Bioscience leader reflects on International Women’s Day

On International Women’s Day, Professor Melanie Welham shares her thoughts on celebrating women’s achievement and continuing to challenge for change.

Professional perspective

Professor Welham is Executive Chair of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation.

She leads BBSRC, the largest public funding body for non-medical biological research in the UK. The council is dedicated to advancing knowledge of fundamental biological processes and addressing global challenges in:

  • food security
  • clean energy
  • healthy ageing.

Like many women she also balances her demanding role with being a wife and a mother to two daughters, which means life can be challenging at times.

She was inspired by many colleagues during her professional journey, but highlights two early role models who made a lasting impression:

  • Professor Doreen Cantrell, from the University of Dundee
  • Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Chancellor of the University of Dundee.

Both professors inspired her ambition to reach the top of her field without sacrificing the balance between professional and personal life through their own success.

Overcoming obstacles

Yet not everyone she has encountered during her career has been so supportive. Professor Welham recalls having to work alongside male colleagues with what she refers to as “outdated attitudes”.

She’s often chosen to challenge such behaviour, one example being calling out a colleague on a recruitment panel who made an inappropriate remark about the applicant’s personal situation.

For Professor Welham, it’s not just about bad behaviour but the future of science. By encouraging an inclusive, healthy research and innovation culture, everyone has the opportunity to participate and contribute to research excellence.

Choosing to challenge for change

The 2021 International Women’s Day theme encourages individuals to challenge bias and celebrate women’s achievement.

Professor Welham recently attended the virtual 2021 Royal Society of Chemistry’s Global Women’s Breakfast where one young researcher left a lasting impression.

During a session on ‘Empowering Diversity in Science’, a PhD student explained her personal commitment to diversity was to challenge inappropriate use of language and behaviour wherever she saw it.

Although it might seem surprising that someone entering the field would have to make such a commitment, Professor Welham knows individual action is the only way to achieve lasting change.

She was left inspired and assured the future of the research community is in safe hands.

Professor Melanie Welham said:

Things are changing and will continue to do so through increased awareness, dialogue, equality, diversity and inclusion – especially with initiatives like ‘International Women’s Day’ which celebrates the many achievements in this space and makes us all think about how we can choose to challenge in a number of areas.

Supporting equality, diversity and inclusion

BBSRC is dedicated to working with partners to shape a dynamic, diverse and inclusive system of research and innovation in the UK. It is an integral part of society, giving everyone the opportunity to participate and to benefit.

Choose to challenge for a gender equal world by joining the conversation
#ChooseToChallenge #IWD2021.

Further information

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Top image:  A visit from Professor Melanie Welham, Executive Chair of BBSRC, to Diamond Light Source (credit: Diamond Light Source)

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