#Back to school

WATT launched its first official social media campaign, #BackToSchool, in the autumn of 2020, with testimonials of inspiring and influential women in STEM. We asked the participating women to describe a challenge they faced when starting their higher education.

Transitioning from school into university can be difficult, as students are required to adapt to a new environment. The most common challenge reported by women who studied abroad was overcoming the language barrier when communicating with new colleagues and familiarising oneself with the course material in a foreign language. Furthermore, finding oneself in an entirely different culture with people socialising in a different way can be frightening. Being away from your immediate family and social circle, who are your support network, can lead an overseas student to experience difficulties settling in. However, with time and persistence, such tough challenges can become fun and enriching experiences, and people become fluent in a new language and make friends from all around the world.

Some key take home messages:

  • For those considering studying abroad or far from home: strangers will gradually become friends and the loneliness feeling will disappear.

  • For those wanting to pursue a graduate degree: take time to explore the potential new workplace environment and meet the research team beforehand to ensure that this is the right place for you.

  • It is OK to make mistakes, fail in (some) exams, or change your course, degree or research.

  • Figure out what works best for you, we are all different in many ways; how you prefer to study or do research or manage your time. Do not forget it’s always okay to ask for help when you need it.


#BackToSchool had great success expanding our WATT network (reaching over 1000 followers on LinkedIn and a significant increase of followers on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter). Thank you all for the social media shares, and the many personal messages and comments of support.

Have a read on the participants’ responses:

Agnieszka Wabik, Co-Founder and Director of WATT. She is also a Freelance Scientific Consultant. She received her BSc in Biological Sciences from The University of Edinburgh and went on to complete Masters and PhD in Stem Cell Biology at University of Cambridge.

Alice Taylor, Scientist at Qkine. She received her BSc in Biomedical Science from University of Kent and went on to do a MPhil in acute myeloid leukaemia from University of Cambridge.

Anais Barut, CEO and co-founder of DAMAE Medical. She received a Masters in Engineering from the Institut d’Optique and went on to do a Grande Ecole Program: Major Entrepreneurship (MBA Program) at the HEC Paris Business School.

Clarissa Rios Rojas, Founder and Director at Ekpa’palek and Research Associate at Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at University of Cambridge. She received her PhD from University of Queensland in Developmental Molecular Biology.

Ewa Warchoł, Senior Associate, Clinical Strategy at KCR. She received her MSc in Biotechnology at the University of Lodz and MSc in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at University of Chicago. Ewa went on to receive her PhD in Biochemistry at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich.

Filipa Soares, VP of R&D, Tissue Engineering Start-up (in stealth mode). She received her PhD in Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine from the University of Cambridge and a Masters in Biological Engineering from the Instituto Superior Técnico.

Íris Luz Batalha, Director, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief at Women Ahead of Their Time. She is a Research Associate at the University of Cambridge. She completed her BSc in Applied Chemistry, Masters in Biotechnology and PhD in Bioengineering Systems at the NOVA University Lisbon & MIT Portugal Program.

Karolina Zapadka, Director & Co-Founder at Women Ahead of Their Time (WATT). She is the Head of Life Sciences Accelerator at Babraham Research Campus. She completed her MSc in Chemistry at Jagiellonian University, MSc in Physical Chemistry at Lundt University and PhD at the University of Cambridge.

Laura Butler, Team Leader at the PhoreMost. She received first-class honours BSc Biological sciences from the University of Warwick. She went on to receive her PhD in Molecular Cell Biology from King’s College London.

Dr Lilia Giugni, CEO of the Gender & Policy Insights and Researcher at the Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation. She received both her Bachelors and Masters in Politics and International Relations from the Luiss Guido Carli. She completed her PhD in Politics and International Affairs at the University of Cambridge.

Luana Ferrara, Senior Protein Scientist at Qkine. She received her BSc in Biotechnology from the University of Palermo and completed a Masters’ in Functional Genomics from the University of Trieste. Luana received her PhD in Biochemistry from the University of St Andrews.

Lydia Mapstone, Co-founder and CEO of Booby Biome. She received first-class honours in BSc Biology at the Bristol University and completed a Masters in Synthetic Biology and Biotechnology at the Edinburgh University. She is currently completing her PhD at the University College London.

Madeline McNamara, BD Manager at Allcyte. She completed a BSc in Biomedical Sciences with Pharmacology at the Edinburgh University and a MSc in Pharmacology, Neurobiology and Physiology at the University of Côte d’Azur. She received her PhD in Regenerative Medicine at the University of Cambridge.

Margaux Naepels, Project Manager at Air Liquide Healthcare. She received her Masters in Chemistry from École Normale Supérieure de Lyon and went on to study a generalist engineering diploma from MINES ParisTech with a major in biotechnology.

Marion Perrin, Co-Founder of Women Ahead of Their Time. She is a Wellcome Trust PhD student in Cambridge Stem Cell Institute. She received a BSc and MSc in Biosciences from École normale supérieure de Lyon, an engineering degree from MINES ParisTech I PSL, and a MSc in Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Biology from the University of Cambridge.

Martyna Popis, Co-Founder and Director of Women Ahead of Their Time, Scientist in AgenTus Therapeutics. She received her MRes and PhD in Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Biology from University of Cambridge, and her BSC (Hons) in Genetics from the Edinburgh University.

Mira Kassouf, Postdoctoral Researcher at University of Oxford and MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, Co-Founder and President of Innovation Forum. She received a BSc in Medical Laboratory Technology from American University of Beirut, an MSc in Medical Genetics from Brunel University London and her DPhil in Molecular Biology from University of Oxford.

Ola Wlodek, Co-founder and COO at Reflection Therapeutics and BD Manager at Women Ahead of Their Time. She received her Master’s Degree in Biotechnology from Jagiellonian University and went on to do a PhD in Biological and Biomedical Sciences at University of Cambridge.

Rabab Nasrallah did her PhD in Stem Cell and Developmental Biology at the University of New South Wales. She was also awarded the Dr. Thomas Bee scholarship to conduct pioneering research in the field of developmental biology at the CRUK Manchester Institute.

Rachel Nelson, Head of Cellular Generation and Phenotyping (CGaP) Core Facility at Wellcome Sanger Institute, with a PhD on Cellular and Molecular Biology from University of Liverpool.

Rebecca Jones, Public Engagement Manager at Cambridge Stem Cell Institute. She received first-class honours in Bsc Biochemistry and went on to do PhD in Biochemistry at Bristol University.

Tanya Hutter, Co-Founder and Director of Women Ahead of Their Time, Co-founder and CTO at Kalium Health, Assistant Professor at University of Texas at Austin. She got a BSc in Chemical Engineering from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, MSc in Materials Science and Engineering from Tel Aviv University, and a PhD in Physical Chemistry from University of Cambridge.