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​Meet the researcher: Dr Dawn Branley-Bell

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Today we are celebrating International Day of Women and Girls in Science, a day dedicated to advocating for full and equal access and participation in science.

Don’t assume that others will know what you’re capable of – have the confidence to showcase exactly what you have to offer. Be proactive about identifying opportunities and grab them with both hands.
Dr Dawn Branley-Bell

Despite progress made to help achieve science and gender equality in recent decades, the latest UN statistics show that women represent just 33.3 per cent of all researchers, they are typically given smaller research grants than their male colleagues, and they tend to have shorter, less well-paid careers.

We’re proud to support the careers of many outstanding women in research, with recent data estimating that 48.5 per cent of our grant-holders are women*. They are working on a range of bold and ambitious research projects to improve human health, in areas such as pain, hepatitis and adolescent mental health.

One of these inspirational researchers is Dr Dawn Branley-Bell, a Senior Research Fellow from Northumbria University, whose research is exploring what we can learn about the causes, prevention and future treatment of eating disorders following the rapid transition to remote care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alongside her research, she is Chair Elect of the British Psychological Society’s Cyberpsychology Section and has recently been awarded a place on the Aurora ‘Advance HE Women's Leadership Programme’. We asked Dawn about her research career and the advice she would give to other aspiring women scientists.

What inspired you to have a career in research?

“I’ve always had a natural curiosity about understanding human behaviour and decision-making – why we think, act and feel the way we do, and the how our world affects us. As a psychologist, research provides the ideal opportunity to explore so many fascinating areas, no two days are the same and you’re always learning.

“Research has opened the door to some amazing experiences and provided me with the opportunity to work alongside some fascinating people, across the globe. This includes working not only alongside inspirational collaborators, but also with people who could be impacted by the outcomes of my research. Working in a field where your research has the chance to have positive real-world impact is incredibly motivating and rewarding.”

What challenges have you faced as a woman in science?

“I’ve been fortunate in that most of the challenges I’ve faced have not been specific to being a woman in research – they are experienced by male and female researchers. However, perhaps one more specific challenge has been around having self-belief in myself and my abilities. Women can tend to naturally be less authoritative and confident in taking the lead and expressing their own abilities. It does not always come naturally to me to take credit for my own individual achievements, and to have the self-confidence to be more explicit about my skills and expertise. I have worked on strengthening this ability in recent years, but it’s still a work in progress.

“Without doubt, modesty is a very valuable trait to have, however it is also important to realise that others will not know about your abilities and expertise if nobody tells them – that includes you! Often you need to be your own cheerleader. It’s important to make yourself heard, even if you may not naturally be one of the louder voices in the room.”

What advice would you give to other women pursuing or considering a career in science?

“Go for it! A career in science can be so rewarding and I believe it should be accessible for everyone. It would be fantastic to see more women pursuing careers in science. As I mentioned previously, it’s important to believe in yourself and be your own cheerleader. Don’t assume that others will know what you’re capable of – have the confidence to showcase exactly what you have to offer. On a related note, be proactive about identifying opportunities and grab them with both hands. Don’t be disheartened by rejections or setbacks along the way – they are an integral part of everyone’s research career, and often something positive is just around the corner.”

Find out more about Dr Branley-Bell’s research.

* Diversity data collected in 2021 from current Foundation grant holders awarded via open funding calls.

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