1 year later: Reunion of the 2018 Ingenious Women Scotland Cohort

A little bit over one year after the last 2018 Ingenious Women Scotland (IWS) weekend, Conni (one of the ingenious women) organised a reunion in Edinburgh. Although we had stayed in touch all this time through weekly emails, a slack channel and various smaller meet-ups, when she suggested a 2018 cohort reunion my email inbox got flooded by a lot of very excited emails wanting to contribute to the day. Although not everyone managed to attend, 13 ingenious women based in Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow and Edinburgh made it to the reunion. We split the costs for the booking of the space and lunch, and everyone added some extra warmth to the day with various sweets and warm drinks.

Picture 1

The obligatory group picture at the end of the day.

The focus of the day was to catch-up and discuss what this community meant for us and how we would like to carry it forward.

We started the morning with a catch-up round, during which everyone had 10 minutes to explain what they had done since the last IWS weekend. We shared our successes, failures and the challenges we had faced or were facing. Change seemed to be a common denominator for the more significant events affecting our lives, in different contexts such as family, jobs, and places. To share further insights in what I mean with this, I want to summarise the main messages that I took from everyone’s stories. To everyone’s surprise: science is frustrating, and it is so almost by definition. This makes having a good work-life balance particularly important and perhaps necessary, to stay sound when the science is not going as expected. Due to the lack of permanent positions in academia, job and location changes are common and even required. However, rooting in new places requires time and that is not always possible when contracts are often no longer than 2 years. This leads to a vicious cycle that creates application professionals that are continuously challenged to balance their private lives. It seems like there is just one academic route with clear steps to follow from being a PhD to a professor, but other job options exist within science and in the academic context. Career progression might look different for different people, but the existing separation between academic and professional services does not fairly represent the value of all career paths. Within the academic and scientific environment, only excellence of individuals is celebrated, however, it is commonly a group effort that makes things possible, and single individuals do not get anywhere on their own. For example, the role of technicians or lab managers seems to be stigmatised and not valued as it should be for the importance their contributions, knowledge and experience have to the scientific outcomes. This is also true for other career choices such as editorial or outreach centred roles. Against this background, the role of mentors that can help individuals in their choices for career progression and the existence of a support network were identified as some very relevant tools to support individuals in laying out a career path that they feel comfortable with. However, as long as other career paths are not valued and celebrated in equal measure as individual excellence, individuals choosing these paths might not feel valued or comfortable with their choices. At the same time feeling valued by your peers and managers is key to stay motivated in your job. Despite the perks of the academic life, there were also a lot of achievements to celebrate: growing families, new jobs, successful publications and grant applications, and the taking on of new adventures.

After a lunch break to process all the news, we continued with an active listening workshop led by Katie. We went through some exercises that made me realise that we all unconsciously make assumptions and judgements when listening to others to some extent, and how difficult it is to keep your thoughts in order when someone is not listening to you. We then learned about the listening model and put it into practice. This showed me how challenging it is to listen to someone, asking open questions to fully understand what is the source of their problems or worries without trying to guide the conversation or advise on the topic. However, this was a useful exercise and a thought to keep in mind for conversations in and outside of work.

We then discussed the most significant change that IWS caused for us, where having a supportive network seemed to be the basis for most things that were discussed. The creation of a supportive network of colleagues in similar situations, helped raise an awareness and understanding of the struggles that these colleagues may be experiencing, making each of us put our own stories into perspective. This encouraged many to value their time and themselves more and follow new opportunities.

Finally, we discussed how to sustain the network, since it was clear that we all value the result of this programme and want it to keep having a positive impact on us, but also on other women in STEM. This involves keeping our weekly emails, informal and yearly meet-ups, but also trying to expand the network by connecting with past and future cohorts and uploading online profiles offering mentoring roles.

The day was over. I walked home exhausted from the day, but with a lot of new thoughts to process and with a warm feeling in my body, realising how lucky I am to be part of such a great community of ingenious women.

by Anna Garcia-Teruel

IW Alumni Interview: Dr Sarah McGlasson

This is the third in a series of quick fire interviews with Ingenious Women alumni. The Ingenious Women programme has been running in Scotland for eight years and over 130 women have been on the programme.

sarah mcglasson

Dr Sarah McGlasson

Postdoctoral researcher

UK Dementia Research Institute, University of Edinburgh


1) Please describe your professional background and current role. 


I got my PhD in human genetics in 2015 and since then have been a postdoc gradually moving into neurovascular science and applying genetics and molecular biology to (attempt to) solve problems of human disease. I feel constantly out of my depth in a neuroscience department but looking at questions from a different angle that a neuroscientist may not have thought about!

2) Why did you apply to the IWS programme?


I really struggled with the PhD to postdoc transition – which also coincided with life changes (I think this is often the case). I felt really lost for a couple of years without the structure and deadlines of a PhD, and any self-belief I had disappeared. I knew I needed to push out of my comfort zone and I applied to the IWScot programme looking for some fresh perspectives and some constructive ideas about how to develop myself and my career.

3) What did you take away from the IWS programme?


The women that I was lucky enough to go through this programme with are the most inspiring bunch and we have developed a very supportive network – which is absolutely invaluable. It has also pushed me to go on to develop other networks further as it has shown me that a diverse group of networks are really important in career progression and for personal support.

4) What has been the highlight of your career so far?


This is going to sound a bit daft but the highlight has actually been the fact that I’ve made it this far! There have been so many times that I’ve thought that I’m not cut out for it, and not good enough to keep up, but I’m proud of my stubborn streak that doesn’t let me give up!

5) What three career recommendations would you give to early career researchers?


  • Surround yourself with good, kind people that inspire you and build you up.
  • Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides – everyone is fighting a private battle and everyone is trying to put a good face on it.
  • Enjoy what you do – at least the bigger picture. There are a lot of challenges but the enjoyment has to outweigh it!

IW Alumnus Interview: Dr Sophie Shaw

This is the second in a series of quick fire interviews with Ingenious Women alumni. The Ingenious Women programme has been running in Scotland for eight years and over 130 women have been on the programme.


Dr Sophie Shaw


University of Aberdeen

1) Please describe your professional background and current role. 


My career path has been an interesting journey so far. I started out completing a PhD in Biological Sciences, working as a wet lab scientist carrying out experiments on the yeast Candida albicans. During my PhD I learnt skills in bioinformatics and in analysis of next generation sequencing data. This was followed by a short post-doctoral research position investigating transcriptomics of the fungus Trichoderma hamatum GD12. This role was 90% data analysis and 10% wet lab experiments, and confirmed for me that my interests lie within the bioinformatics! After this, I took my current position as a bioinformatician. This is a support role working with researchers across the university to help them analyse their next generation sequencing data. As a part of this, I get to run workshops on both a national and international scale.

2) Why did you apply to the IWS programme?


As a non-academic scientist working within a university, I saw the IWS programme as an opportunity to meet more women at a similar career stage to myself, especially those which had taken alternative career paths. I also hoped to improve my skills in the “themes” of each weekend – creativity, cash and control.

3) What did you take away from the IWS programme?


As well as taking away a raft of new skills in creativity, negotiation and resilience, the most rewarding output from the IWS programme was the fantastic network that we developed. Over a year later, I am still in touch with many of the women from the group. We give each other advice, provide support, , commiserate each other’s failures and celebrate each other’s achievements. Having a group of like-minded individuals who are facing the same issues, both in their careers and everyday life, is an invaluable resource.

4) What has been the highlight of your career so far?


Although it is over five years ago, finishing my PhD is still the highlight of my career and my biggest achievement. I don’t think anyone can really prepare you for the challenges that you will face during a PhD, and there is no feeling more satisfying than finally having completed it!

5) What three career recommendations would you give to early career researchers?


  • Find yourself a mentor. This needs to be someone senior to you, that you feel comfortable being honest with. And who you know will be honest with you! In the toughest times, it is always great to have advice from someone who has already been there.
  • Build your network of peers. Having as many people around you who are facing the same challenges not only helps you to work out your problems, it also reassures you that you are never alone.
  • Never be afraid to ask for help! This can seem daunting, especially to more junior researchers, but knowing when to ask for help is incredibly important at any career stage.

IW Alumnus Interview: Margaret Cunningham

This is the first in a series of quick fire interviews with Ingenious Women alumni. The Ingenious Women programme has been running in Scotland for eight years and over 130 women have been on the programme.


Dr Margaret Rose Cunningham

Chancellor’s Research Fellow

University of Strathclyde, Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences (SIPBS)


1) Please describe your professional background and current role. 


I started my career as a modern apprentice laboratory technician at the University of Glasgow at the age of 17 where I was based at the Department of Medicine and Therapeutics.  During this time I attended college day-release over a 5 year period to achieve a HNC in applied biological sciences and then a HND in biomedical sciences.  I also completed my SVQ level 2 and 3 in laboratory and associated techniques.  I decided to leave my technical position and continue my studies at the University of Strathclyde where I was a direct entry student into Year 3 of their BSc (Hons) Biochemistry and Pharmacology degree programme.  It was the first time I had experienced pharmacology as a topic and I really enjoyed it so I decided to continue on that track at postgraduate level.  I was successfully awarded an AJ Clark PhD Studentship from the British Pharmacological Society (BPS) and I started my career investigating the pharmacology of surface proteins called G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) and consequences of GPCR dimerisation.

When I completed my PhD in 2010, I applied for fellowships – whilst unsuccessful, some valuable feedback from the process recommended that I move and experience a research environment outside of the Glasgow area. Looking back, I completely agree with the advice I received.  For my first postdoctoral position I moved to the University of Bristol to work with the Bristol Platelet Group to research platelet GPCRs and GPCR-protein interactions. After 4 years in Bristol, the opportunity emerged to start my own research group through the Chancellor’s Research Fellow Scheme back in the University of Strathclyde. In 2014 I returned to Strathclyde with a Chancellor’s Fellowship where I have a growing research group investigating cardiovascular GPCR function in cardiotoxicity and design of new GPCR molecules as potential new cardiovascular therapies.  Other roles in my current position include lecturer in pharmacology for undergraduate students, co-director of SIPBS Outreach and co-lead of the Cardiovascular and Metabolic group.

2) Why did you apply to the IWS programme?


When I saw the IWS programme advertised, my motivation to apply was largely to expand my professional network in enterprise and meet new people at a similar career stage.


3) What did you take away from the IWS programme?


The network that has formed since the IWS programme has been excellent and continues to grow.  Several events have been held since the retreat which has kept the momentum going and helped to strengthen the network.  I met so many wonderful people during the retreat and I still keep in touch with many of them regularly and meet up.

4) What has been the highlight of your career so far?


One of the highlights of my career so far is being elected as an RSE Young Academy of Scotland member recently in 2018.  This is another example of a great network of professionals spanning academia, business, industry and policy etc.  The backgrounds of the members are so diverse with great opportunities to be part of activities that have high societal impact.

5) What three career recommendations would you give to early career researchers?


  • Don’t be afraid to ask for advice and take the time to find a good mentor.
  • Use every opportunity to meet new people both within and outside your area of expertise.
  • Look into courses that offer professional development training. This could be anything from leadership, project/time/people management to writing, presentation or communication skills.


You can follow Margaret on Twitter @MagRoseCun

Blog on the Ingenious Women/ BCSWomen Scotland event: Advice to my 22 year old self

by Sharon Moore

“Advice to my 22 year old self”…

… was the title of our most recent event in Scotland, a collaboration between Ingenious Women Scotland and BCSWomen Scotland, and it proved to be one of our biggest events to date. We heard from two entrepreneurs who shared the lessons they would go back and give themselves at the age of 22.

Vicky Brock, CEO and Co-Founder at vistalworks, had a very clear plan when she was 8. She wanted to go to London. She had many plans to get there – plan A was to go to university, plan B was related to musical theatre, and so on – and however she would do it, she definitely would! And she did. She became a machine, learning fast, not learning deep, and did indeed get herself to London to attend University. Vicky become very good at being half an hour ahead of everyone else, and her first recommendation was more isn’t always better – enough to get by is good enough.

Point 2 was to “do less, tell more”. She suggested 70% of your time being spent on the ‘doing’, with 30% on ‘telling’ how well you did it, and what you achieved. Working hard is no guarantee of success, and only working hard is definitely not going to bring success. She was clear to state that it’s not about being obnoxious but about selling your work, output, ideas.

For Vicky 22 was actually quite a dark time. When going through University she hadn’t prepared for ‘what next?’ but did eventually find work in theatre. Her next lesson was “So what? Who cares? Why?” She recommended working smart and being efficient; do the least amount of work you can to get the results you need. (Although those of us who know Vicky a little know that despite her claims of being lazy, we know she works very hard indeed.) I was particularly struck by her comment about not trying to please everyone: “if you do try you’ll fail and destroy yourself in the process”.

In that theatre job, Vicky put herself forward for a role that she wasn’t particularly well qualified to do; but then neither was anyone else; and surely she couldn’t be as bad as anyone else. So, she thought she might as well give it a go. And she did. And she fell in love with data.

Lesson 4 was that it’s perfectly ok to walk away. She hadn’t realised it was ok to walk away from a job you don’t like (particularly when previous generations in our society had had jobs for life). I was struck by “work rarely loves you back”.

Vicky then repeated something we heard from Dr Sara Shinton at an event in May last year and shared it as point 5: “Create your own opportunities”. Put yourself out of your comfort zone, go networking, say ‘yes’ – after all, what’s the worst that can happen? You don’t always know where an opportunity will lead, but it’s likely to be positive.

Vicky finished with “You will fail. Fail fabulously.” Reframe failure as practice. And don’t be less of yourself for anyone. And we think you are fabulous Vicky.

Next up was Sarah Lee, Director of Hot Tin Roof and Co-Founder of Ping Go. Sarah started her career at an all-girls school, which, whilst this can have some peculiarities, meant she has felt on a level-playing field with men in tech as she knew many young women who were good at STEM subjects.

Her first lesson was not to believe the naysayers, particularly if you believe something with gut instinct. This was related to personal experience, rather than a business decision, where she and her boyfriend at University got engaged after 3 months. And 30 years of marriage later it was most definitely the right decision. She talked more about her personal life and made that a key point: Take time to enjoy your life. Seize the moment, be with the people you love.

Sarah looks back on University thinking she could have made more of it, but also made it clear that nothing in life is a waste of time because you can learn from everything. She ended up in a role that meant she was bored, frustrated and unfulfilled, but she also worked with some great people, and learned to budget, hire and fire, and run events – all key to running her own business now.

She took a leap to a role as Editor of an in-house magazine – she really wanted it, even though it was new. It was great. Sarah was allowed to fail – although perhaps not twice! They were allowed to try new things and had a manager that encouraged growth. From this she said “Jump in at the deep end. You can swim.” It’s exhilarating. Don’t overthink.

Getting made redundant from a PR agency was a shock, only 9 months into that role, and although she had ideas about setting up her own, she wasn’t sure she was ready yet. So, Sarah joined another agency and very quickly realised she wasn’t learning anything new. It was time to go, and time to start! From this, “believe in yourself – don’t lose your confidence.

17 years later, Hot Tin Roof is most definitely a success. Now she’s jumping into the deep end again, establishing a new venture – Ping Go – with 2 co-founders joining her. She’s learned she can’t do it alone, and needs other skills, and just more time. Tenacity is one of her strengths, and she believes that is truly going to make Ping Go work. As Sarah concluded: “overnight success takes time”.

There were a few key points in the panel discussion after too:

  • Amplifiers are key. It’s not always easy to blow your own trumpet, and sometimes you are not in the right audience to do so. Find allies who believe in you and can amplify you, even when you’re not around.
  • Vicky felt it’s far easier to build a big company than a small one – aim big with your ventures.
  • After some discussion it became clear that sometimes we forget the lessons we’ve learned! And that’s ok too.

If you didn’t make it along to the event – and even if you did – we hope we get to meet you at a future one.

About the author: Sharon Moore is BCSWomen’s Deputy Chair and leads the ever-increasing BCSWomen activity in Scotland. She has a passionate team that makes these events happen and is always happy to welcome more to that team – the more of us the more we can achieve!

This blog is a re-post from Sharon’s original blog post on the BCS Women website.


Schiehallion Adventure!

By Claire Fitton and Gabriele Matilionyte


Are your New Year’s resolutions still active? In case you are in need of some motivation, we thought we would share this inspiring story by two ladies from our 2018 IWS group, Claire Fitton and Gabriele Matilionyte, who climbed Schiehallion at the end of 2018!




We had a very chilled out night in a pub catching up on personal and professional news, discussing ingenious ways of how we are winning in life, listening to Irish live music, petting and trying to steal random dogs (me).. On Saturday morning we set off to conquer a Munro that was a 40min drive from Pitlochry. We chose Schiehallion because it is categorised as one of the easiest Munros to bag (not so true..). As we started driving we could already see this mighty mountain from far away. Claire and I just couldn’t stop laughing as we got closer to it – it was just there sticking out of all hills and it was obvious what we got ourselves into.

As you can see from photos, we conquered Schiehallion in phases of excitement, disbelief, denial, trust, encouragement, excitement and proudness. As we got to the entrance we were so excited to be hiking that big mountain. Literally 5mins into the hike I was giving up. I told Claire that this happens to me all the time – I am very over-ambitious and set incredibly high goals. At that point I was so upset and disappointed. But I cannot thank enough Claire for being amazing and encouraging me that we should keep on going and just see what we can achieve. We decided to do the hike in small steps – I had to catch my breath very often (lifters do not have stamina!). But after a certain stage into our hike I started believing in myself.  And 3hours later we were there – at the summit of Schiehallion! My first ever personal Munro and we did it for all of IWScot2018! It took me almost the entire week to recover from muscle pain but I am all hooked up now and I am definitely going try and bag my second Munro soon.




You can’t help but notice its exactly like the metaphors people use as motivation for life’s challenges; the task that seems so unachievable is your mountain, but taking it just one small step at a time, you surprise even yourself on what you can achieve! Using the support of others around you, learning to be proud of the small achievements that are mounting into a big achievement, you start to see the summit is in reach! But it’s a false summit and you have to keep pushing, and again, and again, but now you can’t stop until you get there because you’ve come so far, and eventually… your efforts are rewarded and you’ve conquered the mountain (or technically the munro)!! And like most of us ingenious women, we are guilty of not basking in our achievement at the top because it’s on to the next thing (or in this case getting out of the roaring winds at -5 degrees!).


But reflecting on it I think what an adventure and what an achievement! I’m so glad we did it, and more importantly I’m so glad we bought gloves before going up there!



Sticky floors, glass ceilings and Vote100

As you may be aware, 2018 marks 100 years since women in the UK were first given the vote (though not all of them, only women over the age of 30 – it would take another ten years until this was extended to all women over 21). This is being celebrated via the #Vote100 campaign.

The final rush to finish everything before the holidays is now in full swing, but if you can free up some time then there are two really interesting events coming up before the party season gets underway.  An event being held as part of a St Andrew’s Day at the University of Edinburgh this week is inviting anyone to go along and join a Wikipedia editathon to help record the achievements of the Scottish suffragettes. Another event run by Equate next week will focus on sticky floors and glass ceilings and how to manage them. Details of both events are below.

If you can’t escape the lab/ office/ field/ site/ library to attend an event then you may wish to follow the #Vote100 hashtag on Twitter instead.

Scotland’s suffragettes: a St. Andrew’s Day Wikipedia editathon for Vote100

When: 30th November, 1.30pm – 5.30pm

Organised by: Digital Scholarship Centre

Where: University of Edinburgh Main Library, 30 George Sq, Edinburgh


This event is part the 2018 celebration of one hundred years since the Representation of the People Act (1918) when women were finally given the right to vote. It is an opportunity to see archival material about Scotland’s suffragettes and a chance to learn about & celebrate the role these notable women have played in the campaign for Votes for Women through researching, writing & illustrating Wikipedia articles & timelines (full training is provided).


Sticky Floors and Glass Ceilings

Organised by: Equate

When: 4th December, 10am – 4pm

Where: Edinburgh Napier University, Craiglockhart Campus


There is a considerable body of evidence which shows that women can encounter structural barriers to their progression in the SET professions – the glass (or sometimes concrete) ceiling. This workshop will address these issues, help you to examine your abilities and leadership potential and consider your priorities. Open to all women in working in STEM and construction.