Win-win mentoring for women in science

19 Aug,2019

Win-win mentoring for women in science

ARMI PhD student, Danni Ratnayake.

The future of regenerative medicine is in good hands with a new generation of women in science. That’s the conclusion of Sara Mary Hall, CEO OcQuila Therapeutics, after mentoring ARMI PhD student, Dhanushika (Danni) Ratnayake last year as part of the IMNIS Regenerative Medicine International Mentoring Program.

A 7-month program, the Industry Mentoring Network in STEM (IMNIS) program strengthens ties between industry and academia by matching students with an internationally recognised professional in the regenerative medicine industry.

When Danni first heard about the IMNIS program, she was in the middle of her PhD program and feeling unsure about her career future.

“I’d mostly been exposed to the traditional academic route, and I was looking to educate myself about other career options,” Danni explained. “I thought this program would be a fantastic opportunity to not only learn about the international regenerative medicine sector, but also get some personalised guidance.”

As part of the IMNIS program, Danni connected with Sara Mary Hall, who was enthusiastic about mentoring the next generation of scientists.

“I have the luxury of age-related perspective, and it’s been wonderful to share that clarity with Danni,” Sara said. “I’ve benefited as well – being able to view academia and industry from her perspective has been invaluable, both personally and professionally.”

For Danni, having a woman mentor meant seeing first-hand how a successful woman leader navigates a man-dominated field.

“I think men and women approach situations very differently. But because my Honours and PhD supervisors were men, I didn’t get to see how women handle certain situations,” Danni said. “Sara has a very positive and proactive approach to tough situations. The advice she gave me about how to manage the tough times was one of the most important things I learned from her.”

Navigating any man-dominated industry can be difficult as a woman, and science is no exception.

“As a woman working in this field, I can help young women navigate some of the obstacles in their way,” said Sara. “At the same time, I am so heartened to see how easily they brush them aside.”

The benefit flows both ways in a mentoring relationship, with the mentor benefiting as much from the flow of insights as the mentee. It’s vital to share perspectives and information across generations in any field, especially in science, where technology and understanding is increasing so rapidly.

“Scientists coming into their own now have a far more robust understanding that any of us could have had two decades ago,” Sara explained. “The instruments and tools are substantially more sophisticated, and their comfort with large-scale data manipulation gives them a very different perspective on problems which my generation of scientist absolutely benefits from.”

For Danni and Sara, their relationship has continued past the mentoring period. They’re looking forward to meeting in Barcelona this October at the European Society of Gene and Cell Therapy conference, supported by a travel grant in the IMNIS program.

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