A woman at the top of her game

Distinguished Professor Dame Jane Harding is a world-leading neonatologist whose research has led to paradigm changes across the globe in the care and treatment of babies before and after birth.

For International Women’s Day 2021, she tells us about the challenges and rewards of a career in science.

Did you have an early interest in science?

“As a kid I remember messing around with chemistry sets and microscopes – I always wanted to make sense of how things worked. When I was about nine, I heard that people got shorter during the day. I lined up members of my family and measured them twice a day to check if this was really true. They were very tolerant about it – and it’s true, people do get shorter during the day.”

What’s your biggest achievement?

“Supporting another generation of very talented researchers who will really make a difference. I have former PhD students who are now in leadership roles in a number of different arenas.”

Tell us about a scientific problem you’re yet to crack?

“I spent a lot of my early research career investigating the DOHaD (Developmental Origins of Health and Disease) hypothesis that a mother’s nutrition during pregnancy changes the way her child grows and develops through life. More than 30 years later, we know this is true, but we still don’t know the exact mechanisms.”

What’s more important for a scientist: perseverance, imagination or a knack for collaboration?

“All of those – and there’s a lot of luck involved, too. Good mentorship is at least as critical as anything else. You need to be resilient. There are always knockbacks and you have to be ready to try again and again and again and again. My record is four papers rejected in one day.”

Is there anything different about the students of today?

“They’re very much smarter than we were, but then that’s always been the case.”

What would you say to women thinking about a career in science?

“Go with what you’re really excited about and interested in, and be prepared to work really hard. There can be subtle messages that research and science aren’t really for women, but the key is to follow your opportunities and passions, and to find people to support you.”