the stress, the need to travel and network outside of normal working hours, all of which are difficult when you are a parent. I think a lot of women see this when they are contract researchers so leave academia at that point. There are also less women promoted to higher grades but higher education institutes are trying to resolve this and encourage more women to apply for promotion. The Athena Swan Award scheme is also trying to help institutions achieve a better female:male balance.”

Gillian Hutcheon team

Gillian, left, and the research team she leads on a project to develop a new medicine to treat migraines.

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

“To be honest most of my inspirations came from male role models: my chemistry school teacher, my PhD supervisor and a lot of the male researchers I worked with to develop as a researcher. Unfortunately, there were not many female role models in my area. I didn’t really notice this at the time but as I have climbed the career ladder I do wish I had more female role models to inspire me further. This is changing now and I think there are far more women in science to inspire female scientists of the future.”  

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

“I think it is very important to encourage women and girls to take up science as a career as there are so many exciting opportunities out there. I have given presentations to school assemblies about the importance of women in science as I think it is important for both girls and boys to be aware of this and to work equally together. I have also attended an Aurora programme for female leadership in academia and have signed up to be a mentor for future women attending the programme.”

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

“I think that sometimes women don’t push themselves forward enough and are often overlooked in favour of male colleagues who have the skills to make themselves noticed. Focusing on women and girls in science gives us a chance to shine and show others just what women at LJMU and girls from local schools can do. Hopefully this experience will also help us learn to push ourselves into the limelight a bit more.”

If you're interested in studying chemistry or pharmaceutics, why not take a look at the courses available within the School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences?

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


Graduate employment: celebrating a new model for Liverpool City Region


LJMU and The Eurovision Song Contest 2023


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