Inspirational Woman: Professor Dame Carol Robinson | L’Oreal For Women in Science Awards

Women in room with paintingsProfessor Dame Carol Robinson is making her mark in history having created a new scientific field, gas phase structural biology. Her breakthrough has secured her a global honour at L'ORÉAL-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards.

For 17 years, women in the science industry have been celebrated for their incredible efforts and contributions to the research field, from curing diseases to protecting the environment, and the award makes Professor Dame Carol Robinson the fifth British Scientist to have ever won.

In this inspiring video she talks about balancing her career in science with a demanding home life, what it means to be awarded the European Laureate award and the importance of the For Women In Science programme in supporting future generations of women entering scientific vocations.

We decided to find out more;

"The work life balance issue is a difficult one. I think there are times in your career when your outside life has to come first."

Women at computerHow did your interest in science originate? At what point in your life did you know you wanted to be a scientist?

Through an inspirational teacher but there was no conscious plan to become a scientist – my scientific career evolved with me.

I can remember being fascinated by the periodic table from a very early age. I loved patterns that it held and realised the enormity of what I was looking at. Recognising, or looking for, patterns in my research is still very exciting for me.

What were the biggest challenges you faced in pursuing a career in science? How did you resolve them?

The work life balance issue is a difficult one. I think there are times in your career when your outside life has to come first. As a scientist the enormous flexibility that goes with the job is really a bonus. I didn't miss out on any important school events, sports days, nativity plays etc. Now my children are working all over the world. I am totally free to pick up the pace on my research. My advice would be to take advantage of the flexibility of your career and to remember that there will be periods when you can’t devote as much time to your work as you would like. Be confident that these will pass and then you will be grateful that you maintained your position in academic research.

women at computerWhen you were named as the first female Professor of Chemistry at both Oxford and Cambridge, how did you feel?

I remember feeling quite daunted. It felt as though I was an experiment and that my colleagues would be watching to see how I did – could a woman take on this role? I also felt that it was quite sad that many amazing women before me had not been given the chance to be Professors - they clearly deserved to be.

"I think it is a great idea that L’Oreal-UNESCO is highlighting women scientists in this way."

What has been your proudest moment as a scientist?

I remember the day, almost 25 years ago, when I saw my first protein assemblies fly through the gas phase. This excited me, particularly as these experiments were not predicted to work. Theoretical calculations had suggested that proteins would turn inside out in the gas phase. The fact that they stayed together and we later showed that they had the correct shape really launched my whole career.

Do you think that programmes like this help to encourage young women into the industry?

I think it is a great idea that L’Oreal-UNESCO is highlighting women scientists in this way. I hope it has a very positive effect on young women considering a career in science.

Carol RobinsonHow do you perceive the cause of women in science?

There are some great women scientists – getting them to believe in themselves, recognizing their potential and getting others to do so if perhaps the greatest challenge.

"You can have a great career if you really enjoy science. It is important to follow your passion and to be committed."

As a role model, what would you recommend to girls or young adults who are considering a career in science?

You can have a great career if you really enjoy science. It is important to follow your passion and to be committed. Being an academic is a very flexible career, particularly if you have outside commitments. There are times when I have worked incredibly hard - less so when my children were young. Now that they have all left home I am totally free to work at my own pace again. There are so many positives about being a scientist. Don’t think of it as being stuck in the lab all day. The opportunities to present your research, to interact at conferences and to carry out collaborations across the world are tremendously exciting. It is also very rewarding working with bright young students, watching them develop and take up their own careers. It really is a great career choice.

Watch Dame Carol Robinson discuss her career in this inspiring video

https://youtu.be/H6oc87EQFoA

For more information please visit: www.womeninscience.co.uk