Case studies and Testimonials

Several School of Biology staff have also participated in the St Andrews University Publication “Academic Women Here! On being a female academic at the University of St Andrews” available for download here. This publication reveals the diversity of possible paths through academia, emphasising that there is no such thing as an archetypal female academic.

Case studies

Impact on individual: Sascha Hooker

Athena Swan submission, 2017

I joined the school in 2001 as a postdoctoral research fellow, and have been supported to grow in my research career to my current position as Reader. I was encouraged to apply for a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellowship, awarded in 2003, and was then offered a proleptic lectureship in 2004. Since then, I have had three children, one of whom is disabled, and the support I have received over this time has been outstanding. Some of this has been general (supportive environment, understanding colleagues, flexible working, core hours policy), while other aspects have been specific to my case (additional time off, provision of a temporary research assistant, travel funds).

I have taken 8 months maternity leave for each child, together with a flexible return to part-time work. In 2005, I was welcomed as part of the team exhibiting work at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition 2005, and the School provided funds for my partner and 11-month old daughter to come to London with me. When my second daughter was diagnosed at 8-months old with hemiplegic cerebral palsy, the School encouraged me to take a 2-month medical leave for associated stress, which enabled us to begin therapy opportunities. On my return to work (part-time), my Head of Unit provided a 1.5-year Research Assistant to help retain my research productivity while I was dealing with our new circumstances. This allowed me to fulfil several immediate academic goals and retain my publication productivity. In 2010, after the birth of our son, the Head of School supported a 6-month teaching sabbatical, enabling me to take up an invited visiting researcher position in France for that academic year. Given my work-life circumstances, in which travel and networking is heavily restricted by the day-to-day needs of our family, moving the whole family for a year was a great opportunity to form collaborations abroad.

The school has continued its support of my part-time status, and in particular my need to have a flexible schedule geared toward school hours and term times, allowing time for hospital visits or more distant therapy opportunities. The School’s core-hours policy ensures that I can still attend meetings or seminars.

In 2014, I successfully applied for promotion to Reader. Both my Head of School and my mentor helped throughout – from initial appraisal meeting, to suggestions on the application itself, and help ensuring that my application was appropriately evaluated (using a longer time-window than for fulltime staff) to fully recognise my academic achievements. Subsequently, changes such as noting personal circumstances ahead of achievements have been incorporated into University-wide promotions procedures.

Recognising my capability, the school provided financial support for me to attend a Science Leadership Training Course in 2015. The school has continued support for leadership opportunities for me, with my current role as Chair of the Equality and Diversity Committee, and consequent role on Management Group. They have facilitated my undertaking these by ensuring a reduction in my teaching and administrative duties.

Impact on individual: Clare Peddie

Athena Swan submission, 2015

I have either studied at or worked for the School of Biology at the Clare PeddieUniversity of St Andrews since 1987 with a gap of only two years at the University of Dundee. I started my journey in science, with two pre-school children, as a mature undergraduate at the Open University. Inspired, I decided to pursue a full-time BSc Honours degree in Marine Biology at my local University of St Andrews. Following completion of the undergraduate degree, I was admitted as a PhD student in Marine Biology at the School of Biology at St Andrews, having my third child just before graduating. After this, I changed discipline and began a Post-doctoral Research Fellowship in Haematology at the University of Dundee, and followed by a similar post in Cancer Research at the University of St Andrews. In 2001, I decided to leave the uncertainty of a research career, and became a Teaching Fellow for the School of Biology, initially on a short-term 6-month contract. The School made this position permanent shortly thereafter. I was supported in promotion applications to Senior Teaching Fellow in 2002 and to Principal Teaching Fellow in 2008. Throughout my career, I have changed disciplines and roles from marine biology to haematology to cancer research to a full-time teaching role in order to stay in the area to accommodate family priorities. The School of Biology recognised and supported my potential throughout this.

At the University of St Andrews I have contributed to the School and the wider University as a respected member of the academic community. I was Assistant Director of Teaching followed by almost three years as the Director of Teaching for the School of Biology. For four years, I held a Faculty based position as ProDean Undergraduate (Science). I am now the ProDean for Postgraduate Taught students across all Faculties in addition to maintaining a very active teaching commitment in the School of Biology. In this University role, I am responsible for the student experience, changes and developments in the postgraduate taught curriculum, and the postgraduate regulatory framework. I am also a member of a team of five approving all curriculum change in the University with individual responsibility for new postgraduate taught programmes and modules, a Senate Assessor of Appeals and Complaints, an elected member of Academic Council, and the University Diving Safety Adviser. When time permits, my current research and teaching interests encompass behaviours associated with cleaner stations on coral reefs, diving physiology, scientific diving techniques, the value of fieldwork in effective teaching, the development of employability through leadership and management experience in fieldwork, and engagement in tutorials.

Throughout my career progression the School of Biology has supported me by offering me a permanent position at a time when permanent Teaching Fellow positions were extremely rare; encouraging me to take up wider University positions and backing my promotion to Senior Teaching Fellow followed by Principal Teaching Fellow.

Transition of technical staff to academic roles: Stefania Pasare

Athena Swan submission, 2017

Stefania originally pursued a traditional academic career with her undergraduate in Romania, and MSc and PhD in the UK, followed by a 2-year career break to have her daughter.  She joined the School of Biology in 2015 as a research technician, but was encouraged and supported in applying for a Daphne Jackson Trust Fellowship Award to allow her to regain an academic career-track.  She was successful and in 2016 began her fellowship.


Continuity of employment: Helen Connaris

Athena Swan submission, 2017

Helen joined the School of Biology as a post-doctoral research fellow. The school has supported her re-employment over several contracts, underwriting her position to ensure long-term continuity.  She has taken maternity leave twice, returning to work part-time, and gradually ramping up to full-time in 2014.  She was promoted to a senior research fellow in 2009, and now heads the research team that is supporting the spin-out company, Pneumagen, R&D program.

Support for academic career progression: Clare Maynard

Athena Swan submission, 2017

In 1995, Clare joined the Biology Department as a mature undergraduate student.  One year into her PhD, her pregnancy with twin girls caused medical problems, further compounded by caring responsibilities following her elderly father-in-law’s stroke. The School supported Clare in making informed decisions about her career, and then negotiating successive extensions with registry (not usually allowed). Completing her PhD in 2014, Clare is now a successful post-doctoral researcher in the School, bringing in unique funding streams from coastal landowners, conservation agencies and the Scottish Rural Development Programme.

Flexible working: Uli Schwarz-Linek

Athena Swan submission, 2017

During the 2016-2017 academic year, the School supported Uli’s request for rescheduling his teaching timetable.  Uli’s circumstances – a dual-earning family (his wife at the University of Edinburgh), their baby twins and a toddler needing to be taken to nurseries in different directions, and subsequent commute – made an originally-scheduled 9am start on 12 days of term very difficult. The Biology teaching office and DoT accommodated this request and scheduled Uli’s lectures for later in the morning.



Sascha Hooker

Sascha HookerI am a half-time professor in the Department, and current Chair of the Biology Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee.  I see our main role as improving the workplace for everyone in the Department, monitoring areas of imbalance and seeking ways to alleviate these.  We have achieved many positive changes since 2013 (resulting in our Bronze Athena Swan Award in 2015 and our Silver Award in 2017).  Equality is firmly embedded in our department and our example is often cited university-wide. As a part-time staff member with heavy caring responsibilities outside of work, I am particularly aware of the struggles faced by working mothers.

Sascha Hooker

Kevin Laland

DCF 1.0The Athena Swan program has been brilliant for the School of Biology at St Andrews. In a very short period of time, through engaging with the Athena Swan initiative, we have completely changed the culture in our department. The experience was extremely rewarding, as it felt like we were pushing against an open door. All of our colleagues want a fair and just, family friendly workplace, where individuals can interweave their work and personal circumstances flexibly. We continue to strive for improvements, but it is great to be in an environment that you feel is supportive.

Kevin Laland

Professor of Biology and father

Malcolm White

Since taking over as Head of School in June 2014, we have made good progress in the Athena Swan process, appointing an Equality & Diversity Officer to monitor data annually, modifying our recruitment material,

revising our return to work procedure and support for those taking maternity leave, revamping our mentorship processes and developing a fresh approach to promotion that should ameliorate any inherent inequalities. One of my first acts as Head of School was to introduce a more comprehensive workload model that allows workload balancing across research, teaching and service. We interrogated this model and found no inherent gender, age or other biases introduced inadvertently by School policies. Nonetheless, having also worked on a series of short-term contracts in the past, I am particularly aware of the difficulties faced by early career postdoctoral fellows and academics in the UK, where work, family and job insecurity can create a stressful environment. This is reflected in the “leaky pipeline”, where there is a clear loss of talented female researchers at the key transition between postdoctoral researcher and first independent academic position, and again before promotion to Professor. These key transitions are a major focus of my work as Head of School, together with the School Management Group and the Biology Equality & Diversity committee.

Malcolm White
Head of School and father of two

Maria Dornelas

A main theme of my research is quantifying diversity, and it gives me great pleasure to able to put that into practice as Equality and Diversity Officer for the school of Biology. My role is to quantify and report equality and diversity issues among staff and students within the school, so that we can use this information to identify what needs to be improved and how it can be improved. I feel the BE&D committee is making great progress in creating an inclusive culture that values difference and fairness.

Maria Dornelas