“Push on doors and see which ones open”: Dr Katy Kettleborough’s advice on International Day of Women and Girls in Science

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Sunday is International Day of Women and Girls in Science. It’s an opportunity to raise the profile of the many exciting opportunities a career in science may bring and celebrate the achievements of women in science. The medical charity LifeArc is an important research partner for Cystic Fibrosis Trust; we chatted to LifeArc colleague Dr Katy Kettleborough about what she loves about her role and her advice to women and girls who are setting out in careers in science.

Katy, tell us about your role

I’m a Translational Challenge Leader at LifeArc, working on chronic (long-term) lung infections. Our aim is to bring forward innovations for people with CF and bronchiectasis. This means speeding up the development of new treatments and better ways of diagnosing infections. We’re also looking at how we can predict exacerbations (flare-ups) of lung infections.

We do this through studies in our own labs, by sharing advice and expertise with other researchers both at universities and in companies, and through funding their research. Most importantly, we do this in partnership with people who have lived experience of respiratory conditions, for example, people living with CF.

How has LifeArc worked with Cystic Fibrosis Trust?

LifeArc approached Cystic Fibrosis Trust about three years ago. We’d identified long-term lung infections as an area we wanted to work in, but we wanted to understand what the real needs were. People with CF were brave enough to join one of LifeArc’s strategic workshops and share their day-to-day experiences of living with CF and their hopes and aspirations for the future. It was transformative for us in building our current work programmes; the themes that came out were early detection, the right diagnosis and better treatment.

We became a co-partner of the CF AMR Syndicate in 2022, joining a network established by Cystic Fibrosis Trust and Medicines Discovery Catapult to accelerate the development of new antimicrobial medicines for people with CF. Last year, we announced a £15 million research programme to create a new Translational Innovation Hub Network, co-funded by the Trust.

Photo of Dr Katy Kettleborough

What do you love most about your job?

I love that the people I work with have lots of ideas and a strong sense of purpose. One of the fantastic things about building the Translational Challenges is understanding the needs of people living with a condition, and creating something that can improve their lives. We do this working as a team, and I love teamwork!

How did you start out in research?

I was always interested in nature, and that grew into an interest in biological science. My university course involved doing lots of work experience in placements, which I really enjoyed. As well as the opportunity to work in the lab, one of the important things I gained from them was the experience of fitting into a team and working with others.

What’s been your biggest success?

I think that my biggest success has been applying scientific knowledge to make a difference for people who need it.

In my first job after completing my PhD, I worked in a research group where we were developing antibody treatments, using techniques to disguise antibodies as human and so they could be used to ultimately treat diseases such as cancer, without triggering an immune response. While the antibody I was ‘engineering’ didn’t go on to become a treatment – I was working alongside others whose research did! Their research led to an antibody treatment that is now being used to treat lots of different types of cancer.

It’s fantastic to know that I saw the start of a medicine that is making such a difference in the lives of people with cancer and their families. I’ve met people whose lives have been changed through this medicine, and it was a very moving experience.

What about any challenges?

I think for me, it is self-belief. I sometimes think, ‘I’m one person; what difference can I make?’ or ‘Can I do this?’. When I have those thoughts, I stop and think about the knowledge and experience I’ve gained and say, ‘Yes I can, let’s do this!’. It’s about having a balance between self-belief and not being overconfident.

Who inspires you?

It’s the everyday people that I work with that give me inspiration. I’m inspired by the way people work and the dedication, knowledge and passion that they bring.

What advice would you give to future generations?

My advice would be to go for it. A lot of barriers for women entering science have now been broken, so I hope that it is easier for women starting out. Having a science degree gives you a variety of options. You can do so many more things than work in the lab; you could go and work in policy, in charities or work in science communication, for example.

If you’ve already got a science degree, think about what it is that gets you out of bed in the mornings – what gives you that sense of purpose, what is it that keeps you driving on. You spend so much time at work, you need to enjoy and believe in what you’re doing.

Don’t be afraid to try things out or to do U-turns. Push on doors and see what opens!

My final piece of advice would be to talk to people. I found one of the most helpful things is engaging with people outside of your organisation. It broadens your horizons and allows you to think in a different way. Talking to people also helps you to build connections and networks that you can use in the future.

Further inspiration and support

If you’ve enjoyed reading about Katy’s career in research, why not look at our ‘Inside the lab’ series to read about the experiences of other CF researchers working on GI issues, healthcare data and within our CTAP network.

Did you know that the Trust's Work Forwards programme offers free tailored careers information, advice, and guidance for people with CF and their loved ones? 

Find out more


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