SUSTAIN is a new programme aiming to enable women researchers to thrive in their independent research careers. It provides an innovative programme of training and support to develop participants’ leadership and career potential.

Key dates

The second round of SUSTAIN will open for applications on 24 October 2016 and close on 2 December 2016.

Not enough women researchers in science are securing senior leadership posts in the UK. A concerted effort is needed to ensure women are appropriately supported along their career trajectory to enable them to secure those senior positions.

SUSTAIN is a unique pilot programme in the UK that will provide 20 women researchers a fantastic opportunity to benefit from individualised support tailored to their career needs.

"SUSTAIN is the first programme that is tailored specifically towards women at the beginning stages of their independent careers. By integrating a range of approaches, SUSTAIN enables new PIs to develop their own, personal leadership styles needed  for their successful progression as scientists."

Dr Eva Hoffman, MRC Senior Non-clinical Research Fellow, former Dorothy Hodgkin Fellow, University of Sussex

"Trying to build a career, deliver high quality science and raise a family can seem daunting. But you are not alone and many of the challenges faced by women in research are shared. SUSTAIN offers a structured programme of training and mentorship coupled with the opportunity to learn from and share with people who have walked (or are walking) in your shoes."
Dr Elizabeth Sapey, Clinician Scientists, former Starter Grant Holder, University of Birmingham

About the programme

The year-long pilot offers a comprehensive programme bringing together interactive skills training and career development sessions, tailored mentoring and the opportunity to network with research leaders. It is designed so the participants are part of a unique cohort to share learnings and includes:

Interactive career development workshops

The programme has started with a two-day residential workshop on 28-30 September 2015, followed by two one-day workshops (in April and September 2016). A wide range of issues is addressed at these workshops, including defining a research niche, publishing strategically, finding your work-life balance  and developing a personal and leadership style. Each session is tailored to support attendees through the challenges of combining research, teaching, clinical practice and caring responsibilities. Participants were also introduced to distinguished research leaders at an Inspiring Women supper on the evening of the residential workshop. Confirmed guests included Professor Dame Sally Davies DBE FRS FMedSci and Professor Dame Athene Donald FRS. 

A peer support network 

Participants are encouraged and supported to interact virtually. The group was matched in co-coaching pairs to enable ongoing peer support and discussion of issues/challenges. Small group work at each workshop helps to embed and put in to practice key learning points.

One-to-one mentoring

Participants are mentored by a Fellow of the Academy. Bespoke training on how to get the most out of mentoring, and ongoing support is provided to both mentees and mentors over the course of the pilot.

Media training 

All participants were offered the opportunity to attend a full day media training course tailored towards women. The training provides opportunities for participants to experience a variety of studio-based broadcast interview scenarios as well as address some of the barriers women face to engaging with the media. Our mission is to help women develop the confidence and skills to effectively sidestep obstacles and find their media voice.

This media training has had very positive feedback from Academy Fellows and awardees who have attended the course. View this YouTube video for more details.

"This was probably the best one day course I have ever been on. It would be fair to say that none of us was particularly confident regarding our skills at the start of the day. Happily we came away with much clearer ideas of how to prepare, how to negotiate interviews and how to present." Professor Dame Nicky Cullum DBE FMedSci, Professor of Nursing, University of Manchester

"I would encourage everyone to go on the women's media training if they get the chance. As a junior researcher, starting to dip my toe into media work, it was invaluable to experience a realistic studio interview, and get feedback from expert interviewers. It will certainly reduce some of my anxieties about the process if I ever have to do it for real. It was an extremely enjoyable and supportive day, I learned a great deal, and my confidence in front of a camera improved enormously." Dr Katherine Sleeman, Clinical Lecturer, King's College London


SUSTAIN is supporting 20 women for a period of one year. As this is a pilot programme, only award holders from partner organisations were eligible in the first instance.

To be eligible to apply, applicants had to hold one of the following awards or fellowships:

Medical Research Council

  • Career Development Award
  • Skills Development Fellowships (previously Strategic Skills Fellowships) 
  • Clinician Scientist Fellows

Royal Society

  • Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship
  • University Research Fellowship
  • Sir Henry Dale Fellowships

Academy of Medical Sciences

  • Starter Grant Award
  • Clinician Scientist Fellowship

All applicants had to be available to participate in the career development workshops. Assistance with childcare costs was available.

Selection process

The 20 participants were selected by a computerised randomisation method, stratified to ensure participants were selected from each partner organisation fellowship cohorts and represent both clinical researchers and scientists from other backgrounds across the UK.



Dr Li Chan, MRC and Academy of Medical Sciences Tenure-track clinician scientist, Centre for Endocrinology, Queen Mary University of London
Dr Atlanta Cook, MRC Career Development Fellow, Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Biology, University of Edinburgh
Dr Alessia David, MRC Clinical Research Fellow, Centre for Bioinformatics, Imperial College London
Dr Janet Deane, Royal Society University Research Fellow, Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, University of Cambridge
Dr Sarah Flanagan, Sir Henry Dale Fellow, Medical School, University of Exeter
Dr Hayley Jones, Research Fellow in Medical Statistics, School of Social and Community Medicine, University of Bristol
Dr Sandra McAllister, Academic Clinical Lecturer, Centre for Experimental Medicine, Queen's University Belfast
Dr Rebecca Morris, Royal Society University Research Fellow, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford
Dr Elin McCormack, Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow, Space Science & Technology Dept, RAL Space
Dr Soma Meran, MRC Clinician Scentist Fellow, Institute of Nephrology, Cardiff University
Dr Linda O'Keeffe, Research Associate, Cardiovascular Epidemiology Unit, University of Bristol
Dr Kathleen O'Reilly, Research Fellow, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College London
Dr Nayia Petousi, Clinical Lecturer in Respiratory Medicine, Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford
Dr Sheena Ramsay, MRC Fellow, Department of Primary Care & Population Health, University College London
Dr Esther Sammler, SCREDS Clinical Lecturer, MRC Protein Phosphorylation and Ubiquitylation Unit, University of Dundee
Dr Alexandra Santos, MRC Clinical Research Fellow, Department of Paediatric Allergy, King's College London
Dr Zania Stamataki, Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellow, Medical School, University of Birmingham
Dr Nathalie Vriend, Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellow, Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge
Dr Aoife Waters, MRC Clinical Scientist, Institute of Child Health, University College London
Dr Emma Yu, NIHR Clinical Lecturer in Cardiology, Addenbrooke’s Centre for Clinical Investigation, University of Cambridge

A number of reports over the past decade have highlighted the relative paucity of women researchers in science securing senior leadership posts in the UK due to barriers and hidden biases[1][2][3]. Although the number is slowly rising, the Academy believes that a more concerted effort is needed to ensure women are appropriately supported along their career trajectory to enable them to secure those senior positions.

[1] Medical Schools Council, 2013. A Survey of Staffing Levels of Medical Clinical Academics in UK Medical Schools as at 31 July 2012.

[2] UKRC, 2009. Female Attrition, Retention and Barriers to Careers in SET Academic Research. Royal Society of Edinburgh, 2012. Tapping all our talents. NAS, 2010. Gender Differences at Critical Transitions in the Careers of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Faculty.

[3] Equality Challenge Unit, 2013. Equality in higher education: statistical report 2013:


Reference group members

  • Professor Moira Whyte OBE FMedSci, Professor of Respiratory Medicine, University of Edinburgh (Chair)
  • Professor Susan Wray FMedSci, Professor of Physiology, University of Liverpool
  • Professor Eva Hoffman, Novo Nordisk Foundation Young Investigator, University of Copenhagen
  • Dr Elizabeth Sapey, Clinician Scientist, University of Birmingham


SUSTAIN is supported by the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Medical Research Council, the Royal Society and the Royal College of Physicians

Staff lead