“We can only hope that it will be a step forward, but the difficult part is getting people to realise they are biased”

Working in research is not just made up of clinical staff, but a whole world of people in administration roles, rarely seen by the public, and yet vital in supporting research.

Rose Eichenberger is one of those people. Her role as a Governance and Ethics Manager for the NIHR BioResource oversees research teams, making sure studies have all the necessary regulations in place before they can start.  

Find out more about Rose’s role and why she believes International Women’s Day is important.

Hi Rose, tell us about your role at the NIHR BioResource.

I’m the Governance and Ethics Manager. The NIHR BioResource is a large tissue bank with samples and health information from around 200,000 volunteers, including healthy people and those with rare diseases and common health conditions such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Cystic Fibrosis and mental health disorders.

I lead a team of Study Coordinators and Senior Study Coordinators. We look after the governance and ethics aspects of the different cohorts within the NIHR BioResource, working with the various study teams to ensure that all relevant documentation has been reviewed by the ethics committee, and that we follow the regulations and policies that apply to the research.

How did you become a Governance and Ethics Manager?

My high school journey was a bit off the beaten track and I got my A-levels through adult education, aged 21. I then worked in retail for a year before going to University.

After I got a Master’s in Biology, I started as a Research Assistant in the lab and then I moved into clinical trials, eventually ending up at the Cambridge Biomedical Campus where I worked in governance and project management for academic research in different departments.

Why did you want to work in research?  

As a teen I was already interested in research, looking for the evidence behind claims. I had an interest in nature and health. I also loved the teacher demos and doing experiments in school. I briefly considered medicine, but during the University open days I realised Biology was more up my street.

What has been the highlight in your career so far?

I worked as project manager on a Radiology project into a new MRI technique, working across multiple disciplines. It was fascinating and we worked with engineers and physicists. As this was my first project management role it was a very steep learning curve.

I also did a maternity cover in Plant Sciences, which involved working on a project with partners in India. I would not have wanted to miss that experience either and it included a visit to our partner institution in Delhi.

What is it like to work in research in 2022?

It is high-paced, there is a lot happening all over the world and it’s challenging to keep up.

For me, the positives are the endless opportunities for new discoveries, the insights into preventive medicine and the importance of mental health. I feel people are connected better, now that it has become more normal to communicate via remote technology.

The downsides are the growing bureaucracy, and the uncertainty of working on grants. I also think that competitiveness can stop people from developing meaningful partnerships and collaborations, which would in many cases improve research. Another downside is that women still need to work harder to be seen and heard. There is still so much that must be improved.

How has it been to work in research through Covid-19?

Many of my pre-pandemic projects were halted following the outbreak of Covid-19 and subsequent cuts to UK and global funding. I changed roles recently and joined the NIHR BioResource, which is busier than ever.

International Women’s Day theme this year is Break the Bias. Have you ever experienced any bias, what were they and how did you overcome them?

From a young age, I was challenged for being reasonably bright and ambitious. I didn’t get the encouragement at home and in school to aim high. When I was older I was questioned about wanting to do a PhD (which I then did not pursue). In some jobs, I was not taken seriously, or heard. I found ways to deal with this, I learned to persevere, and I found support in other women. It helps to be mindful of the bias, and to not take it personally.

What does Break the Bias mean to you?

We can only hope that it will be a step forward, but the difficult part is getting people to realise they are biased. It is also about breaking the bias internally, as I said above, to not take it personally.

I think to break the bias we have to have realistic role models, in books, on TV, social media, education, toys, clothes and pretty much everywhere. We are a long way off, so many films for example are still stereotyped.

Did you have any female role models/ mentors early on in your career that you admired and why?

It was always inspiring to see that it is possible to become a Professor or a Director as a woman. I had a nice group of fellow female students, some of them now have great careers. It is also great to see the younger generation of female scientists being confident and present at the forefront of science.

How do you think you can encourage more women working in science and research and what needs to be put in place?

I believe role models help, and active encouragement within schools and at home. I was lucky in that I mostly met supportive professors during my studies. I believe my biology class had almost 50% female students, and that was nearly 25 years ago. This is very different in for example physics, which is still very male-dominated.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to pursue a career in science or research?

Follow your interests, and go to open days and other university events. Speak with people about your options before making a decision. Find other women in your topic area you can work with and support each other. Look after yourself, eat and sleep well, have a social life.

Why do you think International Women’s Day is important?

I think we can use it to hosts events, to campaign, and to highlight gender inequality around the world. We can also use the date as a landmark to measure progress, e.g. comparing stats with IWD 50 years ago.

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