Thursday 11 February 2021 marks International Day of Women and Girls in Science, and here at UHDB, we are celebrating by showcasing some of the amazing work that members of #TeamUHDB are conducting in their fields of science and research.
The international event aims to raise the profile and awareness of the roles women can and do play in science around the world. UNESCO estimates that around globally, less than 30 per cent of researchers are women and only around 30 per cent of all female students select Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) related fields in higher education.
We’ve spoken to Alison Cropper, Consultant Biomedical Scientist and Cervical Screening Programme Lead at UHDB, about her role and career in science.
Alison has always known that a career in science was for her, with her family having a big influence on this. Alison hails from a family of mainly teachers, doctors and other medical professionals, and she always thought she would like be involved in science and healthcare in some way.
She said: “I never really thought of myself as being a doctor, so I started to look into professions relating to the medical side of things.
“I was studying A Levels in science and maths so I was considering what my next steps should be, and so I took the initiative and called Queen’s Hospital Burton and asked for some work experience.”
During this time at Queen’s, Alison experienced several different areas, but once she saw the Pathology labs and found out more about them, her mind was made up.
She said: “It just looked so interesting and I thought to myself, this is for me. So I went on to study biomedical science at university and graduated in 1985. It was around this time that the cervical screening programme was beginning to become formalised and I remember thinking that this was something I could see myself getting involved in in the future.
Alison’s first role in the NHS was at Good Hope Hospital in Sutton Coldfield where she gained further laboratory experience and earned additional professional qualifications, before taking a role at Queen’s Hospital Burton as Cellular Pathology Manager until 2000, when she became Cytology Manager in Derby.
Cytology is the “science of cells” where cells taken from almost any part of the body can be analysed and screened for abnormalities and can detect diseases such as cancer.
Alison added: “I still get to do a lot of the ‘hands on’ work alongside my other responsibilities which is great. I still analyse samples under the microscope and do a lot of clinical work, which is really nice as when you go home at the end of the day, you know you’ve done something that makes a difference to someone’s life and could potentially even save it.”
Alison is also the Cervical Screening Programme Lead at UHDB alongside her role as Consultant Biomedical Scientist, which gives her the perfect balance of clinical, leadership and managerial responsibilities:
“We are one of only eight labs doing cervical cytology in the country, so it really is a role in which you can make a difference. It’s life-saving work.
“Every cervical sample we receive now firstly screened for the human papillomavirus (HPV) which is the main cause of cervical cancer, to try to prevent cancer developing, we also do follow-up screening of cervical cancer patients.
“Screening is a very manual process, it’s labour intensive but it is incredibly worthwhile.”
In addition to all of her work for UHDB, Alison has also gone on to become the President of the British Association of Cytopathology, and thinks that it is important that women and girls considering a career in science akin to hers “do their homework” to be aware of all the options available to them in the NHS.
She said: “I remember at the time when I was considering higher education, there was a big push for more women to pursue careers in science, and that conversation is as relevant now as it was then.
“There are so many different aspects to careers in science, especially healthcare science, so don’t feel like you need to get channelled into one area.
“For young girls looking at making a difference, careers in pathology are a real area for you to look at.”