An Interview with Val Knapp

Current Job: Database development officerIMAG0034

Scientific Discipline/Field: ICT / Computer Science

Country: UK

Pick some letters (L,G,B,T,Q etc.): I ID as gay, but technically I’m a lesbian.

What does your job involve? 

Working with people, writing specifications, writing and testing code, writing, testing and optimising reports, lots of email, lots of phone calls and lots of learning.

How did you get to this job (education etc.)? 

I used to work in a secondary school, where I taught myself how to use Google docs and the school database to organise a complex structure of meetings and related documents. I used those skills to get this job. I am actually about to start a new job as a developer, which I have been able to get from the skills I learned in my current job.

Do you feel being LGBT has affected your career decisions? 

Yes, I moved to England from America because I was married to an English lady. My degree background is in running summer camps from the USA but when that wasn’t an option as a career in the UK, I had to take what was on offer and I have learned loads in the process.

Have you had any reactions from colleagues about being LGBT, either good or bad?

Mostly really positive things. I have been in meetings with people who were really horrible about LGBT issues and I have tried to stand up for myself and my peers but I mostly just try to set a good example. I’m very open and resourceful so I would often point people in the direction of more information about a topic if I feel like they would be open to learning more.

Did you have any role models growing up (LGBT, STEM, totally unrelated…)?

Not really…

What are your plans for the future?

Be a great developer! Learn loads all the time! Maybe meet another nice lady (I’m divorced now).

Anything else you’d like to add?

If you aren’t getting smarter, you’re getting dumber in my opinion. Go to lectures, read read read, do everything you can to broaden yourself! It’s the best advice I can offer. You will meet others with bright, sparkly minds and they are the best people.

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An Interview with Robert Williamson

robertCurrent Job: PhD Student

Scientific Discipline/Field: Population Genetics

Country: I’m from the US but live/work in Canada

Pick some letters (L,G,B,T,Q etc.): G and Q I suppose. I’m also fond of Å, because who doesn’t like tiny circles?

Website? www.genomicconflict.com

What does your job involve?

I do primarily computational research, analyzing genomic sequences and simulating fake populations. I spend a lot of time in front of my computer programming in Python and reading Reddit.

How did you get to this job (education etc.)?

I e-mailed my advisor to see if he needed a grad student, then the magic happened.

Do you feel being LGBT has affected your career decisions?

Not really, I’ve always wondered if my interests in genetic conflicts and mating system evolution are related to it though.

Have you had any reactions from colleagues about being LGBT, either good or bad?

Not particularly, evolution and biology in general is a pretty accepting field.

Did you have any role models growing up (LGBT, STEM, totally unrelated…)?

Probably my mother. She was a single mom who ran her own business and was very active in our community, trying her best to make things better. She also has many gay friends who were around as I was growing up, that certainly made coming out easier.

What are your plans for the future?

I’ll be finishing up my PhD soon (fingers crossed) and move on to a post-doc somewhere for a couple years. I’m not ready to move back to the States yet, partially because of the atmosphere towards LGBTQ people. However, I really love teaching and want to be at a university where that is a major part of my job, so I feel that I’ll likely end up back in the States somewhere for that.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Did you know that giraffes use their necks like giant maces to compete for mates? It’s awesome to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UzQDJY-oaGY

An Interview with Beth Hellen

Beth Hellen

Current Job: Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Rutgers University

Scientific Discipline/Field: Computational Evolutionary Genetics

Country: Currently USA, but I’ll be going back home to the UK soon

Pick some letters: L, Q

Website? https://wordpress.com/post/montaguehellen.wordpress.com/

What does you job involve?

I’m a Computational Evolutionary Geneticist. This means that while I am interested in researching evolution, I work using a computer rather than at a lab bench or out in the field. As a postdoc I mostly work on projects that other people have come up with the initial idea for and obtained the funding for. Currently I’m working in Andrew Kern’s lab at Rutgers in the USA, a lab which specialises in population genetics. I’ve been out in the USA since November 2013, but before that I was based in various different locations around the UK.

At the moment, the projects I’m working with are involved in comparing the genomes of different species and seeing how they have diverged over time. One of our projects is looking at differences between humans and other apes, to attempt to identify the human differences that led to the things we think of as human characteristics, such as language. The other main project is looking at a number of damselfly species (Enallagma) and looking to see whether differences in gene expression (which genes are switched on when) are responsible for the ability of different species to evade different predators.

I also do some research into transposable element evolution (segments of DNA which move about the genome and replicate with no known consistent advantage to the host organism). I was introduced to Transposable Elements in my last postdoctoral position at the University of Nottingham and this is where my interests really lie. However, at this point in my career I think it’s important to gain experience working in other systems as well.

How did you get to this job (education etc.)?

I went to Manchester University to study Molecular Biology as an Undergraduate, the program had a year out in industry which I was very keen on as I thought it would improve my career prospects (probably right in that regard). In hindsight, I wished I had changed my degree to Genetics, I was never very good at the practical side of Molecular Biology, some people love long involved practical sessions involving pipetting solutions you can barely see, but I wasn’t one of them.

I loved Manchester though. I came originally from a small market town and I was very keen to try myself out in a big city. I love cities now and one of the great things about working in Universities is that so many are in them.

My year in industry was at HGMP-RC which was on the same campus in Hinxton, Cambridgeshire as the European Bioinformatics Institute and the Sanger Institute. Unfortunately it no longer exists, but it introduced me to Bioinformatics and if I hadn’t gone there, I probably would be doing something very different now.

After my undergrad I went to the University of York to do an MRes in Bioinformatics for a year and then did a PhD at the Sussex and Brighton Medical School where I was researching genes possibly involved in human response to the BCG vaccine. After this I worked for 3 years at the University of Nottingham as a Postdoc in John Brookfield’s lab, a job which I really loved. It was my introduction to the field of evolutionary genetics and was where I think I really found my niche.

Do you feel being LGBT has affected your career decisions?

I think in some ways it affected the places I wanted to move to. I moved to Manchester partly for the course, but partly because I liked the idea of a large, cosmopolitan, gay friendly city. I came out in the Summer between school and University and was keen to start a new life that was more me! Equally, the fact that my Phd was in Brighton definitely added to it’s appeal.

Have you had any reactions from colleagues about being LGBT, either good or bad?

I’ve never had any really obvious bad reactions, the ones I have had have mainly been from people who’ve liked me as a colleague, but are quite religious and can’t quite seem to square my sexuality with their religious beliefs. I tend to think this is their problem not mine though!

One of the things that does happen to me quite often in a work context or at conferences or on twitter, is that people come out to me when they aren’t necessarily out to other people. I think it happens because I’m quite butch and therefore quite easy to identify! It definitely make me feel like there’s a need for visible LGBT people in STEM subjects. Often these people who confide in me are either quite worried about what other people’s reactions are going to be, or they’re just a bit bemused as to where all the non straight people are and can end up feeling quite alone because of it.

Did you have any role models growing up (LGBT, STEM, totally unrelated…)?

My Dad’s an engineer and he used to do science demonstrations (the eclipse one sticks in my mind particularly) with me & my sister when we were little and I think that was what always drew me to science.  In my later teenage years the person who probably had the most influence on me was (the fictional) Willow Rosenberg, so I guess I have to partly thank Joss Whedon and Alyson Hannigan  for my scientific career.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m looking at coming back to England in the near future, I’ve got a few irons in the fire, but nothing definite yet. I’m hoping to continue working in the academic sector and in the next few years to have funding to work on projects I’ve initiated.