Faculty of Biological Sciences

The Athena SWAN Charter aims to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) employment in higher education and research. http://www.ecu.ac.uk/equality-charters/athena-swan/

The Faculty of Biological Sciences was awarded a Bronze Award in September 2014. Since then we have been implementing the action plan that we developed as part of this award. We are currently in the process of assessing a progress with this action plan as part of an application for a Silver Award, which we will submit in April 2017.

 Download application document (.docx)

This is led by co-chairs Dr Sue Whittle (S.R.Whittle@leeds.ac.uk) and Dr Julie Aspden (j.aspden@leeds.ac.uk). A whole team people from across the faculty sit on the FBS Athena Swan Committee and form the self-assessment team for applications. The members of the committee (as you can see here) include representatives from each of the three schools in the faculty, from postdocs, HR, academics (both research and teaching staff). We have recently recruited new members from the PhD student community, technical support, student service and professional services. This is to make sure our discussions and plans represent people from every part of the faculty.

What are we doing?

Through the work of the Self-Assessment Team, the Faculty strives to ensure gender equality. We were successful in achieving the Athena Swan Bronze Award in September 2014 and are currently preparing to submit our Silver Award application in April 2017.

Current activities include;

  1. We organise events to champion gender equality, e.g. Celebration of International Day of Women and Girls in Science Feb 10th 2017.

  2. Together with HR we work to provide useful support regarding Maternity, Adoption, Parental leave or Career Break policies, e.g. website and faculty coffee morning drop-ins.

  3. Develop policies and training to ensure gender equality in our work environment e.g. Unconscious bias, inclusion and equality training, and Equal Opportunities Guidelines for Seminar Organisers.

  4. Monitor people’s experience in FBS and develop action to improve the work environment for all members of our community, e.g. surveys and improving flexible/remote working support.

  5. Tackle the issue of the leaking pipeline in science e.g. run postdoc mentoring scheme.

Footsteps brochure; showcasing role models and career paths from the faculty community

Footsteps pathway of March; Dr Sue Deuchars

Other useful links and resources:

Supporting Trans staff and students

Being aware of the appropriate terms and understanding what they mean. Can you match the term to the meaning? The Equality Challenge Unit has produced this activity to help understand some of the common terminology.

For more guidance to support Trans staff and students, please refer to:

An Interesting talk by Mary Beard on Women in Power


Unconscious bias

Writing a letter of recommendation? Here are some tips to avoiding gender bias in writing your reference.


We all have unconscious biases. Test yourself and see what yours are


Athena Swan Highlights from the Staff Culture Survey (October 2016)

We have collated some key messages from the Staff Culture Survey from the perspective of Athena Swan.
Thank you for completing it! In future we will have a more tailored questionnaire for Athena Swan.

 Download document (.pdf)

BBC Academy's Expert Women programme

Applications for the programme, which aims to increase the number of expert female contributors on air, are now open. Click here for more information

June 2016: Frankie MacMillan - Advancing to Silver and Beyond

Frankie joined us from the University of Bristol to talk about her experience during their submission for Athena swan gold award. Download the presentation slides from the meeting.

The submission (including our action plan), sent to the Athena SWAN assessment panel in April 2014 can be viewed in full (.PDF)

The Athena SWAN Charter is supported at a national level by the WISE campaign for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology and the Equality Challenge Unit. Find out more about the Women in Science and Engineering campaign and the Leeds Women in Science Engineering and Technology (WiSET) network

External networks, organisations and publications of interest to women in SET

Recognising Excellence - Enhancing Equality

The University is committed to supporting all staff to deliver their individual personal best, achieve excellence in a diverse range of areas, and progress in their careers. To be a world leading University we must attract, retain, support and develop the best staff; this includes making sure that we represent the diverse nature of the wider community within the University. Click here for more information

Funding opportunities


12 month fellowship for early career scientists, deadline Friday 16th February 2018.


Wellcome Trust ISSF “Return to Work Fellowship”

There is funding to support a return to work, for example providing funding for short-term technical assistance or buy-out of teaching duties, purchase of consumables / facilities access, help with costs or logistics of conference attendance or training courses (new skills or refresher training).


Small Athena Swan Grants to support staff returning from a career break

We have a small fund to help support those returning to work from a career break in a flexible way – this could be used to cover costs for e.g. travel to/registration for a conference, travel arrangements for meeting with collaborators, childcare costs to attend a conference or other research-related activity, small consumables for pilot study etc.

Awards are likely to be in the region of £100-500, though requests for larger amounts (up to £1000) will be considered if funding permits.

 Download document (.docx)

Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship

Photograph of Dorothy Hodgkin

This scheme is for outstanding scientists in the UK at an early stage of their research career who require a flexible working pattern due to personal circumstances such as parenting or caring responsibilities or health issues. Female candidates are particularly invited to apply.


Working from home and flexible working and access to IT resources off campus

To enable more effective flexible working FBS IT have some guidelines to help access resources from off campus.
For additional assistance email itsupport@fbs.leeds.ac.uk

 Download document (.docx)

Equal Opportunities Guidelines for Seminar Organisers

These guidelines are to aid seminar organisers to ensure equal opportunitites in the selection of speakers. Bias in the selection of invited speakers is not usually intentional; rather it usually results from subtler mechanisms, such as implicit bias. A pro-active approach can reduce these biases and facilitate diversity.

 Download document (.docx)

Returning to work following Maternity, Adoption, Parental leave or Career Break?

The faculty has introduced a new policy to support staff returning to work following a period of long term leave. Click here for more information

Breast feeding facilities

 Download document (.doc)

The University of Leeds has developed a Trans Equality Policy

It sets out our commitment, intent and principles for trans equality and it applies to all our prospective applicants for employment and study, employees and students, contractors, visitors and partners.

 Download document (.docx)

Coffee and Careers, 3pm in Astbury seminar room level 11

Upcoming sessions:

02/02/2018 Emma Sparey (OD&PL, Leeds) hosting a CV surgery

23/02/2018 Dr Bernadine Idowu (King’s College London) a medical scientist, working in the field of Bone Regeneration in Tissue Engineering. Will be talking about "My journey as an Award winning black female scientist and Philantropist”

Past events


The first “Coffee and Careers” event on Friday 27th January 2017, was a great success.

We had ~50 people from across the faculty turn up to hear a great talk from Dr Janet Saunders from MedImmune... As well as enjoy donuts and coffee.

The audience included PhD students, postdocs and technicians.

Comparisons for a research scientist Talk delivered to a full audience The coffee and careers team Donuts all round! Coffee and careers talk

Coffee and Careers event on Friday 24th February 2017:

Kevin Tipping - Trainee Patent Attorney

"Kevin is a part-qualified patent attorney working for Gill Jennings & Every LLP in the Chemistry and Life Sciences Group. He joined GJE in October 2015, after completing his PhD at the University of Leeds."

You can find out more about Kevin at: https://www.gje.com/people/kevin-tipping/

Photo from the Coffee and Careers event on 24th Feb 2017
Photo from the Coffee and Careers event on 24th Feb 2017

Upcoming coffee and careers events:

02/02/2018 Emma Sparey (OD&PL, Leeds) hosting a CV surgery

23/02/2018 Dr Bernadine Idowu (King’s College London) a medical scientist, working in the field of Bone Regeneration in Tissue Engineering. Will be talking about "My journey as an Award winning black female scientist and Philantropist”

University Mentoring Scheme

Mentoring is rapidly becoming recognised worldwide as a highly effective developmental process for employees. If you would like support and guidance from a colleague in order to help and manage your own learning and development then please register as a mentee by following the link provided below.

To sign up as a mentor or mentee please click here

For more information, and to find resources for mentors or mentees you can visit the mentoring website or contact Sarah Farrell, SDDU

The University has invested in a web based tool to support mentoring (Scottish University Mentoring and Coaching System). SUMAC supports University wide mentoring and is available for all University staff regardless of job type or grade. The system allows mentors and mentees to sign in via an on-line short form that asks you to outline your background and interests, mentoring can be over a wide range of topics that you're either seeking assistance with or offering support on. These details then enable mentors to be matched with mentees.

FBS Postdoc Mentoring Scheme

To support the career and personal development of Postdocs within the Faculty of Biological Sciences (FBS), Postdoctoral Association of Leeds (PAL) and Athena SWAN run a mentoring scheme for postdocs and early career researchers. The mentoring model we have developed is that of "Mentoring Circles"; with a group of 4 mentees to 2 mentors. This mentoring circle format delivery is also an effective way to utilise informal peer support networking and maximises the use of the mentor's time.

The basis of the mentoring scheme is that:

  • Participation is on a voluntary basis.
  • Mentoring conversations are confidential and private.
  • The mentor is outside the mentee's direct line management chain, but is a PI within FBS.

If you are interested in participating or would like to find out more about the scheme, please email Julie Aspden (j.aspden@leeds.ac.uk)

Rebecca Thompson (Senior Cryo-Electron Microscopy Support Scientist)

After studying her undergraduate degree in Molecular Biology at Cardiff University, she came to the University of Leeds on the Wellcome Trust PhD scheme ‘Molecular Basis of Biological Mechanisms’. “During my first year, in the rotation projects, I used electron microscopy in my research for the first time. I thought there was something very compelling about being able to directly visualise the protein assemblies I was studying”. Rebecca went on to complete her PhD with Prof. Neil Ranson, Dr Eric Hewitt and Prof. Sheena Radford using transmission electron microscopy (TEM) to study the interactions between macromolecular complexes and membranes. During her PhD, Rebecca was able to take advantage of development opportunity’s available to PhD students at Leeds, such as a 3-month science policy internship at the Academy of Medical Sciences.

During Rebecca’s PhD, electron microscopy underwent a ‘revolution’ thanks to developments in microscope hardware and new image processing software. “I was fortunate in my PhD project to gain a broad range of experience with TEM’s”. This meant when the University of Leeds and Wellcome Trust invested £16.5 million in establishing a new centre for structural biology at Leeds in 2015, Rebecca was ideally placed at the end of her PhD to take up the role of cryo-electron microscopy support scientist. “In this role I helped establish the Titan Krios microscopes at Leeds and support users from across the University to use electron microscopy in their research”. In summer 2017, Rebecca became the senior cryo-electron microscopy support scientist and facility manager at the Astbury Biostructure laboratory electron microscopy facility. “I now oversee the day-to-day running of the electron microscopy facility and our 5 microscopes. I get involved with a range of research projects, get a little bit geeky about microscopes and learning the best ways to get the most out of them and liaise with users from other universities and industry- there is a wonderful variety of work in the role. The Faculty of Biological Sciences is a great place to work- my supervisors and collaborators have always been very supportive, and schemes such as the post-doc mentoring scheme have allowed me to take a step back and reflect on what skills I needed to progress to the next career stage.”

Dr Thomas Edwards (Associate Professor in the School of Molecular and Cell Biology)

Ed with Avery in backpack, with wife Dr Celine Hamilton, and daughter Hudson on a hike on the island of Arran

Ed started as a University Research Fellow in 2005, became a lecturer in 2010, and was promoted to Associate Professor in 2013. Dr Edwards has been Deputy Director of the Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology since 2012 and will become the Director of Research for the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology. Ed took 12 weeks paternity leave following the birth of daughter Avery in 2015.

Ed says:
“The School was very supportive of my paternity leave and we had everything planned to organize teaching etc whist I was away. However, all that planning came to naught when Avery arrived 8 weeks early! Essentially at zero notice, all of my colleagues were brilliant in stepping in to cover teaching and admin that had been moved forward to accommodate the planned birth date. Avery was fine, and came home in a few days, but there was lots to do, and I had to learn to feed her through a nose tube! Avery is now a bouncing beautiful 2 year old.”

Ed says:
“When a baby is breast feeding, it is possible for the father to feel somewhat superfluous! I spend a great 12 weeks looking after Avery at home, really getting to know her and integrating her into the family (we have an older daughter as well).”

Amy Barker (Part-time PhD student, part-time technician)

I started working in FBS in 2008 as a Laboratory Technician running analytical biophysical equipment and training Facility users. I now work as a Research Technician for Professor Peter Stockley carrying out lab research projects, admin tasks and being a key member of the group. I am currently studying part-time for a PhD looking at novel anti-viral approaches towards (+)ssRNA viruses and hoping to submit at the end of 2017.

In 2016, I took 6 months maternity leave and my research role was covered full time allowing me to focus my full attention on my new baby. I had a phased return to work using annual leave, which was essential for transitioning my 5 month old into childcare and switching my brain back on! My PI independently continued funding full time for a Technician to working alongside me for 10 months. This was invaluable and allowed me to pick up my PhD thesis again (after taking a 12 month extension). The University provides great flexibility with working hours and vital protocols for taking carers leave at the drop of a hat. My PI, colleagues, friends and family have been very supportive and now I couldn't imagine working anywhere else.

Dr Beatrice Filippi (University Academic Fellow in Neuroscience) and
Dr Elton Zeqiraj (University Academic Fellow in School of Molecular and Cellular Biology)

In August 2016, we began our current posts as University Academic Fellows in the Faculty of Biological Sciences. Before relocating to Leeds, we spend six years as postdoctoral fellows in Toronto. We have two boys who are now four and two years old.

The 250-Great Minds initiative by the University of Leeds gave us the chance to start our independent careers in the same place at the same time. Journeying from a postdoctoral post to an independent academic is very tricky because there are many twist and turns along the way, all of which need to converge with a suitable position being open at the right time. In that respect, we were quite lucky to have been offered same level faculty positions for both.

Being a working couple means sharing responsibilities at home. It can sometimes be hard to combine work with childcare and other responsibilities when you have two young children. For us the most important thing is to respect each other’s work and support each other.

As a parent, you feel guilty if you don’t spend enough time with your kids, but as an academic you always feel that you don’t have enough time to complete your work. Our biggest revelation has been that the two are not mutually exclusive, and after finding the right balance between responsibilities at home and at work, the resulting experience is very harmonious and satisfying. Here in Leeds we found the right work environment and support from colleagues that helped us find that balance. The facilities at the University have helped too. Having a nursery on campus was a great relief for us and has practical benefits.

Dr Yoselin Benitez-Alfonso (Lecturer in Plant Sciences)

Yoselin is a Lecturer in the School of Biology. She specializes in Plant Sciences, with a focus in the regulation of intercellular communication and plant development. Her research has been published in prestigious journals including Developmental Cell, PNAS and the Plant Cell. Yoselin worked in the Faculty since 2013, starting as Academic Fellow. She was born in Cuba but studied her degree at the University of Cordoba, Spain and as a postdoctoral researcher she worked at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York and at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, UK. Besides research, Yoselin holds several administrative roles including Faculty Equality and Diversity coordinator, Deputy Admission officer and EPSRC Associate Peer Review College member. Yoselin is also a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Yoselin says:
"My partner and I learned that I was pregnant 4 months after starting my Academic Fellow position at the University of Leeds. This was a very stressful time as you can imagine and my partner was working in Norwich, thus I was basically on my own. Thankfully, he decided to leave his job and help when my daughter Jessica was born. That also meant that I was the only earner in the family therefore I've had a short period of maternity leave lasting only 4 months. I feel fortunate that Jessica got a place at the University nursery really early thus I could come back to work while still be able to visit her several times a day for breastfeeding. I had good support at home from my partner and in the Faculty from some of my colleagues but still it was really difficult to combine motherhood demands with the grant writing, lecturing, tutoring and leading a research lab for the first time. Now I feel proud that I could manage all these responsibilities and at the same time to get funding for my research and undertake other administrative roles at the School and Faculty level. I must have done something right as I passed my probation a year earlier than expected and became since few months a Lecturer in Plant sciences. Jessica is now 3 and although it is still complicated to have a good life-work balance, I feel settling nicely on my very different roles. My partner is also back to work so not more nice dinners and legs up in the chair when I am back from work!"