Women in STEM: Rebekah

The biologist Rebekah

My 29th guest is Rebekah, PhD candidate in evolution and genetics of ageing and passionate science communicator.

Hi @rebekah_jwhite! First of all would you like to tell us something about you?

Hello! I am Rebekah, a British PhD student currently at the University of Exeter. I am in my first year, and researching the evolution and genetics of ageing in the Weadick Lab. My undergrad and masters of research was at the University of Southampton, where I came to love evolutionary biology, science communication, and everything they consist of.

When did you start your Twitter account? How did you get the idea?

I started Twitter during my masters, mainly to connect with the academic world. This began when I saw how relatable a lot of research tweets were, and I have loved sharing my work updates here and meeting inspiring life scientists from all over the world. Darwin’s Black Book podcast has been in the works for just a few months, with the first episode, On the Origin, coming soon. I love listening to science podcasts, and, along with a postgraduate researcher from Southampton, realised there was an empty space where evolution is concerned. We decided to put our heads together and make an accessible series about our favourite topic.

Rebekah presenting her research

Can you tell us something about how you balance work and private life? 

I keep my hobbies going, and try to take weekends off (at least Sundays!). I aim to attend every social event held by the Postgraduate Society at university, which is a great way to blow off steam. Being a part of university committees also helps with the social side.

During your academic studies how many women were in course? Why in your opinion?

Throughout undergrad, I was fortunate enough to be part of a cohort that was around 50% women. I believe this is because my age group is one of the first ‘results’ of Women in Science movements that aim to inspire school girls to consider science as a career. From my experience, women in biosciences in the UK is becoming well represented at the undergraduate level.

Have you ever felt harassed or being kept apart as a scholar because you are a woman?

I had a situation where I was missing out on getting the best of a project (and, therefore, opportunities) due to this. It went on for a couple of months, and it was not pleasant at all. Fortunately, I was in a position where I could exit the situation without much pushback, and enter an alternative project. It all worked out really well for me in the end, but I know others have not been so lucky.

How did you become passionate about science? 

My “first love” in science was space and astronomy. I loved tracking satellites, looking at planets through my dad’s telescope, and learning about unbelievable phenomena. In terms of biology, a memorable point for me was when I was 15 years old and learning about human evolution for the first time in school. The whole thing absolutely blew me away. I was hooked, and soon realised that genetics was the key to understanding so much about nature and life. It was inspiring topics, peers, and lecturers at university that consolidated this for me, particularly during my masters.

Would you like to talk briefly about your job?

Now, I get to work in a lab every day to study DNA and patterns of evolution. It’s kind of my dream job. I use microscopic nematode worms, called Pristionchus, to study this and explore theories (particularly about why living things get old). I am also involved with a range of groups and committees within the university with fantastic groups of people, which I love.

Thank you so much for your time. Lastly, can you give any advice to girls interested in STEM?

If people around you, like in your class, are not interested in what you find fascinating… don’t let this hold you back! Study hard at what you love, and take every opportunity. You will meet amazing people there who share your interests, and it could set you up for life. The fact that you are reading this article right now says a lot about you! Please feel free to reach out to me if you would like any advice or help in setting or achieving your goals. Oh, and finally… enjoy the journey.

Follow Rebekah on her website, on Google Scholar and on her podcast!

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