Professor Fiona Gilbert
Just one word – curiosity – could be enough to explain the career path followed by Professor Fiona Gilbert, Imaging Theme Lead for NIHR Cambridge BRC.
Fiona said: “I was a medical student in Glasgow when I first understood that there are so many unanswered healthcare questions.
“I was curious – how could we answer them and improve patient care?”
So Fiona, driven to find answers to unanswered questions, ended up working in clinical research and today is Professor of Radiology at the University of Cambridge, where she conducts clinical research, sees patients in the clinic, supervises PhD students, teaches and deals with the administration which comes with heading a major university department.
From early on in her career, Fiona was encouraged and supported by colleagues: “I always found that there’s lots of encouragement for women to get involved in research, especially in healthcare, and I worked with colleagues who were inspirational.”
Today Fiona’s hoping to pass on some of that inspiration herself: “As a medical student I never even thought about being a professor, but I’ve come to see how the role can really make a difference – I’m now in a position where I can help develop early-stage researchers’ careers including leadership roles.”
But what about helping to redress some of the gender imbalance still prevalent in many senior research positions even today?
Fiona said: “I see an increasing number of women in science completing their training and PhDs, but they don’t go any further. This is a shame because we are losing some incredible talent, not just for research but also for leadership positions.
“Research is also losing out – we need perspectives from all backgrounds, genders and ethnicities to ensure balanced research.”
To counter this trend Fiona is working with her peers to provide mentoring, work experience and other opportunities to support women at all stages of their research and indeed all researchers who take a break from research.
Fiona said: “We can offer mentoring or work experience and if your circumstances change, we advise everyone to keep one foot in the door, even if it’s just one day a week, because you never know the opportunities that will become available.
“My advice is – seize every opportunity, just reach out and grab it! If you’re ambitious and willing to put the work in, you can achieve what you want – and you never know where it will lead.
From a former medical student who wanted to find answers, that sounds like good advice.