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International Women’s Day Event: ‘Women and the Pandemic’

The words that really stood out to me at the NDORMS International Women's Day Event on March 8, summed up the how our panel of speakers navigated their careers in the last two years. The event was titled 'Women and the Pandemic' and, even though we still could not meet in person, the virtual event hosted a panel of women who shared their stories – both personal and professional – of the unusual situation we found ourselves in.

The panellists were:

Opening the event, Fiona Powrie, Director of the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology commended the diverse set of speakers on the panel both in terms of careers stages and roles. She talked of how women really stepped up to lead the science in the fight against COVID-19, and not having to look further than within Oxford to see the inspiring story of Sara Gilbert and the team in the development of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. But she also recognised that the pandemic has amplified inequities, in BAME communities and those trying to sustain productivity with competing demands, and that we can learn the lessons to continue to support women's science careers.

CLARA PRATS

Clara demonstrated her adaptability during the pandemic. Before Covid hit her research focused on the use of computational modelling for the study of infectious diseases, mainly tuberculosis (TB).

One young girl in Spain was inspired by Clara's work and made her the main character in a cartoon about the pandemicOne young girl in Spain was inspired by Clara's work and made her the main character in a cartoon about the pandemic

For her these were transferable skills that could enable her to convert from TB to Covid research when the pandemic arrived. Her research into the impact and effect of the SARS-COV-2 virus was impactful and insightful and started to attract increasingly more media attention in her home country Spain. It was during this time that she reached an inflection point. She told us that while doing a TV interview about her research, she was interrupted by one of her children. She realised that although she was caring for her children and working at the same time, she initially hadn't separated the two.

There were some positives for Clara though, who was rewarded for her hard work with projects, contracts, and even prizes. But she mostly felt that it had been a blessing to be given an incredible opportunity to contribute to the society, collaborate and inspire the younger generation and girls interested in science. She even ended up as a character in a cartoon!

IRENE YANG

Originally from South Africa Irene gave her perspective as a DPhil student. When the pandemic hit, she went from a bustling household of six people, to suddenly having all the space to herself. It became a challenge, she said: "The biggest impact was it felt like I'd gone from having a massively busy life to having no friends."

Irene was a novice at art but shows a creative streakIrene was a novice at art but shows a creative streak

I was impressed by Irene's ability to adapt her personal life. She re-channeled all of her socializing time into cooking, took up art, (very successfully from the pieces she showed us), and put a lot of time and energy into her role as the welfare officer for New College. Here, she collated and shared poetry and artwork that she asked people to send to her, and even organised an outdoor concert, roping in volunteer musicians to perform.

It was challenging for Irene, and some of our other panellists to be so far from family during the pandemic. There were struggles. And the pandemic did derail her research. But Irene's resilience meant she was able to complete her research and has recently done her Viva. So I'm keeping my fingers crossed to hear how it went.

MARIANA BORSA

Mariana came to the Kennedy Institute to start her postdoc and immediately found herself facing the lockdown. It was an important time when she was looking for funding for her group and research.

Unable to be in the lab, and with no data to analyse, she also adapted and turned her attention to initiatives that would contribute to the scientific community. For example, she joined the COVID Literature Review Group, which came together to analyse the huge number of preprints on COVID research.

What she learnt from the pandemic was that:
• Local events have a global impact; there are other significant challenges beyond COVID-19 that appear local but, like Ukraine, have an effect globally,
• There is a need for collaboration – it can often lead to best solutions!
• We need to do more to fight inequalities – which are deepened in hard times.

Mariana took up an allotment during the pandemic with some great resultsMariana took up an allotment during the pandemic with some great resultsOn a more personal level, self-care and well-being was important with Mariana taking up an allotment and doing more cycling. "I think we just have to be more kind towards ourselves and others," she said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CUSHLA COOPER

Self-care was also important to Cushla and her outlet during the pandemic was running. Cushla's story was that she had just left a job of 10 years to set up the new Oxford Experimental Medicine Clinical Research Facility. She was busy planning a clinical ward and space to run these studies when Covid hit and obviously questions arose about what it meant for her role as the refurbishment was put on hold.

Hearing that the vaccine team were looking for nurses, Cushla signed up. Coincidentally, the vaccine work was taking place in an out of use ward that was the same building the team had acquired to refurbish to become the new clinical research facility. So, while she was on shifts in the "grotty old ward", she could see first-hand what was going to be needed such as new windows, fresh new plumbing, lighting, and definitely a paint job.

Cushla (in red) on shift with the OVG team on the vaccine trial.Cushla (in red) on shift with the OVG team on the vaccine trial.

After the vaccine work finished, refurbishment continued. But Cushla told us how she started to have some self-doubt after the plans to open the CRF were pushed back. Running helped clear her head and to reflect on things that have happened. And it was that, alongside a great team and support group, that helped her to realise that events were beyond her control and a product of the extraordinary situation we were in. 

 

 

 

Thank you to all the speakers and a big thank you to Maria Granell Moreno for organising such an amazing and insightful event.

 

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