Celebrating the International Day Of Women and Girls In Science

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Today, Friday 11th February, marks The United Nations International Day of Women and Girls in Science, and we want to pay tribute to some of the amazing women we have here at ExpressTest and our parent company Cignpost Diagnostics.

At Cignpost we have a team of more than 300 scientists and are proud to say that a large proportion of them are women – in fact, 60% of our Associate and Technical Managers are female, as are 50% of our Deputy Lab Managers and 48% of our Senior Scientists.

In this article, you’ll hear from three of our highly-skilled team members who gave us their thoughts on studying and working in science.

Louise Wilson came to Cignpost straight after graduating with a 1st class degree in Biomedical Science from Edinburgh Napier University.

“Having joined as a Scientist in September 2020, I took on new responsibilities with relish and was promoted to Senior Scientist and then Associate Technical Manager. In the past 18 months I’ve travelled the length and breadth of the country supporting our lab teams. As an Associate Technical Manager, I spend the majority of my time training other scientists, upskilling and providing technical support, but I’m still very hands-on in the laboratory.

In terms of the future, my goal is to gain my HCPC (Health Care Professions Council) qualification. To achieve that, I’ll need to be able to provide proof of continual development, and I’m confident that my work at Cignpost will give me the opportunity to expand my skill-base. Ultimately I aim to achieve the status of biomedical scientist. I can honestly say I’ve had a complete blast since joining Cignpost, and definitely see myself staying with the business – it’s a lovely place to work and offers such great opportunities to female scientists”.

Suswapna Patnaik, Head of R&D and Assistant Technical Director, believes women make brilliant scientists; “For a start it’s in our nature to be patient… and you just can’t rush science.

“I grew up surrounded by great role models, and science and maths were my passion from a very early age; we shouldn’t under-estimate the importance of having the support and encouragement of those around us. I’m a keen advocate of mentoring others and took a year out from corporate life in 2014 to teach science and maths to economically underprivileged children in India. I really enjoyed being able to give back to the community, although returning from that year out was the only time in my career that I’ve ever encountered any questions about my ‘commitment to science’ at an interview for a new job. But that was many years ago.

In June last year I saw Cignpost’s advert for a Technical Manager featured on LinkedIn; the job description could have been written especially for me. It offered me the opportunity to use not only my scientific expertise, but also my Management MSc (strategy and project management).  It was that which truly attracted me to Cignpost and the decision has really paid dividends. I’d spent the previous 17 years in increasingly responsible science roles with Amazon, ThermoFisher Scientific, PerkinElmer and DuPont, but none came close to offering the rapid career progression that Cignpost has. I was promoted to my current role within three months of joining. Now, I lead and own the project portfolio for the R&D team and work with the Technical Director, CTO, Operating Board and Founders to support the technical roadmap for the business. This involves oversight, assessment and development of new technologies within the company, for both Covid and non-Covid projects.

Cignpost has been extremely supportive when it comes to achieving work/life balance with a young family, and I split my time equally between home working and our labs in Guildford. I’d like to think that the company will allow me the opportunity to get involved at a more strategic level and that I can develop alongside the business as it continues to make an even greater contribution to the health of the nation.”

Continual development is most definitely a high priority for scientists… “Alongside my role as an Associate Technical Manager at Cignpost, I’m currently studying part-time for my PhD in molecular biology – my particular area of research is cervical cancer, specifically investigating the effect of EZH2 inhibitors to targe epigenetic changes in cervical cancer,” says Marieta Gjini.

Balancing my studies and work has become a little more challenging since my promotion from Senior Scientist a few months after joining. Both Cignpost and my supervisor at Middlesex University have been very understanding, and I’m taking a short break from my studies for a few months so that I can concentrate on my amazing journey with the company. As a Senior Scientist I was working four days on/four days off, was part of a much smaller team, and was responsible for leading in one laboratory. 

Now I’m heavily involved with training and onboarding of new scientists and, because I’ve been in that role myself, I can totally relate to their situation and really enjoy supporting them with my experience and knowledge. Aside from training, I’m also involved in auditing various labs across the country to ensure they are all operating according to the medical ISO accreditation we were recently awarded. As an experienced PCR user, I am also able to provide specialist technical support to labs that may need additional expertise to interpret and troubleshoot results.

In five years’ time, I want to have completed my PhD and to have grown with the business. I’ve already learnt so much, both from a technical perspective and also presentation and management skills.

For any woman or girl thinking of entering the world of science I would say anything is possible – if you’re passionate enough and are hardworking, you’ll reap the rewards”.

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