9 February 2023

International Day of Women and Girls in Science is an opportunity to promote full and equal access and participation in science for women and girls.

“Diversity in research expands the pool of talented researchers, bringing in fresh perspectives, talent and creativity. Today is a reminder that women and girls play a critical role in science and that their participation should be strengthened.”

“At present, less than 30 per cent of researchers worldwide are women. According to UNESCO data (2014 – 2016), only around 30 per cent of all female students select STEM-related fields in higher education.”

United Nations, 2021

Women play a hugely important role in the research that Bowel Research UK funds. Today we are proud to share with you the details of projects led by women and their motivations for becoming researchers.

Emily Mills – Academic Foundation Doctor, University of Cambridge

My research focus is currently on Retrorectal tumours (The RETRO Project – watch this space!) and I’m working on leading an international, multicentre, retrospective cohort study on the modern classification, assessment, management, outcomes, and malignancy risk of retrorectal tumours.

I was inspired to become a researcher because I want to provide my patients with the best evidence based treatments.

Women and Girls day in Science is important to me because I want young girls (just like my nine year old sister) to grow up knowing that they can work in whatever field of their choice – and there’s plenty of womxn who have done so!

It’s awful that girls are told to aspire to be “polite” and “pretty” when boys are often told to be a “boss” and “cheeky” – it’s engrained from an early age and needs to stop. We need more Womxn and Girls in Science to be more representative of the population that we treat.

Sue Blackwell – Primary Investigator, the PAPooSE study

My research is looking at patients experience of pregnancy after stoma surgery for IBD. It’s a really under researched area, but one that’s very important to patients.

“Patients worry about becoming pregnant. If they have a stoma, they are also concerned about how their stoma will function during pregnancy and if there are potential complications that may specifically affect their stoma function during pregnancy and after delivery.”

I was inspired to get into research by Nicola Fearnhead (@cam_colorectal on Twitter), she showed me that patients can play a key role in research, and she encouraged me to submit the grant application for PAPooSE.

Find out more about the PAPooSE study

Sarah Russell MSc – Clinical Exercise Specialist, Author of The Bowel Cancer Recovery Toolkit, Founder of The Ostomy Studio www.theostomystudio.co.uk

I’m passionate about parastomal hernia and finding ways that patients can be empowered to help themselves. Either through strategies for prevention in the first place or hernia management if they already have one.

With the HALT trial (Hernia Active Living Trial) we are looking at whether an intervention of clinical Pilates and core rehabilitation exercises, can influence a parastomal hernia, reduce symptoms or change the person’s relationship with their hernia/reduce desire for surgery.

The reason this is so important is that parastomal hernia has such a catastrophic effect on QoL and patients live in fear of movement, lifting and exercise. We need to give people confidence and to improve their actual core muscle function through clinical rehab exercises.

I’m hugely passionate about a person-led approach of which movement and rehab is at the very centre.

I’m loving being involved in the HALT research trial – I’m a clinical Pilates teacher and practitioner and am delivering the intervention to the participants. As a woman, I’m proud to be working in a trial led by the brilliant Professor Gill Hubbard (and many other amazing female researchers as part of the team) and to have the opportunity to have a voice in the male dominated colorectal research world.

This research could be a game changer in parastomal hernia prevention and treatment and it is hugely exciting to be part of it.

Elizabeth Li – NIHR Doctoral Research Fellow in Surgical Innovation

I started research due to an admiration of how well the finesse in methodology and well designed research can tackle a good research question.

What I discovered was a plethora of diversely skilled, highly motivated and forward thinking individuals within a broad and welcoming community focused on striking ahead in progressing patient care and bettering quality of life.

Social media and progressive technology has allowed the surgical community to unite in a way like never before and form collaborations that can answer the most pressing questions to help help patients and save lives in a timely manner and a huge scale. Certainly the future looks like a a dynamic and collaborative community as it is becoming very clear that the sum of its parts is greater than the whole.

Jacqueline Black – PhD Student at King’s College London

My research focus is on people with inflammatory bowel disease and stress.  The title of my study is Understanding stress and building resilience in new-onset Ulcerative Colitis. I’m looking to find out how stress affects people who have been newly diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and what support would be useful to them.

My background is in psychology where women are pretty well represented nowadays.  I have been very privileged to be surrounded by clever, articulate female peers and inspiring female professors.  As a result, it never really crossed my mind that I couldn’t be a researcher. Seeing world-leading psychologists like Uta Frith revolutionise whole branches of psychology made me think anything was possible!

I was inspired to become a researcher because I felt I had a unique perspective.  I had a fifteen year gap between my undergraduate and masters degree, via the civil service and professional services.  That breadth of my experience made me interested in how research could change things for the better for individuals.  My teachers and peers on my masters made me think maybe, just maybe I could be a researcher.  And here I am!

I think Women and Girls in Science Day is important as representation is a key component to getting women started in research and getting people talking about how issues may affect women differently from men.  I am part of the Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery and Palliative Care at King’s College, a constant reminder of a female role model who defied the convention that nursing wasn’t a thing ‘nice girls’ did.  Imagine she hadn’t?

Vicky Fretwell – Colorectal Surgeon

The focus of my research was on a protein called Nrf2 and its potential role in the radiotherapy treatment of rectal cancer.

I am a colorectal surgeon, currently in my penultimate year before finishing my training and becoming a consultant and I did my research project as I wanted to contribute to the study of colorectal cancer to eventually help my patients receive better, more tailored treatments for their cancer.

I have been fortunate that in my research and wider career path I have been surrounded by male and female colleagues who have supported me as a surgeon and as a woman and recently a new mum and I am passionate about making this the experience for other women and girls interested in careers in science and medicine.

After all, who run the world? (girls) (Beyoncé, 2011)

Joana Simões – PhD Research Fellow in Global Surgery

I am involved in Global Surgery research, which is where Global Health and Surgical research cross paths. My current research focuses on outcomes of surgery during the COVID-19 pandemic, in the CovidSurg Collaborative. This international collaborative has delivered the largest surgical study ever conducted and has informed clinical practice. In parallel, I am running a study together with colleagues from India about the delivery of colorectal cancer care in India and the associated costs for patients.

I’ve been involved in collaborative research in the last 5 years. Initially as a local collaborator, then as a national lead for Portugal and now as a member of the Operations Committee for international collaborative studies. My main motivation is to deliver research that can impact patient care, both at a local and a global scale. I also think that the learning process that you need to go through when you choose to do research, adds a lot to your clinical skills and improves the capacity to deliver evidence based care to your own patients.

I hope Women and Girls in Science Day reminds every woman in the world that they are welcome to pursue an academic or scientific career, if they want to. And that we can be the support for each other to do so. This day is about reminding women that they can bring unique and very valuable contributions to research and science, no matter where they are. We stand on the shoulders of brilliant women who paved the path for what we have today and we must keep going, serving the next generations with new opportunities as well.

Hema Sekhar – Clinical Research Fellow

As a surgeon I have worked on related projects, including having completed my PhD in anal cancer (funded by Bowel Research UK and RCS research fellowship) and currently studying communication practices around stoma formation (Bowel Research UK and IA funded).

I enjoy the challenges of research and am driven by the need to improve patient outcomes and experiences.

International Women and Girls in Science Day is important to me to celebrate the achievements made so far by women in science and to inspire future generations to join us.

Hema and an all-female theatre team at the Christie Hospital, Manchester

Ella Marson – Medical Student at University of Birmingham

I am currently an intercalating medical student and also working as part of the GlobalSurg-CovidSurg team. The SurgWeek and CovidSurg cohort studies have aimed to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on surgery worldwide to direct care and resources.

Even in the short time I have been at medical school, research has been able to inform evidence-based medicine and change medical practice. It is so exciting to be able to be part of that process of discovery, particularly when you can see first-hand how it benefits patients. I also love working as part of a team in collaborative research.

Currently, 63% of all senior positions in NHS are currently held by males, despite the NHS being 77% female. Historically, many medical research trials have also excluded female participants, and based all findings on male participants. Clearly, it is very important to encourage more women to enter into research and science. Personally, I have found it so inspiring seeing female role-models talking about their careers, and Women and Girls in Science Day is a fantastic way to spotlight the achievements of female researchers.

Rebecca Fish MBChB BSc FRCS PhD – Consultant colorectal and peritoneal surgeon

I’m currently working on the DISCO Study (@DISCO_study on Twitter) looking at prehab for colorectal surgery, and I’m leading the CORMAC 2 project to reach international agreement on definitions of oncological outcomes in anal cancer trials.

I was inspired to become a researcher because it is the best way find answers to the questions that matter to my patients.

International Women in Science Day is important because although there are lots women scientists out there, when you ask people to picture a scientist most will still picture a man.

We need to be more visible to inspire all the young girls out there. You can’t be what you can’t see!



Join the conversation online #WomeninScience.