The reality of being LGBTQ+ in STEM

A feature post by WReN member , Bini Claringbold (she/her)

Warning: this article contains instances of homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia as well as discussion about conversion therapy.

When I came out, roughly five years ago now, I was well aware that it was a turning point in my life. When I entered the world of STEM as a chemist, the same feeling was present. The two decisions would (and will continue) to make a huge impact on my life. And yet, even now, there are still lots of issues that come with being both LGBTQ+ and part of STEM, although a lot of improvements and progress have been seen in recent years, which gives me hope for the future.

A picture of the LGBTQ+ progress pride flag

At the beginning of this year, I saw research carried out by Dr. Erin Cech and Dr. Tom Waidzunas that examined inequalities faced by those within the LGBTQ+ STEM community, which comes to the conclusion that those who are openly LGBTQ+ are at a disadvantage in STEM compared to those who are not. When looking at this information it came as no surprise to me honestly; anyone who is an LGBTQ+ person in STEM could have told you the same thing. Whilst the paper itself only looked within the United States, I believe the problem is prevalent globally and throughout our careers.

Firstly, I think this is an issue that starts in the earliest stages of a STEM career, and this is backed up by recent studies. Research carried out at Montana State University found out that after four years of college, approximately 7% of gay students were less likely to stay in STEM as opposed to their heterosexual peers. The case is similar within the UK, with a study from the University of Exeter finding that men in same-sex relationships are less likely to have a STEM degree or work in a STEM occupation compared to those who are in ‘different-sex’ relationships. Surprisingly, the same study showed no difference between women, which I find interesting as a pansexual woman myself.

So far, we’re not off to a great start, and things don’t improve upon entering the workplace, with the UK government’s 2018 LGBT Survey showing only 2.2% of all participants were in a ‘Professional, Scientific or Technical’ role. I would take this with a pinch of salt, as the results may be skewed given the fact that other sectors may also offer scientific roles (for example 12.4% of participants were in an educational role which could include everything from science teachers to astrophysics lecturers) but it is still disheartening to see. Similarly, in the US, LGBT people are underrepresented in STEM, and those in the workplace report that they do not have the adequate resources to succeed in their jobs.

Looking at the issue in more detail, a study from June 2019 between the Institute of Physics (IOP), Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) and the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) shows the LGBTQ+ community are uncomfortable at work or experience some form of harassment (Figures 1 and 2). 28% of all LGBTQ+ scientists and, unfortunately, over half of transgender scientists had considered leaving the workplace because of the work climate and/or discrimination, and 20% had frequently considered leaving their workplace. In addition to this, significantly more LGBTQ+ scientists had experienced harassment or exclusionary behaviour, with those being transgender or non-binary suffering from this the most. As a chemist, I myself was saddened to see that chemistry had more instances of exclusionary behaviour compared to physics or astronomy.

Data examining comfort in the workplace based on gender. Source: Exploring the workplace for LGBT+ Physical Scientists:

I am not showing you these facts to shock or scare you, but only if we are fully informed can we work to improve things. Also, I am not sure how aware those who are not LGBTQ+ would be of any problems at all. This is showcased in the IOP, RAS, and RSC study, as almost half of all participants said there was a lack of awareness towards LGBTQ+ issues within their workplace. It is a bit cliché but ignorance is bliss, and if you are not directly affected by discrimination it can be easy not to know it is happening. Whilst there are already groups and networks dedicated to all aspects of LGBTQ+ STEM life, including raising awareness and fighting against these issues, there is always work to be done.


A big part of growing a community within STEM is showing people that we exist. Visibility is encouraging for anyone who isn’t comfortable being openly LGBTQ+ (whether because it’s unsafe, or they haven’t fully come to terms with their sexuality, or something else entirely). There are challenges faced with being openly LGBTQ+, as we’ve already seen. For one, society is assumed cisgender and heterosexual unless told otherwise — we have to start the conversation to discuss sexuality openly, which might not be right for everyone. Unlike things such as gender or race, sexuality is an invisible difference, something to be declared in order to have it known.

The heteronormative nature of STEM leads to many feeling invisible or feeling like STEM isn’t very LGBTQ+ friendly, and I feel STEM as a whole can be a little behind the times at points. Indeed, this is the same area that only last year published a peer reviewed paper that declared diversity in the workforce was bad for research, and women participating in science ‘diminishes the contributions of men’. Thankfully, many were appalled by these opinions and the paper was redacted soon after, but this mentality is not uncommon, especially in the physical sciences, so where do we even begin when talking about sexual orientation in STEM?

I have never been a target of outright harassment, so I can’t imagine how hurtful it is to be, for example, dead named or misgendered, but I have had to deal with micro-aggressions that people think are okay. I am pansexual, but originally came out as bisexual, and so that comes with a whole hoard of people demanding to know if you’re more inclined to be gay or straight. Whenever you enter a relationship, people deem it fine to declare ‘oh she was just [gay/straight] the entire time because she’s now in a relationship with this person’. Whilst it makes me laugh to think of doing this to heterosexual couples, ‘oh wow you really were straight this whole time!’ in reality you would never do this to a heterosexual person, ever. It can be minor, but these small actions can add up and have a huge impact on the lives of LGBTQ+ people. These micro-aggressions exist everywhere, be it in the workplace or in education. I wish non-LGBTQ+ allies, or everyone really, was aware of how much damage this does to people after having to deal with it repeatedly; once everyone is on the same page, we can build a system where we dismantle our preconceptions from the bottom up.

A survey from the American Physical Society found that 30% of participants felt there was pressure to stay closeted, with 40% thinking their workplace expects them not to act ‘too gay’. When interviewing various queer people about their identities in STEM, a study from 2019 showed that, as well as reports of homophobic and transphobic targeting, many felt they have to hide who they really are in order to thrive in their place of work. Andi*, a mechanical engineering PhD student, was told not to come out by his supervisor. Andi questioned it, “Is this like an order? Is this I can’t come out or I will get fired?” And he wouldn’t say anything about it. He just said “you shouldn’t do this. You should not tell other people.” And it destroyed my productivity.” Statements like this are ones that I find the most frustrating; being LGBTQ+ is both not a choice and a core part of our identity, and yet we are told continually to keep it quiet or tone it down because other people think it will be better for us. For many in the study, visibility would be a large part of improving these problems. Walt*, an entomologist in the private sector, said “the only way we’re going to get ahead is if some people are willing to [be out]. There are not enough role models at all in sciences I think that are LGBT.”

*Names have been changed to protect the identities and privacy of those involved in the study

People would be happier in an environment that allows them to be who they are, so the tension created through harassment or even lack of awareness can cause a problem not only for individuals but I believe for the whole STEM community. It has been shown that a more diverse group of thinkers offer more creative solutions to problems and therefore would produce better research, yet people are continually discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation. When Nature interviewed six LGBTQ+ scientists, many of the participants repeated the same thoughts for improving the field, be accepting, practice at the things you don’t understand (like use of correct pronouns), and provide an inclusive space at work. Sean Vidal Edgerton, co-founder of 500 Queer Scientists, described it best:

“It would benefit everyone in academia if we could dismantle heteronormativity, systemic racism and white supremacy. It would allow every single individual in STEM to bring their entire selves to their career and would set everyone up for success — not just a select few.

STEM is also a global field, and collaboration with others is common practice. Whilst the pandemic might have slowed it down, international conferences and talks are something that are part of being a researcher and will be again in the future. To be open and proud of your sexuality is to put yourself at a disadvantage. For example, say you were doing work that involved collaborating in Malaysia for a couple months. Malaysia currently imposes prison sentences for those involved in same-sex relationships, and the prime minister openly stated Malaysia ‘cannot accept same-sex marriage.’ Indeed, the very act of being in a same-sex relationship is described as ‘against the order of nature’ within Malaysian law, and violations of this have recently resulted in two lesbian women being caned and four men being thrown in prison for six months. It’s also a country where 45% of people agree that non-heterosexual orientations should be criminalised. I would not feel okay if it was me heading over there (thankfully this is not a case of personal experience), but other people don’t get to avoid this obstacle so easily. This is not one special instance either, there are up to 72 countries that impose some sort of punishment for being LGBTQ+, up to and including the death penalty.

Map of the world with countries that criminalise LGBTQ people highlighted in purple                                                                         


There are also little things that many people (even LGBTQ+ people) might not think about; did you know only 9 countries in the world have bans of conversion therapy written into law? Four of those are South American, and only two (Germany and Malta) are European. A few more have banned medical professionals from practicing it but the practice itself is not illegal. When you see this, what message does that send about the countries that allow it, even if the topic is being contested? For comparison, only 20 states in America have completely banned the practice, less than half of the country, which suggests a majority that does not mind the abuse of LGBTQ+ individuals due to their conceptions of non-heterosexual people as individuals to be ‘cured’. As for the UK, whilst Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the practice ‘has no place in this country’ and described it as ‘abhorrent’ to date the government have only promised to have a ‘consultation’ about the practice, while A ban on conversion therapy in the UK has been touted since 2018. How confident can you be with what I would consider to be empty promises?

Ignoring the extreme cases, there are countries where it is not illegal to be LGBTQ+, but this does not stop the prejudice and discrimination against the community. Trump tried his hardest to deny rights to those on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, from banning transgender troops from the military, to allowing healthcare providers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. President Biden is working to undo this, appointing Dr Rachel Levine as assistant health secretary, and undoing the military trans ban, but the damage has been done. Everyone over the past four years who felt emboldened to voice their anti-LGBTQ+ opinions still exist, so as a result the USA to me feels like a hit-and-miss place where LGBTQ+ safety is dependent on the state you’re in at the time.

Within Europe, in Poland, three women have been put on trial for carrying LGBTQ+ posters, and I don’t feel comfortable going to any country that has ‘LGBT-free’ zones, a complete 180 from a country that was one of the first to decriminalise homosexuality in Europe in 1932. In the UK, homophobic hate crimes are on the increase, from 2014–15 there were just over 6,600 hate crimes reported, between 2019–20 that number trebled to just under 18,500. People are suffering from verbal abuse, like the gay couple in Devon who were called ‘abhorrent’, or worse, like the case of the two women on the bus in London, being harassed and then attacked after refusing to kiss each other on their way home. Whilst these examples are not representative of those countries as a whole, it still presents a problem for LGBTQ+ people globally.

Therefore, even in countries non-LGBTQ+ people might look at and not think twice about going to, there is a lot for the LGBTQ+ scientist to take into consideration, including our own safety and wellbeing in some places. These are things that no non-LGBTQ+ scientist ever has to consider before going to a conference, or to work in another lab. They have the advantage of existing within the status-quo, whereas we will always be working our way up to equality.


Now, I am accentuating the negative to make a clear and obvious point: we are a long way off from equality in general, let alone those equality for those who work in STEM, but it’s not all bad news. January showcased a good start to 2021, with Wiley’s change to their author name change policy. This would allow for the easy change of an author’s name on previous work, something I hope becomes the norm across journal publishing in future.

Small things also make a big difference: displaying pronouns (on emails, on your company’s websites, in your Zoom or Teams name tag, when you’re writing, etc) creates a more welcoming atmosphere, LGBTQ+ mentoring schemes would help students who were just starting out in STEM, or even those who hadn’t come out yet, and things like educating non-LGBTQ+ staff help makes everyone aware of LGBTQ+ issues. Another thing I personally think is a big step forward is to have accountability. We need to establish spaces within work and education where people feel safe speaking to others (including official complaints) about any discrimination or harassment. I have already spoken about the heteronormative nature of STEM, but I feel this atmosphere pushes people away from feeling confident in speaking about any aspects of their sexuality, and so when things go wrong, they’re less likely to speak up. This is also seen time and time again in all the studies noted above, LGBTQ+ people in STEM feel less comfortable.

Events and gatherings also allow people all over to come together. One thing that surprised me about the IOP, RAS, and RSC survey was that a large proportion of people who worked as teachers or in industry (people outside of academia) were unaware that organisations or networks existed that offered support to LGBTQ+ scientists. I know there are plenty of organisations that all seek to increase visibility, introduce people to LGBTQ+ scientists and showcase their work, as well as highlighting struggles people are facing.

Pride in STEM is run by LGBTQ+ scientists across the world, and they host Pride in STEM day annually on November 18th, where a series of speakers address different challenges faced within the community.

500 Queer Scientists is specifically a visibility campaign that want to showcase LGBTQ+ STEM stories.

Out in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (oSTEM) is a mostly US based society for LGBTQ+ scientists, run by students and professionals alike.

The STEM Village is a Scottish based community that hosts talks from the LGBTQ+ STEM community in order to improve visibility and form a widespread community.

LGBTQ+ STEM is another network that’s main aim is visibility, in order to show the diversity of roles LGBTQ+ people can hold in STEM.

These organisations are helping to improve the landscape for the next generation. This year was the first time I’d ever attended the LGBTQ+STEMinar, which was an amazing place for people to meet and discuss their work together. The STEM Village hosted a virtual symposium in August 2020, and this was attended by over 700 people, including those from countries where it is unsafe to be openly LGBTQ+.

As the pandemic forces us all inside, we need a community more than ever, and it’s sad to think about those who don’t know where to start. Surely, more can be done to reach those people who would no doubt benefit from the one thing we all want: an accepting community of colleagues. Even if you aren’t aware of any of the organisations above (and if you’re curious I highly recommend checking them out), there are other alternatives. Personally, I am most open about things related to being a pansexual scientist when I am on Twitter, and here I can easily find others who are part of the same community. I am sure there are other online spaces as well where people can be more open and make friends with likeminded people.

As we are in June, Pride Month, a time where we can celebrate LGBTQ+ rights and communities, we have to be aware of how far we are from equality at the moment. Now is a time to use the past and reflect on how to improve LGBTQ+ life within STEM, because whilst a lot has been achieved now is not the time to become complacent. I am thankful that we seem to be getting to a place where those looking to a future in STEM have role models and people they can look up to, and places where they can feel safe and accepted. Hopefully this is a momentum that keeps on going, as I look forward to seeing the developments to come!

‘Wathint’ Abafazi, Wathint’ Imbokodo’

‘Wathint’ Abafazi, Wathint’ Imbokodo’


Lilian Ngoyi, Rahima Moosa, Helen Joseph and Sophia Williams-De Bruyn at the Women’s Day march of 1956


As a South African woman, I am well aware of the sacrifices made by the likes of Lilian Ngoyi, Rahima Moosa, Helen Joseph and Sophia Williams-De Bruyn. On the 9th of August 1956, these courageous individuals, as part of a +20,000 crowd of women, marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital, to hand over a petition demanding freedom from the oppressive pass laws.

Prior to 1956, all black men in South Africa were required to carry passes to move freely in urban areas. These passes were only allocated to men who had jobs and were a means of controlling the influx of black people into urban areas. In 1952, the apartheid government announced that black women would also be required to carry such passes, and this was met with grave resistance. Thus, leading to the infamous march on the 9th of August, where they petitioned against the new pass laws and Group Areas Act that would further entrench racism into the fabric of South African culture. Despite the lack of immediate change occurring with regards to the laws, this march served as a pinnacle for the resistance struggle against pass laws which were ultimately absolved in 1986.

At a time when South Africa was divided under the apartheid law, these women put aside any racial, cultural and political differences that may have existed between them, and banded together to challenge the government, with the sole intention of improving the lives of women for generations to come.

‘Wathint’ Abafazi, Wathint’ Imbokodo’


“You strike a woman; you strike a rock.” Now regarded as a South African proverb, these words are taken from the famous resistance song composed for the 1956 protest. It now  symbolizes the strength and courage that women possessed at the time (under apartheid law) and continue to possess to this very day, decades after their initial opposition to a government that had blatantly oppressed them.

It’s been 64 years since that momentous day, and at the close of women’s month (August) in South Africa, I am left wondering whether or not the significance of the day has been lost, and if the day is simply regarded as “just another public holiday.”

Our current dilemma

There is no doubt that being a woman in the workplace is difficult. Sure, some fields may be more “accepting” of women than others, but it always feels as though you have to fight 10 times harder than any man in the very same position as you. Microaggressions in the workplace make working environments very difficult for women, and when attempting to speak out, they are sometimes labelled as ”aggressive”, “bossy”, “not a team player” or even “unmanageable”. The unfortunate truth is that the glass ceiling seems far too close for most women. Men don’t face the same issues that women do. Men rarely have to choose between their career and having a family.. Men aren’t really expected to work and still excel in housework. No one would bat an eye if a man consistently overworked and thus failing to be truly present for his family.


So what?! So what if they call you bossy? So what if you are told that you are too career orientated? So what if you are the only woman in an entire boardroom? You are exactly where you need to be to make a difference! Own your position, be bold, bossy and assertive … but remember that you are unique in your own way, and you are dealing with things men will NEVER EVER understand.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we should treat men with the same kind of condescending, passive aggressive nature that they sometimes show us. On the contrary, I think it’s better if we own the things that set us apart. Women are always said to be more emotionally intuitive, highly analytical and driven to make decisions that benefit the collective. So perhaps instead of fighting to fit into spaces currently occupied by men, we should capitalize on our feminine characteristics and create our own spaces with that unique and powerful female touch. Then set down the ladder to allow other women to follow suit. If we truly collaborate as women, building each other up, I believe we would be able to conquer so much more!

“If you educate a man you educate an individual but if you educate a woman you educate a family (nation)”  – James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey


For many women, it may seem like the idea of “having it all” is simply impossible. We are often presented with a false choice, told to choose between having a successful career or a stable family, because the option of flourishing in both areas simultaneously is deemed unrealistic and absurd. As a result – in certain situations – it may feel like our ability to bear children is actually an obligation, rather than a gift. So much value is given to bearing children, that in a lot of cultures, a woman is regarded as less than, if she is unable to bear children. On the other hand, a woman who actively chooses not to have children will never hear the end of it. Just ask Tracee Ellis Ross.


You are a woman, and that is your superpower. Never let anyone tell you otherwise! Fight for your rights at every turn but remember to protect your peace.


Below is a list of 20 influential women across varying sectors, including some of my own personal role models. I hope that this list will inspire you to break through that glass ceiling and exist loudly, and proudly in whatever sector you find yourself in!



  • Ellen DeGeneres

Area of influence: Entertainment

According to a poll by Variety magazine in 2015, Ellen DeGeneres did more to influence American attitudes in regard to gay rights than any other celebrity. The talk show host came out as gay in 1997 — and so did her character on her sitcom “Ellen.”

  • Ai-jen Poo

Area of influence: Activism

Ai-jen Poo was a driving force behind the worker-led movement Domestic Workers United in New York City. The organization’s campaigns led to better conditions for domestic workers, raised awareness of economic contributions that domestic workers provide, helped get legal representation for abused workers, and crafted a framework of legal standards for workers.

  • Malala Yousafzai

Area of influence: Women’s rights

Malala Yousafzai, an advocate for women’s education rights, won the Nobel Peace Prize at age 17, making her the youngest recipient ever. The attempt on her life when she was on her way to school led to her native Pakistan to pass that nation’s first Right to Education Bill.

  • Oprah Winfrey

Area of influence: Entertainment/activism

Oprah Winfrey, the first African-American female billionaire, has had a significant influence on American culture since her time as a television talk show host. She played a key role in the emergence of Barack Obama as a presidential candidate and continues to be politically active. An indication of her influence? The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is holding an exhibition titled “Watching Oprah: The Oprah Winfrey Show and American Culture.”


  • Judith Butler

Area of influence: Activism

Judith Butler is a philosopher and gender theorist who has written influential books on feminist and gay topics. Her books, such as “Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity” and “Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex,” challenge conventions about gender.


  • Beyonce

Area of influence: Entertainment

Beyonce has more Grammy nominations, 66, than any other female performer, and she has won 22 times. She is an icon for feminism and for African American culture. She dipped her toe into politics at Super Bowl 50, when she had her backup singers dress in black with black berets and afros to protest racial injustice.


  • Christine Lagarde

Area of influence: Finance

Christine Lagarde is the first female managing director of the International Monetary Fund, and she has helmed the IMF since 2011. Over that time, Lagarde has helped the international community manage the eurozone debt crisis and the possibility of a trade war between the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies.


  • Inna Braverman

Area of influence: Energy

Israeli entrepreneur Inna Braverman is the co-founder of Eco Wave Power, a company that is using the power of oceanic waves to produce clean energy. Braverman designed and created a commercially feasible wave energy plant in Gibraltar that supplies 15% of the British territory’s electricity. Braverman, who survived the Chernobyl nuclear accident when she was an infant, opened her first power plant in Jaffa, Israel, when she was 26 years old.


  • Indra Nooyi

Area of influence: Business

Indra Nooyi served as CEO of PepsiCo from 2006 to 2018, and over that time, the company’s revenue rose 80%. Nooyi has been candid about the struggle to balance the pressure of leading one of the world’s largest beverage companies with her home life.


  • Christiane Amanpour

Area of influence: Journalism

Journalist Christiane Amanpour first gained notoriety for her reports for CNN on Iran in 1985. She received international recognition for her dispatches as a war correspondent during the Bosnian crisis in the 1990s. Amanpour has also reported from the world’s hot spots such as Haiti, Rwanda, Somalia, and Afghanistan.


  • Tegla Loroupe

Area of influence: Sports/activism

Kenya’s Tegla Loroupe was propelled into the world’s spotlight in 1994, when she became the first African woman to win the New York City Marathon. Other running successes followed and Loroupe became one of the world’s elite female marathoners. She has used her fame to found the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation to help bring peace to communities in Kenya, Uganda, and Sudan.


  • Rhianna

Area of influence: Entertainment

Few artists can match the success of Rihanna in the 21st century. The Barbadian singer has had 14 No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, and 31 songs reached the top 10. She’s also won nine Grammy Awards. She lists Madonna among her influences and considers herself a black Madonna.


  • Betsy DeVos

Area of influence: Education

Betsy DeVos is the secretary of education for President Donald Trump. She is a longtime supporter of school choice, school voucher programs, and charter schools. Her positions on education, as well as amending Obama-era guidelines on rules pertaining to sexual assault cases on college campuses, have made her a controversial figure in the Trump administration.


  • Melinda Gates

Area of influence: Philanthropy

Melinda Gates is the one of the most powerful philanthropists in the world. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the world’s largest private charitable organization, with a trust endowment of $40 billion. The foundation is addressing issues such as education and poverty, and Gates has focused particularly on women’s rights.


  • Janet Yellen

Area of influence: Finance

As the first female head of the Federal Reserve from 2014 to 2018, Janet Yellen was one of the most powerful women in the world. Yellen projected stability and a calm demeanor as she began a series of interest-rate hikes that threatened to shake up the equity markets. Before Yellen, the Fed has been lowering rates or leaving them unchanged since the financial crisis in 2008.


  • Mary Barra

Area of influence: Business

Mary Barra was the first female head of a major automobile company. She took the reins of GM in early 2014, just as the company was dealing with a massive recall that involved defective ignition switches. Her crisis-management skills brought GM through that troubled period. Since then, Barra has deftly pulled the company out of Russia and withdrew Chevy from Europe. Under her, General Motors has shifted into ride-sharing services by investing in Lyft, and launched the electric vehicle the Chevy Bolt. For her vision and ability to handle crises, Automotive News’ 2018 Industry Leader of the Year.


  • Serena Williams

Area of influence: Sports

It would be pretty hard to argue against Serena Williams as the greatest women’s tennis player of all time. Williams has won 23 Grand Slam titles — Wimbledon, French Open, U.S. Open, the Australian Open — the most in the Open era. Along the way, the African American tennis star has battled gender and racial bias, and her own doubts about motherhood.


  • Caster Semenya

Area of influence: Sports

South African middle-distance runner and 2016 Olympic gold medallist. Caster has had to overcome several biases and prejudices against her due to her high levels of testosterone caused by a sexual development disorder. In 2019, new IAAF rules prevented women like Caster from participating in female events unless she takes medication to lower testosterone levels.


  • Catherine Constantinides

Area of influence: Climate change, environmental activism, human rights activist

A 2013 Archbishop Tutu African Oxford Fellow and 2016 Mandela Washington Fellow, Catherine’s commitment and passion for social change takes her to the smallest of communities in South Africa, as well as global platforms including the UN, where she currently works as a human rights defender actively engaging in Geneva at the UN Human Rights Council for the world’s most marginalised and vulnerable . Her recent work with the people of Western Sahara has highlighted the conflict and one of the longest outstanding issues on the UN security council. In 2017, she was an invited panellist at the inaugural Obama Summit hosted by former president Barack Obama. In 2020, she was named as one of South Africa’s most influential Africans by Generational Wealth Education and one of the 100 Most Influential African Leaders by the Pan African Youth Leadership Foundation. Most recently, she was also named one of the Global Ambassadors for the Earthshot Prize launched by Prince William and Sir David Attenborough

Catherine’s passion and drive is phenomenal and I am privileged to have worked with her during my time as a Miss Earth South Africa (2017) first runner-up. I have witnessed first-hand her determination to evoke change within our communities and encourage young girls to reach for their dreams. She has encouraged me to live my purpose fiercely and with zest.


Keeping your head above (COVID-19) water

What day is it ? Is it really Monday ? Are we in April or May? What productive thing have I done with myself this week?

If you’re like me, then these are some of the questions that you wake up asking yourself. It feels as if the days just blend into each other, one ending and the next beginning without any real indication, and through it all, I still feel like I am just drifting along. Just trying to find myself and keep my head above water. I won’t lie, some days I feel like I am drowning. Like I am in this sea of COVID-19, it’s all around me – every news channel, every social media outlet, and somehow, part of EVERY conversation I have. It’s hard to feel like there is anything more to my days than COVID-19, and as such, I am finding it hard to “keep the end in mind.”

When lockdown first started I was determined to keep afloat. Determined not to let this pandemic take my sanity away. So, I resorted to waking up at the same time as normal, and getting dressed as if I was leaving my apartment and going to work. I would try as best as possible to work my “normal” working hours. I would even reserve Saturday for cleaning as I had done in my life BLD (before lockdown) (How bizarre to think of life in different eras!).

I’m the kind of person that needs to have a routine and some structure to remain sane. My compulsive need to remain in control was really been tested when I could no longer properly plan for the future because I had no idea what this future would be like. Slowly but surely I started to lose steam. I stopped bothering about routine, stopped bothering about looking presentable and brushing my hair (please don’t judge me!). With each passing day I felt my motivation slipping away little by little.

At some point I was beating myself up about this. Feeling like I was failing myself for not having the same energy six weeks into lockdown as I had at the beginning. But something clicked one day and I realised that it was okay. It’s okay to have low days. It’s okay to feel like I hadn’t done anything productive for the day (or week). It was okay to just curl up and read a book that had no academic benefit and it was definitely okay to binge-watch a random Netflix show!!

“We should listen to our bodies and be gentle and kind with ourselves”

COVID-19 is something we could never have been prepared for. No one knows how to properly deal with everything. This pandemic has left so many of us scared , anxious, frustrated and putting additional stress on ourselves to be productive. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we should all just give up and turn into couch potatoes, but I am saying that we should listen to our bodies and be gentle and kind with ourselves before anything else. Many of us may have caring responsibilities, and it is important to remember that we can’t pour from an empty cup , so give yourself the time and rest that you need.

I wish I had all the answers in how to make it through these difficult times, unfortunately I don’t, but I can only share with you some of the ways that I have been trying to cope with my limited motivation levels.

  • Try to maintain some kind of routine – I work during the week and keep weekends as my time to spend with family, watching movies and just relaxing.
  • If you can’t work a full day, then try to work for solid uninterrupted stretches, taking regular breaks .
  • I try to spend some time outside, just enjoying the sunshine.
  • As an avid traveller, I have tried to catch up on my travel journal. This has served as a kind of gratitude journal, reminding me of all the amazing memories I have from my travels. It may be helpful to keep a gratitude journal, just to remind yourself of all the positives in your life when things seem bleak.
  • Exercise – I’m not a gym rat, and I really have struggled to keep committed to this, but I try to do at least a few minutes of exercise at least 3 times a week.
  • Meditation – I also suffer from an overactive mind that will focus on any random thing whenever I try to meditate. However, I have found that this has been a way to find peace when the day seems to run away from me.

I really hope that the days ahead would be a bit more peaceful, and that in some way, we would all begin to find peace.

I will leave you with a few quotes to try to boost your motivation each day . Stay safe … and remember, it’s okay to take a break!


    1. “Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.”

    2. “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

    3. “Where there is a will, there is a way. If there is a chance in a million that you can do something, anything, to keep what you want from ending, do it. Pry the door open or, if need be, wedge your foot in that door and keep it open.”

    4. “Do not wait; the time will never be ‘just right.’ Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.”

    5. “Press forward. Do not stop, do not linger in your journey, but strive for the mark set before you.”

    6. “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

    7. “Aim for the moon. If you miss, you may hit a star.”

    8. “Don’t watch the clock; do what it does. Keep going.”

    9. “There will be obstacles. There will be doubters. There will be mistakes. But with hard work, there are no limits.”

    10. “Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.”

    11. “We aim above the mark to hit the mark.”

    12. “One way to keep momentum going is to have constantly greater goals.”

    13. “Change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future, act now, without delay.”

    14. “You just can’t beat the person who never gives up.”


Side note …

Hey !  My name is Orielia Egambaram. I’m doing my PhD in Chemistry and my work is focused on the development of energy storage systems. I’m currently in Swaziland (Southern Africa) with my family.  I am the communications manager for WReN. I’m so excited to be part of a network of amazing women. Keep safe . Love & light 

Hello world!

We are a network of women at the University of Kent who are in our early careers in academia, doing PhD’s, Post-Docs, research posts, etc. We recognise that these jobs can be isolating, and that getting ahead in academia as a woman at the beginning of an academic career is challenging.

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