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Laura Eghobamien on Founding the Black Medical and Scientific Network and Advocating for Diversity in STEMM

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Laura Eghobamien is a skilled assay development scientist with more than 17 years of experience in the biotechnology industry. She holds a Master of Science (MSc) in applied immunology and a Bachelor of Science (BSc Hons) in physiology and pharmacology from the University of the West of England.

Until February 2024, she served as a lead scientific researcher at Anglia Ruskin University on a part-time basis, where she leveraged her skills and knowledge to advance scientific research. Her project focused on understanding the factors that influence students’ mental health. She currently works as an independent scientific consultant.

In 2020, Laura founded the Black Medical and Scientific Network (BMSN), a membership organization dedicated to providing support for minority students and Black professionals in STEMM fields.

Laura Lansdowne (LL): What motivated you to pursue a career in science?

Laura Eghobamien (LE): From a young age I have always been fascinated by science, ever since I stepped into my first science lesson at the age of 11 with Mrs. Sherridan. The chemistry lesson was well articulated and it left me feeling completely curious and blown away. I remember everyone in the class complaining about how tough the experiment was I agreed, but I also enjoyed it. If there was ever a challenge, I was up for it.

I was particularly interested in astronomy and at one point I thought I wanted to be an astrophysicist.

I recall at age 14 my mum was diagnosed with a condition called preeclampsia while giving birth to my younger sister. This is a serious condition that affects some pregnant women and causes hypertension and proteinuria, as well as other symptoms.

She spent a month in intensive care and I remember feeling very helpless not knowing what to do but kept praying that I wouldn’t lose my mum. Miraculously, she made a full recovery and my heart was filled with so much gratitude for all the medical staff who supported her during her time in hospital. I had so many questions about her treatment, what happened to her body and ways we could have avoided it.

These were huge questions for a 14-year-old, but I was determined to seek answers and knew I wanted to study science at university. When I was 21 years old, I lost one of my aunts to pancreatic cancer, and two years later my maternal aunt was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor and needed a craniotomy, although she survived the surgery, she was left with long-term brain damage.

Collectively, my inspirational secondary school teacher Mrs. Sheriddan, seeing loved ones lose their lives and my natural curiosity about the world around me are what led me to pursue a career in science.

LL: Could you tell us about your current research focuses and aspirations for the future?

My current research is a short project with Anglia Ruskin University. This project aims to understand the factors that influence students’ mental health. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, our mental health has been severely impacted. Studies have also shown that rates of suicidal thoughts among young adults increased during the pandemic and young people 18
29 years, women from low-income or disadvantaged backgrounds and those with pre-existing mental health problems had worse mental health outcomes during the pandemic. The rates of suicide in academic settings in some universities are quite alarming.

I feel as a society we need to do more to look after our mental well-being. We spend a lot of time at work and you need to take care of your well-being to do your job efficiently.

Employers have to ensure that they are doing the best for their staff, good well-being leads to better staff retention, increased productivity, better healthcare outcomes, less time off work, etc. Anglia Ruskin University is paving the way in this research area, to create a more supportive environment for its students.

My aspirations for the future are to continue to advance as a leader in my field, expand the Black Medical Scientific Network and encourage many young people to take up careers in science, and for us to see a Black scientist win a Nobel Prize.  

LL: Can you tell us about the Black Medical Scientific Network (BMSN)?

LE: The Black Medical and Scientific Network is a community interest company consisting of Black professionals from academia and industry who are working together to raise the profile of Black and ethnic minority scientists. It was founded in 2020 just before the pandemic due to the lack of representation, especially at the senior leadership level, which is something I faced during my career. It is a supportive environment where Black scientists feel they can be heard and are free to express themselves. Furthermore, it also serves as an opportunity to give back to the community by supporting Black students in navigating their scientific careers.

LL: What particular strategies is the BMSN adopting to help raise the visibility of Black professionals working in this field?

LE: The key strategy we employ to enhance the visibility of Black scientists involves showcasing prominent role models. We visit schools, colleges and universities to show young children/students what a scientist looks like.

We strongly believe that representation is a huge advocate and is key to inspiring individuals to pursue careers in science.

LL: One of the points highlighted on the BMSN LinkedIn page is that “not enough Black students progress to study science at postgraduate level”. Why is this and in terms of the number of male and female scientists progressing, is this fairly balanced or is there a discrepancy?

LE: In the Diversity and Inclusion in STEM report published by the UK Parliament in March 2023 there were no Black male postdoctoral physics researchers in the UK and only two chemists. The disparity for females is therefore even larger.

LL: How can the wider community better support underrepresented groups, such as women and Black professionals in the STEMM field?

LE: We must examine our own organizations and consider where we need to implement change. Senior leaders must be the driving force, and actively challenge their recruitment processes to prioritize diversity to ensure it’s at the core of the hiring process. They need to actively seek Black professionals. Organizations such as BMSN can help to drive and support this endeavor.

LL: If you could give one piece of advice to young researchers beginning their careers, what would it be?

LE: Once you have an idea of the type of career you want to pursue, look for a mentor. I wish I had sought one earlier on in my career because they are invaluable. They will also expose you to their network, helping you to build new relationships with experts in your field.  

Laura Eghobamien was speaking to Laura Elizabeth Lansdowne, Managing Editor for Technology Networks.