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Connecting women and opportunity

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Connecting women and opportunity

Womanthology is a digital magazine and professional community powered by female energy and ingenuity.

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Levelling the playing field by providing fellowships for researchers returning to work after a career break – Dr. Katie Perry, Chief Executive of the Daphne Jackson Trust


Dr. Katie Perry became chief executive of the Daphne Jackson Trust in 2011, having worked at the Trust for eight years prior to that as Trust Manager. She has a background in science communication and a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Surrey, where she worked with Professor Daphne Jackson. Katie manages the Trust’s activities at a strategic level and liaises closely with the Trust’s Board of Trustees, as well as developing partnerships with a range of stakeholders including sponsors and host organisations, and sitting on a number of committees addressing diversity issues in STEM careers.

Dr-Katie-Perry - Daphne Jackson Trust
Dr. Katie Perry

“…Daphne was a real champion. She was a pioneer with a fantastic sense of humour. She really was a passionate about her work and a ‘people person’. When she set her mind to do something, she was determined to make it happen…”

Becoming a physicist and discovering my love of science communication

From an early age, I was very keen on physics so it was natural then to study for a degree in physics at the University of Surrey. I then continued on to do a Ph.D. in the same department at a time when Daphne Jackson was the head of department.

I started off my physics degree not entirely knowing what I wanted to do afterwards. All through school I thought I would be a physics teacher. Here at the University of Surrey, four-year degrees with one year in industry are the norm and I asked to do technical marketing or something similar so they found me a placement at IBM and I worked in a fantastic small department for my third year. I realised that I loved technical marketing of products that were complicated enough that you needed Ph.D. level knowledge.

So, when I came back for my final year I decided I wanted to do a Ph.D. I also loved communication, and that ran through my work in the department, where I used to help out with UCAS days, promoting the department to students. It was during my Ph.D. that I started to home in on the fact that science communication was in actual fact my area and I loved getting out and talking with the younger generation.

In the first year of my Ph.D. Daphne herself asked me to do her talks in schools. She was quite ill at the time with breast cancer so she gave me all of her original school talk notes and asked me to carry on her schools and outreach work for her.

After completion of my Ph.D. I applied for a job at the Institute of Physics. I started working in their public affairs department and it suited me perfectly. It was my ideal job. After a while I started to run their public understanding of physics programme. This included a series of lectures and events aimed at encouraging the general public to gain a greater understanding of physics in everyday life. I also had a good grounding in media, science writing, press and PR work and I loved it.

From full time to freelance

Five years later I had my daughter, who has now just turned 18, and unfortunately, at the time, the work pattern offered by the Institute didn’t suit my childcare needs, so I left the Institute, and walked into the Marketing Department of the University of Surrey, CV in hand, and asked if there was any chance of a couple of days work.

They were just reorganising and asked if I would be prepared to work freelance. Always one to enjoy a new challenge I started working for the marketing department at the University of Surrey for a couple of years. One of my jobs was to help the Daphne Jackson Trust with their 10th Anniversary Symposium and following that they offered me one day a week carrying out some press and PR work.

I continued working at the Trust, gradually increasing my days for the Trust and decreasing those for the University until I was working four days a week for the Trust and became Trust Manager. Then in 2011, when the previous chief executive stepped away, I became chief executive.

It’s very personally rewarding for me to work for the Trust. I love the charity. I couldn’t imagine not working in STEM, because I’m a physicist. I love all aspects of science, engineering and technology, and working for the Daphne Jackson Trust, because Daphne was such a great mentor to me in my career, I’ve come back full circle and it seems so fitting that I’m now running the organisation and taking it forward.

Background to the Daphne Jackson Trust

The Daphne Jackson Trust is the only charitable organisation in the UK that is solely dedicated to returners in STEM. We are unique. Daphne started the fellowship scheme and the first awards were made in 1986, and at the time, these were just for women who needed help to return to research careers.

Daphne had known many women through her work as head of department and dean of the faculty who had started a promising research career but then had a break for family caring or health reasons. Sometime later she would see them doing a far more menial role than they should be doing with their qualifications and she thought what a huge waste of talent this was. It was a waste of the investment spent in their education if they don’t then come back and utilise their skills and experience.

She devised the fellowships herself and the fellowships we offer now haven’t changed much at all since Daphne started awarding them. Candidates can apply for a two or a three-year fellowship that’s part time, offering the fellow the opportunity to do a challenging research project combined with an individually tailored retaining programme.

Daphne ran the fellowship programme from 1986 until 1991, when she sadly died and the Trust was set up to continue the fellowships in 1992.

Unique retraining programme for every fellow

PhysicsEach fellow’s retraining programme will be absolutely unique to them. It will depend on what they did prior to their break, what they want to do going forward. The application process is very detailed and is a part of a researchers journey to returning back to a career.

We find that the fellows gain a great deal from having a one to one relationship with their fellowship advisor. At the end of the fellowship we want to see that we’ve taken away the disadvantage of their career break. We can’t guarantee a job, but what we can guarantee is that we will take away their disadvantage and put them back on a level playing field.

We have fellowship advisors who work one to one with the candidates and fellows, so we’re experienced about how to deal with somebody who wants to return to what is, let’s face it, a highly challenging research career. It’s not an easy option. What we find is that are fellows are incredibly motivated and very talented, so it would be such a waste if those people weren’t given the opportunity to return to the career that they had trained for in the first place.

The Trust has reached a point where we can use our skills and experience in developing a role in influencing policy work. We have a huge bank of experience in dealing with returners. We know the issues that they face, we know the needs they have. We know that there are many barriers, but we also know the ways to overcome them.

Our role as facilitator – connecting fellows and sponsors

The Trust’s work could not continue without the generous support of our sponsors and donors. The Trust itself works as a facilitator. Each fellowship is sponsored by an organisation or organisations that have an interest in the research that’s undertaken.

Our sponsors range from all of the relevant UK research councils, universities (who may well host as well as sponsor a fellow), learned societies and professional institutions, charities (we work with a number of the large medical research charities), and some companies as well. Any organisation that has an interest in research that’s being undertaken is a potential partner for the Trust. Each sponsor will either fully or part sponsor a fellowship. I’ve worked hard to broaden that portfolio of sponsors over the past few years.

My role day to day

When I moved from the role of Trust Manager to position of chief executive I found that transition quite difficult at times because I’d always been there mucking in and doing everything, as is often the case with very small organisations.

I had to shift what I was doing. I’d become the one making all the decisions and I had to learn how to delegate effectively as well as surround myself with an effective and efficient team. This could be particularly challenging in some of the communications areas because that was my background and was the bulk of the work I had undertaken before.

On a day to day basis I have to keep an eye on the whole organisation, although there’s only ten of us in total and I’m the only one who works full time although I tend to work flexibly, from home, the office as well as travelling for meetings.

A typical week for me would maybe include a couple of days in the office, a couple of days out and about at meetings and a day working from home. I’m the sort of person who believes they should go out and speak to people in person, so I spend a lot of time speaking to senior management teams in universities specifically vice chancellors and pro vice chancellors. I also spend time going out to meetings with learned societies, professional institutions and charities too. Stakeholder management is very important to me.

I like the variety in my role that comes from the different people I’m meeting with. We’re starting to work more cooperatively with other organisations that have broadly similar aims to us. For many larger organisations, a small part of what they do will be talking about women in STEM and returners, even though we help men and women, 94 per cent of the people we help are women.

Naturally, we will be quite engaged with the whole women in STEM agenda, and I will often receive requests to speak at conferences, I’ll be asked to sit on steering groups and to attend committee meetings looking at these issues. Because we have our expertise with returners, I’m on the Returners to Bioscience steering group that has been organised by the Royal Society of Biology and the Biochemical Society.

The importance of championing work life balance for all

Daphne was a real champion. She was a pioneer with a fantastic sense of humour. She really was a passionate about her work and a ‘people person’. When she set her mind to do something, she was determined to make it happen.

Father-and-childWhen she set up the scheme it was only for women who had had a career break. The Trust then started out as an organisation that just helped women. It was around 2003 that we noticed we were getting an increasing number of applications and interest from men who hit every other one of our criteria apart from the fact they were a man not a woman. It was therefore quite a natural thing for us to contact the Charity Commission to get permission to expand our remit to help men as well as women.

In addition to having a career break for having a family, we have a remit to help people who have had a career break for caring or health reasons. We notice more fellows applying to us who have caring responsibilities for parents or other family members. We also help people who’ve had a break for ill health. The underlying integrity with which Daphne set up the scheme is that we would help those who were disadvantaged by having a break that was enforced on them. It was a break that was out of their hands.

One of the things I’m keen on is that we are an independent organisation for returners, regardless of gender. We are an organisation which helps individuals to grow and develop as people.

We offer support, guidance and advice in order for them to return. Sometimes people come to us with an amazing sense of wonder that such an organisation exists. We offer up to 25 fellowships per year at the present time.

Impact and legacy of the fellowships

We find fellows are so grateful for the opportunity they’ve been given that the majority of them will want to stay engaged with us at the end of their fellowship and as they return to their careers. Back in 2008, we had a smaller cohort of past fellows and we were able to pick up the phone and ring most of them. Now we’re dealing with greater numbers so we’re going to do a survey every five years that is sent out to former fellows so they can tell us what they’re doing.

We did this in 2015 and published a report on the impact of the fellowships – our post fellowship survey. We were absolutely delighted with the results because we can track fellows from the 1980s.

Because we keep in touch with our fellows from 10, 15, 20 years ago means we can really look at their paths post-fellowship and we can clearly see the impact the fellowships have had on their careers, and it’s quite dramatic. It’s so helpful to have this data as a result of having fellows who are engaged enough that they want to stay in contact and fill out the survey.

We have fantastic success rates of fellows staying in research and staying in STEM based careers post-fellowship. We can also show progression in their careers two years, five years, ten years post-fellowship.

Being a woman in a male dominated environment

I’ve been a woman in a male dominated environment all my working life. As a physicist, I was one of four women out of 36 on a physics degree. I worked for the Institute of Physics, so I’ve been a woman in a male dominated environment, and – you know what? – I haven’t had any challenges. All I can see is that there were benefits to that.

Going back to my degree, I was one of four women and all of my tutors remembered me. They knew my name, they knew who I was. I wasn’t one of the homogenous 32 men, so I always saw that as a positive thing.

I didn’t ever feel any negativity about being a woman. I’ve always been very much of the opinion that I am a physicist first and foremost. I have never felt intimidated by being a lone woman in a group of men. Maybe it’s my personality. I’ve heard from other women who have found that it can be a little intimidating at times but if ever there’s been anything that I think has possibly been a bit like that I’ve always challenged it.

It’s important to be aware if there are any issues and if so, to challenge them. This is a great thing for women in leadership to know. Don’t let anybody get away with anything, whether it’s a man or another woman.

In one of my other roles on a steering group they were looking at the issue of targets in terms of trying to make panels diverse. I’m a great believer that for any job, the right person should be selected, irrespective of whether they’re a man or a woman. The fact that I’m a woman is incidental. I think that runs through my whole working life. I don’t feel that I have encountered any challenges because I’m a woman who’s a leader.

How Womanthology readers can get involved

Awareness if a great thing for the Trust. We want as many people to be aware of us as possible. So, find us on, follow us on Twitter, and Facebook and help us spread the word! Let as many people know that we exist as you possibly can, including friends and family.

If there are scientists reading, it might be that they would like a fellowship. If they’re scientists and they work for an organisation, it might be that it’s an organisation that we could work with.

We want to increase both numbers of potential fellows and numbers of people who would like to make donations and become a sponsor, so getting the word out there is fantastic. If people want to get a little bit more involved they can contact us. We’re all extremely approachable and we’d be very happy to speak to anybody that would like to get involved.

Coming up for me and the Daphne Jackson Trust

For me personally, I’m very excited that I’m attending an international conference in October. I’m speaking at the International Conference for Women Engineers and Scientists (ICWES17), which is in New Delhi in India. It’s a fantastic opportunity to talk to a more global audience about the Trust and what we do.

It’s also exciting that my daughter and I put in a joint abstract that’s been accepted so we will be doing a lightening talk together about positive role models for girls and encouraging girls into science subjects.

As for the Daphne Jackson Trust, on the 2nd November, we have our Research Conference. This conference happens every two years and it is a fantastic opportunity to come along and find out more about the Trust by hearing from the fellows. So far, at this conference we’re up to our highest numbers ever for the day. – it’s tremendously exciting!

There’s a real buzz about the conference. It’s an opportunity for the fellows to come along and talk about their research, and it’s their research that gets them to the next position, so it’s wonderful that we can give them a forum to come along and present their research. They are a fantastic bunch when they get together!



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