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International Women’s Day 2023

L to R - Charlotte Elder, Gillian Gatenby, Amy Huffenberger, Catherine Jackson, Dr Meena Balasubramanian, Bee O’Shea, Bex Overend, Ursula Ankeny
07 March 2023

It’s International Women’s Day, and this year we’re celebrating the skills and prowess of our colleagues in the Research and Digital teams.

We invited members of those teams to share their stories, thoughts and advice. These pieces can be read in full below, we are very thankful to everyone who took the time to contribute.

“Across the globe, 259 million fewer women have access to the internet than men. If women are unable to access the internet and do not feel safe online, they are unable to develop the necessary digital skills to engage in digital spaces, which diminishes their opportunities to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) related fields.” DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality, United Nations

Charlotte Elder, Consultant Paediatric Endocrinologist

Charlotte ElderWhat role do you have at Sheffield Children’s? 

I’m a Consultant Paediatric Endocrinologist as well as being a Director of Undergraduate Medical Education which sits across Sheffield Children’s and the University of Sheffield. I’m also a Senior Clinical Lecturer at the University of Sheffield which encompasses the research work I do. My research is about improving screening and diagnostic testing for adrenal insufficiency in children. 

What training was involved to be in your role? 

I fell into research; I was in the midst of GP training when I decided I wanted to be a Paediatric Endocrinologist and at the time it was very competitive and you kind of needed a PhD to be in with a chance of training in tertiary paediatric endocrinology. I came out of my medical training to do a PhD. After it was completed, I went back into medical training, and got a NIHR Academic Clinical Lectureship which allowed me to do my clinical training alongside my research. About five years ago I got my consultant job and was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to carry on researching as a Senior Clinical Lecturer at the University of Sheffield alongside.

I’m an ideas person and I enjoy working in teams. I am motivated by the idea of improvement, anything which can improve patient care or evolve our systems to make them better, I like seeing things improve and evolve, which I suppose is quite a research mindset. Once I started, I was hooked. I’ve been really lucky to have fantastic support from colleagues, the University of Sheffield and The Children’s Hospital Charity to enable me to do this work; any success we have had is very much due to a great team… and of course a good dose of luck! 

What do you like about working at Sheffield Children’s? 

I’ve been working in the research realm since 2008 and I’ve seen huge changes – we’ve got some really good people in the research department. The support that they can offer is great. Doing research involves a whole team of people and as the research and development team has expanded over time, they’ve been able to provide even more expertise and support. I enjoy the idea that Sheffield Children’s is on the journey to improve and champion research. Sheffield Children’s Research and Innovation department are always up for learning, if they don’t have the knowledge or experience then they are open to learning from others to keep on improving.  

What do you enjoy doing outside of work? 

I enjoy running in the Peak District and when I say running, it’s more of a middle-aged plod. I’ve also got two teenagers, so they keep me pretty busy, and I love seeing them grow up and spending time with them, they’re great at getting me away from work. I’m married to a very good cook, so one of life’s pleasures is eating great home cooking!

As it’s International Women’s Day, is there anything you’d like to say to women thinking about pursuing a career like yours? 

I think many women suffer from a chronic lack of self-belief and I think that medicine and research need women spearheading these areas. Women need to believe in themselves and what they can deliver. Try and identify female role models who successfully juggle clinical work, research and perhaps caring responsibilities or other outside interests. These things are difficult to balance and there has to be sacrifices but they shouldn’t stop you trying out research and seeing if it is something you enjoy. I would encourage anybody to try dipping their toe into research and see what happens, it might not be for you but until you try, you won’t know.  

Gillian Gatenby, Associate Director for Research and Innovation

Gillian Gatenby profileWhat role do you have at Sheffield Children’s?

I’m the Associate Director for Research and Innovation and have been since June 2012. The work can be complex and the areas I can cover in a day in my role are really varied – anything from managing budgets, developing policies and standard operating procedures, advising on grant applications, checking through protocols and information for patients, through to agreeing contracts and advising on intellectual property management.

What training was involved to be in your role?

A lot of the training has been ‘on the job’ training. I’ve completed various courses in Good Clinical Practice, Research Governance, and General management topics since being in my role. Prior to moving into research management in the NHS, I was a Research Scientist. I gained a degree in Medical Microbiology from Edinburgh University and a Dphil in Biochemistry from the University of Oxford, I worked in academic research for a while following completion of my DPhil. Having a background in science and clinical subjects definitely helps in my role now.

To be honest I really didn’t know roles like mine existed until I worked on my own research projects as a Postdoctoral Scientist, it’s then that I understood what was involved in undertaking clinical research. I took the decision to move into research management back in 2004 so I’ve been in this field for nearly 20 years now!

What do you like about working at Sheffield Children’s?

Research can often be life changing and indeed life saving for those who take part in it. It is incredibly rewarding to see how the research we deliver at Sheffield Children’s can benefit our patients and their families. We have seen so many children and young people experience amazing outcomes and quality of life benefits from taking part in research and that is why we do what we do. The Research and Innovation team is super dedicated to doing the best they can, and I am always very proud of the team and of the wider research community at Sheffield Children’s. We’re achieving great things as a research active Trust and it’s lovely be part of that. There are some really exciting projects on the horizon for Research and Innovation at the Trust and it feels like a great time to be working in this area at Sheffield Children’s.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

I have two young children so life outside of work is busy! I do enjoy traveling and like to get back to the coast whenever I can – I grew up on the coast in Southwest Scotland so I do miss being by the sea.

As it’s International Women’s Day, is there anything you’d like to say to women thinking about pursuing a career like yours?

I have always had a love of science and research and I have been fortunate in my career to meet and work with many inspirational women in Medicine and Science. I would really encourage anyone who would like to get involved in research to do so. Research is for all, and I think there are many people who have excellent questions and ideas for research but don’t quite know what steps to take to get their research underway. My advice would be to go and speak to someone about it – you never know where your ideas will take you! People often have a perception of research and what it might be like to be a researcher – clinical research is exciting and dynamic and it’s not all desk-based data analysis (which is a really vital part of what we do).

Think ambitiously and if you are passionate about an idea you have for making a difference in your area of work, then go for it.

Amy Huffenberger, Clinical Research Assistant

Amy Huffenberger profileWhat role do you have at Sheffield Children’s?

I’m a Research Assistant in Sheffield Children’s Clinical Research Facility (CRF).

What training was involved to be in your role?

I have an MSc degree in Translational Neuroscience from the University of Sheffield and six years’ experience at the benchtop in labs, so I was brought in mostly to care for our lab space and process samples, but I’ve had a grand six months learning the administrative and patient-facing aspects of the role as well. There is a lot of learning by doing and I’ve been really fortunate to land in a department where people are kind enough to guide me along.

What do you like about working at Sheffield Children’s?

It’s the best job I’ve ever had. I used to test various therapies on dishes of cells, and that exploratory type of work was incredibly cool, but there’s a lot of joy in getting to see treatments in their final developmental stages, at the point where they’re actually fulfilling their purpose of helping children and young people. You can get hooked on the thrill of that!

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

When I’m not in the CRF, I’m usually ambling around the woods, birdwatching, or shuffling stitch by tiny stitch through an embroidery project.

As its International Women’s Day, is there anything you’d like to say to women thinking about pursuing a career like yours?

If there’s anything I want to share with women thinking about pursuing a career in research or science, it’s that we BELONG there. Having our perspectives, interests and accomplishments in the room is an asset to science and humanity. That fact is better understood now than it has been for hundreds of years.

Catherine Jackson, Lead Nurse For Digital Technology

Catherine JacksonWhat role do you have at Sheffield Children’s?

I work as part of the Digital Team. My role is Lead Nurse for Digital Technology. I have been leading on the implementation of CareFlow Vitals so clinicians can carry out electronic observations.

What training was involved to be in your role?

I am a registered children’s nurse with an interest in digital. You don’t have to be an IT professional to do my role!

Since being in this role I have completed Clinical Safety Officer training and the ILM Leading Together course, I was also awarded a place on the Florence Nightingale Foundation’s – Early Digital Healthcare Leadership Programme which I attended in November.

What do you like about working at Sheffield Children’s (specifically within the digital team)?

I love working at Sheffield Children’s. It is a happy, friendly, and colourful place to work.

The Digital Team is a multi-disciplinary team. The nurses in the team come from slightly different backgrounds which allows us to look at things from different perspectives – our skills complement each other. I love the fact that this role allows me to meet and work with lots of different professions across Sheffield Children’s as well of outside of the Trust. I love being able to provide the nursing voice to any changes we are making.

We are a supportive, friendly team. Sometimes when we are implementing a new system, it might mean working long hours but these are made better when we are able to laugh with each other whilst getting the job done.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

Outside of work I enjoy singing in a choir and looking after Rosie, my giant house rabbit. In the spring and summer I can most likely be found acting as Team manager/pit crew for my motorbike racing husband!

As it’s International Women’s Day, is there anything you’d like to say to women thinking about pursuing a career like yours?

I have been a nurse for 16 years and in my nursing career so far, I have had a variety of different roles (neonatal, ward nursing, community, palliative care). In nursing there are so many opportunities to try new things and expand your learning in different ways. You never need to feel stuck in one place. Lots of people think that digital technology is quite a male dominated thing, however this role has shown me that this is not the case. I have met so many inspirational women.

If I think back to me at the start of my career, I would never have dreamed of progressing to where I am now. One of the best bits of advice I was given, was that we learn the most when we are slightly out of our comfort zone.

Dr Meena Balasubramanian, Consultant Clinical Geneticist

Dr Meena BalasubramanianWhat role do you have at Sheffield Children’s?

I am a Consultant Clinical Geneticist in Clinical Genetics at Sheffield Children’s. I am also Senior Clinical Lecturer at the University of Sheffield, and my specialism is bone genetics.

I’ve always been interested in rare diseases especially those affecting children. They call it curiosity driven research and I’ve always been interest in finding out the why and what we can do to help the patients. Rare diseases, though individually rare, are collectively common so I’ve been particularly interested in finding out more. Through research we learn from each other, so I work hard to always disseminate the information I gather. I try to publish papers whenever I find something new so I can let the wider world know about the lived experiences I gather from families. I work closely with patient support groups because I think its important to understanding their stories.

What training was involved to be in your role?

I initially trained as a Paediatrician. I am a medically trained doctor who specialised in Paediatrics. I then subspecialised in Clinical Genetics. As part of that I did a Clinical Research degree that is an MD and focuses on Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI). I’ve done a lot of training to reach my position.

What do you like about working at Sheffield Children’s?

I trained at Sheffield Children’s; my clinical genetics training was here. I’ve always loved working with Sheffield Children’s and its always been good to me, I’ve been very well supported. I love working with my colleagues in my speciality. It has given me the opportunities but also the breadth to expand. I have been able to explore my own path. When I did my OI research we didn’t have a dedicated researcher but by the time I finished my research I was able to be appointed as the consultant for the department. I was then able to continue in my research in that area.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

I enjoy running and I think its great for organising my thoughts and being able to put things in perspective. It always clears my head when I go out for a run. I also enjoy baking, and I bring bakes for my lab groups. It destresses me to bake and I think it’s magic. All you do is put some sugar and flour and butter and then you get something fabulous!

As it’s International Women’s Day, is there anything you’d like to say to women thinking about pursuing a career like yours?

I would say be patient and keep at it. I think women are told they can’t have it all and we shouldn’t believe that. If you have family and children you can be a successful researcher and the idea you can’t is a myth. You can have everything, its just about compartmentalising and having balance. It’s a constant juggle but you should strive for it all. As a woman its important to go for it and pursue your dreams, nothing should hold you back. You have this guilt about time away from your children but I see my boys growing up, and I know they see me as a powerful entity, and an independent woman who inspires them.

How has support from The Children’s Hospital Charity helped your work?

The Charity supported my first research project into OI and the outputs allowed me to become a consultant and improve our service for OI. Since then I have been applying to the Charity for several years and I have been successful in getting grants. One thing the Charity does very well is support researchers in the initial stages to get some initial data to go on and go for larger grants. The zebra fish lab which began at the University came from The Children’s Hospital Charity and this allowed me to grow the project to what it is now.

Bee O’Shea, Research Nurse Manager

Bee O'Shea profileWhat role do you have at Sheffield Children’s?

I am a Research Nurse Manager working on research studies and trials.

What training was involved to be in your role?

I am a registered children’s nurse and a mum (a mum not strictly necessary but makes me who I am).

What do you like about working at Sheffield Children’s?

I love Sheffield Children’s because I work with amazing people and get to look after amazing children. In Clinical Research we see what a difference we can make to children’s lives by enabling them to take part in studies, and to have treatments they might not otherwise have access to. Research is part of clinical care and works alongside it to improve services already there.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

I love watching football, both my daughter’s team and of course, Sheffield Wednesday. I also enjoy running and yoga, in no particular order!

As it’s International Women’s Day, is there anything you’d like to say to women thinking about pursing a career like yours?

I worked in the Emergency Department (ED) at Sheffield Children’s for many years before coming to Research. As a mature woman I found confidence and perseverance in myself to pursue a new path in nursing, so I’d say be confident, persevere, be engaged and ambitious… you are a strong woman! Happy International Women’s Day!

Bex Overend, Research Support Assistant

Bex Overend profileWhat role do you have at Sheffield Children’s?

I am a Research Support Assistant which is part of the Research and Development team in the Research and Innovation department.

What training was involved to be in your role?

I started part-time at Sheffield Children’s in 2020 as a Ward Clerk on the Neonatal Surgical Unit and on my non-working days an opportunity arose to help out in the Clinical Research Facility team (CRF). I really enjoyed it so when a full-time position became available in the CRF team, I applied and was successful.

What do you like about working at Sheffield Children’s?

Sheffield Children’s has lots of great people who work here! I had this idea before joining the NHS that it might be a bit cliquey, and I could not have been proven more wrong. Being able to work in research and seeing how future treatments are making a positive impact on patients now is also extremely motivating and inspiring.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

Exploring! I love getting lost in the Peak District with my Border Collie, Rusty.

As it’s International Women’s Day, is there anything you’d like to say to women thinking about pursuing a career like yours?

I’ve never planned a career in research, but I’ve found that I really enjoy it. My advice to anyone struggling to decide what to do next in their career like me is say yes to any opportunity that comes your way. If it’s not for you there’s no shame in leaving and trying something else. Our working life amounts to roughly 80,000 hours, you might as well try as many things as possible!

Ursula Ankeny, Design Researcher & Product Designer, Lab4Living, Sheffield Hallam University

Ursula AnkenyWhat role do you have at Sheffield Children’s?

I am primarily a Design Researcher and Product Designer at Lab4Living, Sheffield Hallam University. My work at Sheffield Children’s involves being the lead on a proof-of-concept study working with Sheffield Children’s Rheumatology department developing devices for children with arthritis. I am also undertaking a part time PhD exploring technology in children’s healthcare, which is part funded by Sheffield Children’s and Sheffield Hallam University.

I enjoy all the aspects involved! The problem-solving, talking with stakeholders, creating, designing, exploring different concepts and ideas, hands on tangible making, testing and repeating it all over again. Being able to take an unmet need in a condition and then co-design and develop it to a tangible solution that has a positive benefit on someone’s life is really exciting. The variety of projects I get to be a part of means every day is different, and I am always learning new skills and about different topics. Undertaking the PhD as well, has meant that I am able to more deeply explore some of these areas and see how I could apply them more in my work.

What training was involved to be in your role?

BA(Hons) in Product Design, Good Clinical Practice (GCP) eLearning course, and then I’ve been learning through working at Lab4Living over the past three and a half years.

What do you like about working at Sheffield Children’s?

Working on this proof-of-concept study with the Rheumatology department at Sheffield Children’s has been an amazing experience. The devices have developed hugely thanks to the involvement of the healthcare professionals, children and their families. Being able to follow it through, co-designing with them, to then seeing them trial the devices and hear how they have benefitted them has been exciting and fulfilling to be a part of. Working in research is an ever-changing world, where you are constantly learning about new approaches, needs or problems, and considering novel ways to how something could be done – it’s that continual leaning, problem-solving and creating that I relish undertaking.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

Outside of work I enjoy meeting up with friends, going for walks in the Peak District and travelling to different countries. I quite like playing sport, so play netball and go bouldering year-round. I’m an avid reader (historical fiction and non-fiction), though at the moment the majority have a PhD focus!

As it’s International Women’s Day, is there anything you’d like to say to women thinking about pursuing a career like yours?

I’d highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in problem-solving, creating or developing and has ever questioned how something is done and whether it could be done in a better way. It’s an exciting world to be a part of – every day is different and every day you learn something new.

How has support from The Children’s Hospital Charity helped your work?

The Charity have been hugely supportive of my work, both the proof-of-concept study and of my PhD. For the proof-of-concept study, their support and funding has enabled me to transform my initial concepts into fully functional prototypes that have been trialled by actual users. Throughout the project, they have always been on hand to help me with any queries or issues and their support has enabled me to progress this work to the next stage. Without their support, it would be at a very different point.

I am also very grateful for the opportunity they have given me in undertaking a part-time PhD. My PhD is investigating the multi-dimensional care of children with Long Term Conditions, using co-design to develop objects and technologies to better support the invisible aspects of paediatric condition management. I am early on in my PhD but carrying out this work so far has already enabled me to develop hugely as a researcher and has given me the time and space to delve into different approaches and begin to create other novel technologies. The Charity’s support in undertaking this has therefore been invaluable.

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