Gilly Stoddart

Dr Gilly Stoddart is a director of PETA Science Consortium International e.V. and is also the director of PETA UK’s Science Department.

She has a BSc in Biochemistry from Lancaster University and a PhD in drug delivery from Cardiff University. She has seven years of experience working in research and development.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role:

I’m Gilly Stoddart, director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Foundation’s science department and one of the directors of PETA Science Consortium International e.V.

I became aware of animal rights at an early age, and throughout my career, I have made decisions that meant I wouldn’t be required to experiment on live animals. For example, I completed my PhD using excised human skin rather than animal skin. Later, I worked in research and development formulating drugs. These formulations would sometimes be tested on animals in other laboratories, and although I wasn’t directly conducting these experiments, I became increasingly uncomfortable with my involvement for both scientific and ethical reasons. Soon afterwards, I decided enough was enough and I changed the direction of my career for good and joined PETA.

I now lead a team of scientists in Europe working to replace the use of animals in experiments. Our work focuses on a broad range of topics from top-level policy issues, such as urging governments to implement strategies to phase out animal testing through the promotion of our Research Modernisation Deal, to more specific issues, such as working to end the use of individual tests like the acute fish toxicity test and the forced swim test.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No. I never sat down and planned my career, but I probably should have! Eighteen is such a young age to decide on the direction you want your career to take, but if you listen to yourself, I believe you can figure it out. I became interested in animal rights at primary school, and with hindsight, it’s easy to see it was inevitable that I’d eventually dedicate my life to helping animals. If I’d listened to myself and focused on what I was passionate about, I probably would have started working at PETA long before I did.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

I was always very clear that I wouldn’t experiment on live animals. I completed my PhD using human skin in vitro, and at the time, I was considered unusual because I wouldn’t even use skin from animals ex vivo (i.e. from dead animals). Later, I had employment contracts amended to ensure that I would never be required to experiment on animals. Being clear from the outset with yourself and your employer that you won’t experiment on animals is essential to ensure you don’t come under pressure to do something that is scientifically and ethically unjustified. And if you’re currently using animals in experiments and want to use advanced non-animal methods instead, do whatever it takes to make it happen. I used to drive hundreds of miles to get the human skin I needed for my experiments, rather than using skin from guinea pigs or pig ears taken from abattoirs. Fortunately, there a many animal-free options available today. Never be afraid to challenge the status quo.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

For my first few years at PETA, I was the only member of the science department. The team has grown significantly and now comprises many compassionate, brilliant scientists – a large proportion of whom are female. It’s a powerhouse working to end animal testing by replacing it with modern, non-animal methods. The team engages with industry, regulators, and policymakers to advance the implementation of non-animal research methods and is having a huge impact across a wide range of sectors.

For example, the European Commission recently announced that it will be taking steps to phase out tests on animals for all regulated chemicals – including pesticides, biocides, and human and veterinary medicines! This is unprecedented progress for animals that follows years of campaigning by PETA entities and a successful European citizens’ initiative, titled Save Cruelty Free Cosmetics – Commit to a Europe Without Animal Testing”, which brought together 1.2 million citizens and a network of non-governmental organisations and multinational companies from across Europe to help animals in laboratories.

I found it particularly rewarding to serve as a member of the Animals in Science Committee. The Animals in Science Committee, sponsored by the Home Office, advises the Home Secretary on all matters concerning the use of animals in scientific procedures, and I was able to comment on the scientific and ethical considerations related to the use of animals in experiments.

I’ve also been a Lush Prize judge for many years. The Lush Prize supports initiatives to end or replace animal testing. Being a judge is gratifying because I’m always inspired by the innovative scientists, determined lobbyists, and trailblazing policymakers who are forging ahead towards a paradigm where animals are no longer used in laboratories.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

I’m very lucky: I work every day for a cause I truly believe in. That gives me drive and determination. Everything I do is working towards the goal of ending experiments on animals and promoting the use of non-animal methods. Hard work and passion can only take you so far, and my education and training have provided an excellent foundation that allows me to work with the top scientists in the field.

The Science Consortium takes education and training in non-animal methods extremely seriously. In 2015, it won the prestigious Lush Prize Training Award for its multifaceted approach to replacing animal testing through education and training. It continues to offer travel awards to researchers seeking to advance the use of non-animal test methods and organises webinars and in-person training opportunities on the use of non-animal methods as well as factsheets on these methods.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Play to your strengths. But don’t be afraid to tackle what you may consider to be your weaknesses – don’t let them define what you can achieve. Surround yourself with like-minded people who complement your skills and experience so that together, you can work towards your common goals. Non-animal methods often involve interdisciplinary collaboration between toxicologists, engineers, computer scientists, ethicists, policymakers, and other stakeholders. Cultivating strong communication and collaboration skills to leverage diverse expertise is extremely helpful, and one of the reasons why the Science Consortium has such a diverse range of science advisors. I’d also advise scientists in all fields to familiarise themselves with relevant regulations, guidelines, and ethical frameworks so they can effectively prioritise the replacement of animal use and improve the validity of scientific results.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, eg Podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

Staying up to date with developments regarding non-animal methods and their applications in research and testing is essential. Check out PETA Science Consortium International’s website and PETA’s Research Modernisation Deal for more information about non-animal methods and our strategy for revamping biomedical research and regulatory testing. The fight against animal testing for cosmetics ingredients continues, and anyone wanting to ensure they buy only cruelty-free products should check the PETA US Beauty Without Bunnies database, which lists companies that do not test on animals for any reason.

Read more about our inspirational women here, also check out our One Tech World conference to hear from them in person.