Unique Scientist: Lizzie Billington

Time to meet Lizzie Billington (She/her)! Lizzie is a virologist and molecular biologist at the University of Edinburgh with The Roslin Institute and the The Pirbright Institute in the UK!

What kind of scientist are you?
I’m a virologist and molecular biologist. I study how a tiny protein made by bird flu viruses interacts with bird immune systems to let the virus grow without being noticed by the host defences. I’m also super interested in science communication, because science shut in a cupboard dies.

What made you want to become a scientist?
When I was little I wanted to be an English teacher, but doing my first practical science classes in high school got me hooked. My mum got me a Horrible Science book on the immune system and that was that. I always want to know how things work and being a PhD student is basically the best way to get to answer questions for a living.

“I always want to know how things work and being a PhD student is basically the best way to get to answer questions for a living.”

Lizzie Billington

What makes you a #UniqueScientist?
As a middle class cis white woman I am super privileged in academic spaces. I struggled when applying for PhDs because I’m the first in my family to stay in education this far. I got offered an interview and stopped applying for other programmes because my mum said she thought I should wait and see. When I got accepted, my supervisor asked me if I had any other applications in and, when I said no, he just looked at me – it was super embarrassing.

What’s something cool you do outside of work?
I’ve started baking a lot since moving from Edinburgh to Surrey to change labs. Recipe websites keep ending up in my favourites, as I bake to cope with PhD stress. It’s made me pretty popular at work, but it does mean extra washing up! I’m also trying to get back into sewing, which I haven’t done since I was a kid.

If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
I would make science more open. Things are moving in the right direction, with scientists communicating via social media and the Plan S open access initiative, but it’s still pretty cliquey. There’s a lot of stuff that you’re presumed to know without being told, which can be hard when you’re new.

“There’s a lot of stuff that you’re presumed to know without being told, which can be hard when you’re new.”

Lizzie Billington

Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?
My mum was always very clear when I was growing up that I could be anything I wanted to be if I worked hard enough. I think Sam Carter from Stargate SG-1 was probably a big influence. She was so smart and so respected and always had the answer.

Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
I’m currently on an internship with the British Society for Immunology (BSI). One of the things I’ve done while working with them was to write a letter to Rory Stewart, the Secretary of State for International Development (at the time of writing) inviting him to meet with BSI to talk about the UK’s contributions to Gavi and other international vaccination programmes. Today I found out he replied, inviting the BSI to meet with his team and offering us a place at the 2020 Gavi replenishment conference! I miss the lab, but it’s so cool to see something I wrote have such a big impact.


#WomenInSTEM

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