Flavia Flaviani is a senior bioinformatician for the R&D department at Guy’s and St Thomas’. Earlier this year, she hosted a visit from local girls with the organisation I Can Be. The charity brings 7 and 8 year-old girls into the world of work, introducing them to inspiring women and helping them to discover the breadth of opportunity around them. Flavia told us about why she got involved, and how the visit went.

I believe that in order to have more women in senior positions, as well as increase diversity, we need to provide role models for children. We need to demonstrate that these different careers are available, to encourage them explore their potential and aspirations. If you see someone similar to you, in a job that you find interesting, then you can see it as something that is achievable.

Our Trust is working hard towards inclusivity with various activities, such as coaching and reverse mentoring, and it is also helping by inspiring the next generation. One of the ways we do this is by working with the organisation I Can Be.

This organisation brings seven and eight year-old girls into the world of work. They target inner-city primary schools, to enable girls to explore jobs they otherwise may never be exposed to, building their curiosity and confidence along the way.

The first stage is aimed at girls, but there is a new program for boys, so keep your eyes open if you want to volunteer.

Materials to make a cell from an I Can Be visit in 2019

For my volunteer session I teamed up with Sally Watts from Evelina and we hosted the school at the R&D department at Guy’s Hospital. Prior to the event we were asked to write a short biography to give to the girls, to allow them to prepare some questions. The girls were very interested and asked some great questions about our jobs, my PhD and the work we do.

We then spent a little time talking about our jobs and showed our group the importance of DNA and how it is used to discover diseases and provide specific therapies. Sally and I built a very simple model of a cell, which allowed us to provide some context when telling the girls about the mitochondria, the Golgi apparatus, the cytoplasm and the special nucleus where the DNA reside. We taught them how to pronounce Deoxyribonucleic Acid – always a plus to impress your family with a new word.

Sally used four LEGO bricks of different colours to symbolise the four bases that constitute the DNA (ATCG Adenine, Thymine, Cytosine and Guanine) and how the combination of these bases ‘make’ us and other organisms. She demonstrated how our features are defined by our unique DNA by having the group choose different noses, lips, and eyebrows to glue and colour their cartoon character faces.

Activity sheet from an I Can Be visit in 2019

I asked them if anyone had seen Rapunzel (my nephew’s favourite cartoon), which everyone was very excited about. This made it easy to explain DNA coiling works by comparing it to the scene where they manage to put all her long hair into a small braid. I also explained how the job of a bioinformatician is a bit like the ‘spot the difference’ game where you need to look for patterns, similarities and differences.

Both my parents stopped their education at middle school and my mum was not allowed to study further after the age of 13. Despite this she has been an incredible role model for me, always talking about the importance of study and having an education to be empowered. I asked myself the question, if she had someone advocating that educating women is a good thing, how different would her life could have been.

Bioinformatics is still a male dominated field and it was important to show these young girls learning something about my job and spark some curiosity in the field and various careers open to them. So I truly hope that through our efforts to show these girls different career options, they will be inspired. Hopefully this will enable us to have a more diverse workforce, where everyone can fulfill their potential.