Dr Caroline M Taylor
Effects of maternal lead levels of pregnancy outcomes
I love anything to do with food and nutrition – from being an enthusiast cook (and eater) to the intricacies of metabolic pathways for micronutrients. I started my career with a degree in Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Surrey. A brief spell as a hospital dietician and I was off to the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen for my PhD. The main part of my project was measuring the effect low dietary zinc on the intestinal absorption and excretion of zinc. I had a wonderful time measuring zinc inputs and outputs from my volunteers, who provided me with samples of all sorts without any embarrassment. What an intellectual indulgence to be able to pursue my deepest interests with few other distractions or calls on my time.
Two more postdoc positions followed – by this time I was married with a baby daughter –and then we moved the USA with my husband’s job. Two more babies followed and it seemed that all the doors on my research career had closed. We moved to Bristol, and I was feeling intellectually mothballed when a friend asked if I’d be interested in proofreading for the British Journal of Nutrition. That led to a whole new career as a freelance scientific copyeditor, and eventually to an in-house job with Diabetologia. It provided a great opportunity to read widely in many different areas, and fitted brilliantly with the needs of a young family, but I never lost the intense feeling of frustration that I would rather be doing the science than reading about it. I applied for several research jobs, but even if I did get an interview, it was the same scenario – not enough recent relevant experience.
I despaired of ever breaking back into science and had almost resigned myself to being in medical publishing forever, until I saw an advert for the Daphne Jackson Trust in a newspaper – it sounded perfect! I made some enquiries, and soon I was on the hunt for a suitable project. I found this very difficult – it was either the right place/wrong project or right project/wrong place. After several blind alleys, I developed a project on heavy metal exposures in a birth cohort at the University of Bristol and was awarded a Fellowship after a ‘career break’ of more than 15 years.
What a wonderful time I have had – I’ve tackled my lifelong avoidance of statistics head on and found that they are not so scary after all, and I’ve freed myself from the conviction that I can’t do presentations. How fabulous it is to make my own decisions about my work and be in charge of my destiny again. Thanks to two wonderful supervisors, and the support of my family and the Trust, my confidence has returned and my skills have been renewed.
As for the future, I have an application in for a fellowship to continue my work on heavy metals, and I’m also in the final stages of securing funding as a co-principal investigator on a project on childhood eating behaviours. I have been proud and privileged to be a Daphne Jackson Fellow. My message - make the most of every opportunity that comes your way. It’s never too late and you are never too old!
Dr Reyna Al-Ashaab
Keeping an eye on air particles
Reyna made an excellent start to her career; she gained a doctorate in Meat/Food Technology and went on to hold research and lecturing positions at a number of universities in both the UK and Mexico.
She took a career break in 2005 but by 2008 was ready to return to work. Finding a position proved difficult as she seemed to be too highly qualified for many positions and too specialised for others. Reyna was considering retraining in a different area when she heard about the Daphne Jackson Trust.
“After I was told about the Daphne Jackson Trust, I went to the website. As I navigated through the pages of the Trust, my heart started beating faster and a huge smile appeared in my face. It was as if they knew about me and they were describing my situation. The Daphne Jackson Fellowship and I fitted perfectly with each other. It felt just right. It was perfect for my circumstances: I was looking for a part time job so that I could be with my children after school; I wanted to start from the beginning and not just jump at a new venture when I was full of insecurities. I was going to be retrained to be able to catch up with technology.”
Reyna commenced her fellowship in May 2010 at Cranfield University, in the Centre for Energy and Resource Technology. “I am indeed enjoying the fellowship and everything that has come with it. From the very first phone call my self-confidence improved. I feel valued, inspired to be the person I want to be and encouraged to embrace all of the aspects of my life.”
Reyna’s research involves the detection and monitoring of particles suspended in the air around garden waste composting facilities. These particles, called bioaerosols, are caused by the breakdown of the green waste and can exist in large numbers around such facilities, as the green waste is mechanically shredded and turned to accelerate the composting process.
While such composting facilities reduce the amount of waste taken to landfill and so help local authorities improve their recycling rate, the bioaerosols produced have the potential to cause health problems for people living and working nearby. By studying the dispersion modelling of these bioaerosols, it will be possible to establish the distance at which they are no longer suspended in the air. Authorities in the UK will then be able to build additional compositing facilities confident in their ability to protect the health of communities and fulfil their obligations to reduce landfill according to the EU directives.
Reyna says, “It is fascinating how learning from a process that has taken place in nature from the beginning of time, in conjunction with sophisticated technology, is providing a solution for some of our man-made pollution problems.”
After completing her fellowship, Reyna aims to continue her research at Cranfield University. “I am truly grateful to the Daphne Jackson Trust, not just for their support but also for the very efficient services they provide, from basic communication to answering all of my questions and the organisation of the very useful courses. I am also grateful to NERC for sponsoring my fellowship and to Cranfield University for their open arms welcome.”