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Institutes inspiring future female leaders in wheat research

14 July 2023

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Earlier this summer 31 female wheat researchers, took part in the third annual cross-institute career development and networking workshop as part of the Rosalind Franklin Women in Wheat Champions programme led by the John Innes Centre and The Sainsbury Laboratory. 

There are many women working in wheat research, but this representation is not reflected in senior leadership roles. This contrasts with many other research areas where gender has or is becoming more balanced. The Rosalind Franklin Women in Wheat Champions programme was established to tackle this issue. 

Over the course of two days, participants from across the UK took part in practical career development training that included: how to dissect job opportunities, manage effective meetings, make the most out of mentoring, effectively manage and lead projects and how to be a good supervisor. They also joined an array of networking activities with fellow participants and the fifteen trainers and facilitators that made the workshop possible. 

Participant Rita Domingues-Carvalho noted: “The workshop exceeded my expectations! The two days were personally and professionally very fulfilling. Not only did we get a chance to hear some motivational career paths and learn that the potential to lead is already in all of us, but we also had some very useful training.” 

One element the participants found particularly helpful was the ability to network with fellow female researchers working in the wheat area. Another participant Rose McNelly commented: “the workshop left me feeling positive about the future of female representation in leadership roles in the world of wheat. It was great to meet so many other inspiring female wheat researchers and learn together!” 

Lead of the Rosalind Franklin Women in Wheat Champions programme Diane Saunders remarked: “It was amazing to see the enthusiasm of all the participants and we are extremely lucky to have these exceptionally talented women driving the field forward. We hope this workshop will help empower these women to continue to realise their career goals in the wheat research area, helping address the current gender imbalance in senior positions.” 

This year’s workshop  also welcomed back a graduate of the mentoring program, Anna Backhaus who now works in the ICARDA pre-breeding team for cereals. Anna co-delivered a training session on mentoring and being mentored and noted that: “closing the gap and thriving to reach a good baseline level in gender equality across all institutes must be a priority.” 

This is a belief shared by the Director of the John Innes Centre Graham Moore, one of the workshop trainers, who commented: “There has been an absolute step change recently in wheat research, with phenomenal advances in knowledge, tools, and resources. This has made this area much more attractive to pursue a career and address wheat insecurity. Therefore, this is an excellent time to act and address the severe gender inequalities by supporting talented early-career females to achieve their career goals in this field.” 

Going forward, as Diane Saunders noted when asked about the future for wheat research: to achieve a wheat secure future requires that we not only embrace the recent phenomenal scientific advances but also a diversity in scientific thinking to maximize our collective creativity and innovation. A goal that can only be achieved by continuing to promote the diversification in leadership within our beloved wheat field. Here at JIC and TSL we hope the Rosalind Franklin Women in Wheat Champions programme will help accelerate us onward towards this goal. 

The Rosalind Franklin Women in Wheat Champions programme is funded by The Royal Society and BBSRC, with additional funding to support travel grants for this workshop kindly provided by PhenomUK. 

This article was originally posted by our partner, the John Innes Centre, on their website here.

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