Women's History Month Stories

Helen McRae, PhD

CRI-Merck Postdoctoral Fellow
Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Why did you pursue a career in science? 

I pursued a Bachelor of Science at university without a specific career goal in mind because I had been advised by teachers to study what I was interested in. While at the University of Melbourne, I applied for the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program and had my first taste of the discovery process. I was encouraged by my advisors and the senior students in the lab to continue my research as part of a PhD program and I haven’t looked back since.

What are you most proud of in your career? 

One of the biggest personal challenges for me in my scientific career has been the public speaking involved. Every time I am due to give a presentation, I become very nervous and feel a strong sense of imposter syndrome. I am proud of the fact that I have worked towards overcoming this and that despite my fears, I have been able to share my work to large audiences, and even won a prize for a conference presentation.

Who is a woman/mentor you admire? 

Throughout my career in science, I have been lucky to be surrounded by amazing women including my PhD advisor Dr. Anne Voss, and my current mentor Dr. Diana Hargreaves. I am inspired by my former and current lab mates who provide a supportive environment to learn together. My mother who worked hard throughout her career as a nurse has been a constant source of support to me and instilled in me the value of education.

What advice do you have for women who are entering the field of science?  

Join a lab that has a supportive mentor and environment who will not only celebrate the successes, but also help you overcome the inevitable disappointments and road blocks that are a part of any scientific project. I encourage you to become an advocate not only for women in science, but also for other underrepresented groups. Stay mindful of your influence so that you don’t perpetuate existing structures of power and privilege, but actively transform the culture towards inclusivity.

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