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The Faculty holds the Athena SWAN Bronze Award which recognises our commitment to providing equality for women in mathematics and science

Megan Hughes
PhD student
School of Physics and Astronomy

Background of academic life and PhD research
Before commencing my PhD, I completed a BSc. in Mathematics and Physics at the University of Leeds and one of my greatest academic achievements was winning the William Williams Prize for most outstanding student in Joint Honours Science. During the final year of my degree I completed a project in physics with Dr Lorna Dougan gaining an understanding of the forces holding biological molecules, called proteins, together. I found this final year project very interesting and I decided to pursue this topic further by applying for a PhD with Dr Dougan. In my PhD project I have been manipulating the strengths of the different interactions holding proteins together to see how their biophysical properties change.  

Most enjoyable thing about pursuing a PhD at Leeds
One of the best things about my PhD is that it is very interdisciplinary; at Leeds we have the Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology which provides a great platform for collaborations between physics, biology and chemistry. As a result, I have been able to learn about many different areas of protein science as part of my project. Another great thing about continuing my studies at Leeds is the friendly atmosphere of the physics department – there is a lot of great support from staff and peers. You also get the chance to speak about your research to peers from across the physics department in the departmental symposium – I was awarded the best presentation prize at the 2014 symposium. In the third year of my PhD I was also shortlisted from hundreds of applicants for a competition called SET for Britain. In this competition successful applicants present their research to politicians and a panel of judges. It was a brilliant opportunity to explain my research to a wider community including our members of Parliament, the public and fellow scientists.  

Experiences of being a female researcher at Leeds
Despite the School of Physics and Astronomy containing more males than females (both staff and students), I have always felt that I have been treated equally and there have always been equal opportunities for everyone within the department.

The University of Leeds has not only provided me with all the tools I need to become a research scientist and enhance my C.V., but it has also helped me to become a well-rounded person. The University of Leeds has a large range of activities and groups to get involved with and has an excellent gym with many facilities and classes. 

Ambitions for the future and possible obstacles
After completing my PhD I hope to pursue a career in industry, the aim would be to work towards becoming a project manager. I would also love the opportunity to work abroad. Whilst I have never experienced any difficulties in progressing my academic career due to my gender here at the University, I am apprehensive of jobs in industry and abroad. I hope that wanting to have a family in the future will not affect my chances of progressing within a company.