Women of STEM

The research leader: Dr Nicola Beer

Dr Nicola Beer’s interest in science developed at an early age; one of her earliest memories is of watching her teacher demonstrate the concept of sound waves using a paper plate filled with rice and a portable speaker at primary school.

Of the first generation in her family to go to university, her biochemistry degree at Bristol led to a PhD at Oxford and a Fulbright scholarship in the US at MIT and Harvard before she swapped the research bench for leading a research team.

As senior head of department for Discovery Biology & Pharmacology at the Novo Nordisk Research Centre Oxford, she is both head of department and scientist.

“It’s about setting the strategic direction, helping people mature their ideas, deliver, also support them in their career,” she says.

She believes with fewer women in leadership roles, women have an obligation to support each other, as mentors, by passing on knowledge, or by simply being “generous and opening the door”.

“That is something I think we should be doing across the board whether it’s women, whether it’s younger people, whether it’s people in their career journey. We have an obligation to pave the way of how it should be rather than protecting our own position, and generosity is quite important in that,” she says.

As a female leader, she notices that people often try to suggest a uniform way for women to be leaders, such as being louder or more assertive in a situation or to respond to things in a set way.

“I think we should make a concerted effort to encourage women to be the best leader they can be, rather than a stereotype of how we perceive that should be,” she says.

For her, this means avoiding the preconceptions we can have about one other, such as limits to what we can achieve and what work we can do.

“I’m passionate about smashing glass ceilings and glass walls and I really think we should break down silos between us and boxes and preconceptions,” she says.

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