Unique Scientist: Dr. Grace C. Roberts

Want to meet someone who is always a positive soul? Meet Dr. Grace C. Roberts (She/her)! Grace is a molecular microbiologist by training from the United Kingdom that currently works in outreach at the University of Leeds!

What kind of scientist are you?
My background is microbiology and molecular/cellular biology- my PhD was on mosquito-spread viruses. I currently work for the University of Leeds in outreach – increasing the aspirations of disadvantaged young people, and helping them in their applications.

What made you want to become a scientist?
I think I was always just really curious about things! I thought I wanted to study medicine at University so I chose Biology, Chemistry, Math and Further Maths at A-level. I hated chemistry so much! But I remember doing a report in biology on the likelihood of a global pandemic. I really enjoyed researching it and that piqued my interest in Microbiology, so I went on to study that at University. After graduating, I had a few jobs in research as a technician, I was lucky to work in Breast Cancer research and that made me sure I wanted to be a scientist – I loved having my own project, to ask questions, design experiments and try and find the answers!

“I have many many hobbies and I always encourage others to take time away from their lab bench.”

Dr. Grace C. Roberts

What makes you a #UniqueScientist?
I came from a very working class background – I’m from Nottingham UK. Neither of my parents went to University. My dad was an electrician (fixing fruit machines in pubs – American readers may have to google that one!) and my mum did odd jobs – receptionist, call centre work etc. We didn’t have a lot growing up, but we had what we needed. I’m very lucky that my parents were very supportive and pro-active in mine and my sister’s education. My Dad taught me to play guitar and my Mum would say for every exam we took “make sure you read the question!” Which we used to laugh about at the time as such obvious advice, but in my current Outreach role, I say this all the time to kids! 

Also being a #WomenInScience, I think it can be a bit harder! I’m lucky that I’ve never experienced any direct sexism in my scientific career, but I do think that, subconsciously, women are perceived and treated differently to men. I have had a few patronising moments – either due to being female or perhaps being a bit older than I look! A funny one was at a conference, I’d just given the biggest presentation of my life, chatting to one of the exhibitors (old, white male!) and they said “well when you finish your undergraduate you should……*life advice* etc etc etc” and I replied “I’m in my final year of PhD!” He was being very nice and meant it well – just hadn’t realised the stage I was at. I corrected him and we had a laugh about it. But I strive to help promote diversity (in its many forms) and feminism, both in science and everyday life. I think it’s important to highlight these differences and have constructive conversations so we work towards a more equal world. 

I think my other uniqueness comes from my many hobbies! I think it’s important to be immersed and dedicated to your science, but never let it take over your whole life. In my opinion, good science comes from a happy scientist. I have many many hobbies (see below!) and I always encourage others to take time away from their lab bench. I think everyone becomes more productive when they don’t feel chained to the bench or their desk.

“I’m a run leader at my local run club – I’m predominantly a runner, which has helped my personal and professional life massively!”

Dr. Grace C. Roberts

What’s something cool you do outside of work?
Hahaha what don’t I do outside work?! I’ve just finished my first Triathlon – so lots of running, cycling and swimming! I’m a run leader at my local run club – I’m predominantly a runner, which has helped my personal and professional life massively! I’m really involved in my club (shout out to @HydeParkHarrier) and my local parkrun (if you don’t know what this is yet – where have you been?!). I think running keeps me sane and makes me realise I can achieve so much if I work for it. It also brings a lot of mental resilience and determination, but also I’ve made so many awesome friends through running and we support each other through hard times and celebrate achievements – it’s such a friendly, supportive world! 

I’m also a keen climber, I predominantly boulder but do a bit of top-rope too. A lot of scientists I know climb – I think because it’s a really social sport, but also combines physical challenges with the mental challenge – often you have to “figure out” how to do a route or get creative in your moves to complete a route.

I’m also a crafty scientist – I do a lot of cross stitch and glass painting. I have my own etsy shop – AScientistStitches, and I always make fellow scientists a personalised cross stitch when they pass their viva! I have a few items on my shop inspired by science but also love to do custom orders.

If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
I think to just be way more accessible. With short term contracts and the way in which we are judged as scientists, many talented people slip through the net. Maybe because they are geographically constrained or they aren’t dazzling on paper. But in the lab they can be the most hard working, dedicated and helpful scientists. I think the system is currently forcing many talented people out of science / academia and into other fields.

“I think the system is currently forcing many talented people out of science / academia and into other fields.”

Dr. Grace C. Roberts

Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?
I have been lucky to have met many influential and fabulous scientists, (as well as non-scientists!) on my journey. In particular my two friends Bethny and Vikki. Both at different stages of their scientific careers:

I met Bethny, my crazy Auzzie postdoc friend, when I was a fresh graduate, working as a lab technician. She encouraged and supported me through my PhD application and has always been there throughout my journey.

Vikki joined the lab I did my PhD in when I was in 2nd year and has been a fantastic source of support. Whether it be helping me with experiments, or presentations, or just helping me chill out – with her sharing her experience and ideas with me has made me a better scientist and person.

Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
I’ve been doing a lot of running training recently – working towards another half marathon, and I’ve got another parkrun personal best last week! As well as my best 5k time ever two weeks ago! For me, run times aren’t everything but it’s really nice to see training paying off with things like this. 

#WomenInSTEM

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