Faculty of Mathematics and Physical Sciences

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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

Prof Carmen Molina-Paris
Director of Research
Professor in Applied Mathematics 
School of Mathematics

Can you give me an overview of your current research?
I am a Theoretical Physicist in an Applied Mathematics Department, who works in Theoretical Immunology. The aim of our research group in Mathematical Biology and Medicine is to develop mathematical models that can help us identify the mechanisms that regulate immune cell fate (death, division, differentiation and migration).

We work in collaboration with a number of immunology laboratories (in Europe, Australia, and USA), who provide experimental data. Experimental data is essential for us to test and validate the mathematical models and to estimate parameter values. Deciphering and understanding the mechanisms that regulate immune responses are key in the development of novel immunotherapies and vaccines. We are also very fortunate to have collaborations with Unilever, Astra-Zeneca, Dstl (MoD), and Microsoft Research Cambridge, who support our research.

What made you want to pursue a career in academia?
Since I was a little girl (ten years old or so), I was extremely interested in our physical world: the Moon, the Sun, and our own Galaxy. I was very fortunate to have an extremely amazing teacher in Year 7, who made learning about Newton's Laws so attractive! She had just finished an undergraduate degree in Chemistry, and all I knew at the time, was that I wanted to learn all these things myself, rain or shine! The thrill to understand and decipher the laws of Physics (the orbits of the planets around the sun and the dual behaviour of light, as a wave and a particle) was my drive.

What has been your greatest academic achievement to date?
I feel very proud of the research group that Dr. Grant Lythe and I have established in Theoretical Immunology in the School of Mathematics. We currently have three PhD students and three PDRA's, whose funding comes from the research projects that Dr. Lythe and I have jointly written. I switched from Theoretical Physics to Theoretical Immunology about ten years ago, and the start was extremely hard. That we have managed to create a research group, who currently coordinates (Dr. Lythe) the only EU Initial Training Network in the area of T cell Immunology, is a great achievement. Finally, we have published a number of research papers in the past few years with some of the best immunologists in the world, that I never imagined would ever listen to me! That has made me very happy!

Has the University been actively supportive/encouraging in helping you achieve your goals?
I need to say thank you to the School of Mathematics, as I was given all the freedom in the world to choose the science I wanted to work on. That is a must but it does not always happen! Furthermore, I have been extremely fortunate with the support and encouragement I have received from Professor Charles Taylor and Professor Chris Jones. Both of them, at extremely crucial times in my career, have always shown their respect, trust and support for me. Finally, the School of Mathematics gives great flexibility to their members of staff. Given that I have two children (8 and 11 years old), it is incredibly helpful to have flexible working hours. The School ensures that your teaching timetable does not conflict with school hours, and meetings are (not always, but most of the times) scheduled 9am-3pm so that I can collect the children from school. This is truly the only way to achieve a balance between academic and personal life. It has also helped that a number of (male) young members of staff have young children as well!

What advice would you give to a female looking to pursue a scientific career?
I am extremely lucky that my husband is an academic member of staff of the School of Mathematics! Thus, he knows so well the demands of an academic life: deadlines to submit papers, research applications, PhD supervision, etc. So we try a 50-50 approach!

My advice: if you enjoy the science you are doing, just do it! do not be afraid of asking any questions that come to your mind (scientific or otherwise) and getting any help from colleagues. Do not be shy about your own hard work and achievements. Be assertive and humbly proud of them! My own experience of an extremely male dominated academic world (in Physics and Mathematics) has always been extremely positive. I believe that being a minority has more advantages than disadvantages: for example, if you go to a meeting, it is more likely that the audience will remember you, because you are the odd one out!