Siobhan Dorai-Raj

The supportive and family-friendly environment that the Daphne Jackson Fellowship offered me was life changing

Siobhan had a promising career, working for nearly ten years in the field of molecular microbiology. With first class credentials, she had hoped to one-day work in a world-class research institution following completion of her PhD research, alongside her husband, also a Molecular Microbiologist.

After a move to London, from Ireland, for her husband’s career, and with two young children in tow, Siobhan found she was unable to return to research due to the lack of flexible, part time positions as well as the prohibitively high cost of childcare.

I enjoyed spending time at home with my children but my passion for research never faded.

Siobhan said: “I made sure I kept in touch with the field by continuing to mentor students from the lab I managed in Ireland and publish further research work. I also I also co-authored a book chapter on Molecular Diagnostics which was published in 2014.”

In 2013, Siobhan’s husband was offered a new permanent job at the University of East Anglia as a Lecturer, so the family moved again, to Norwich. Siobhan then started to look for opportunities to return to work once more.

Siobhan said: “After now nearly four years away from the lab, I was really keen to return to my research career. I missed it greatly. My daughter was in school and my son was about to start nursery, which made a return to work more feasible.”

Siobhan felt confident that her experience and abilities would make her a valuable asset to any lab. However, she found research groups in Norwich working in the field she had most experience in – molecular microbial diagnostics – non-existent.

Siobhan said: “I applied for research jobs at UEA in slightly different research areas to my own, but found, understandably, potential employers were not willing to take me on as an employee who would need re-training when other candidates already had the required skillset.”

Siobhan then heard about a Daphne Jackson Fellowship opportunity at the John Innes Centre (JIC) through a colleague of her husband, who knew Siobhan was eager to get back into research. She contacted the Trust straight away to find out about it.

Siobhan says: “I knew that the JIC, as a top international centre of excellence in plant and microbial science, would be an excellent career move for me as it has such a brilliant international research reputation and would allow me to develop as a scientist. The Daphne Jackson Fellowship sounded absolutely perfect for me as someone who had been away from the research environment. It offered me the opportunity to re-train in biochemical and bioengineering techniques through a tailored programme, but on a part-time and salaried basis. This meant I could be there for picking up my children from school and nursery, which meant the world to me.”

Siobhan’s research project is centred on ‘nybomycin’, which is an antibiotic, naturally made by Streptomyces bacteria. Just prior to the end of her Fellowship, she and her supervisor were awarded 8 months NPRONET Proof of concept funding and following that, a further 3 years BBSRC responsive mode funding.

Siobhan says: “I feel like I am on my way to achieving my goals!”

 Siobhan’s tips for returners

  • Try to keep a foot in the door during your career break. During mine, I published 5 papers (2 as first author), co-authored a book chapter and continued to mentor students.
  • Look at what you’ve learnt from your career break. I grew in confidence through having to make friends as a mum in a new city.
  • Join committees and expand your responsibilities within your institution or University. I started a Parents and Carers Group in the Norwich Biosciences Institutes. This was a great way for me to network, raise my profile but also to help others by sharing my advice and experiences.

Dr Dorai-Raj’s Fellowship was sponsored by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the John Innes Centre (JIC). The Fellowship was hosted by The John Innes Centre (JIC) under the supervision of Professor Barrie Wilkinson.

Siobhan Dorai-Raj