Pride in Science: Celebrating Diversity Together eBook

“Greater representation at the higher levels of academia is not only good for diversity but it’s good for innovation and for science.” – Prof. Giles Oldroyd.

June has been recognized as Pride Month each year since the Stonewall Riots in 1969 and is dedicated to the celebration and commemoration of LGBTQ+ people and culture. 

LGBTQ+ professionals make incredible contributions to science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) but face many challenges in the workplace, such as inadequate career resources and opportunities, social marginalization, and health and wellbeing issues. 

Here at Technology Networks, we want to use this opportunity to highlight the experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals studying and working in STEMM, to encourage the idea that science is for everyone. 

Download this eBook to read the full interviews.

Pride in Science:
Celebrating Diversity Together
“Keep striving for excellence
and know that you have the
potential to achieve great things
in your STEMM career.”
– Dr. Ashley Turner.
“Greater representation at the
higher levels of academia is
not only good for diversity but
it’s good for innovation and for
science.” – Prof. Giles Oldroyd.
“STEMM is not going to be a
safe place in many institutions,
and we need to work to create
those safe places.”
– Dr. Raquel Cuella Martin.
Credit: iStock
Ashley Turner, PhD 4
Avery Cunningham 8
David Bending, PhD 11
Professor Giles Oldroyd, PhD 13
Jay Mandula, PhD 15
Raquel Cuella Martin, PhD 18
Stephen Robinson, PhD 20
Pride in Science
June has been recognized as Pride Month each year since the Stonewall
Riots in 1969 and is dedicated to the celebration and commemoration of
LGBTQIA+ people and culture.
LGBTQIA+ professionals working in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) face many challenges in the workplace, such
as inadequate career resources and opportunities, social marginalization, and
difficulties with health and wellbeing. They also make incredible contributions
to science.
Here at Technology Networks, we want to use this opportunity to highlight the
experiences and achievements of LGBTQIA+ individuals studying and working in STEMM, to encourage the idea that science is for everyone.
This eBook contains a selection of interviews from LQBTQIA+ individuals
at various stages of their careers, in which they share information on their
research, experiences, opinions and ideas to inspire the next generation.
Credit: iStock, Jo Turner
Ashley Turner, PhD
Dr. Ashley Turner is an assistant professor of biology at Jacksonville State
University in Jacksonville, Alabama, and identifies as a queer, lesbian and
cis-gender woman.
Anna MacDonald
Ashley completed a BS and MS in biology at the
University of West Georgia and a PhD in genetics,
genomics and bioinformatics at the University of Alabama
at Birmingham (UAB), where she studied neurofibromin
function and human neurofibromatosis type 1 mutations.
Following this, she worked as a postdoctoral fellow at
UAB in the Department of Biology. During this time, the
American Association of University Women awarded her
the 2019–20 American Fellowship for her commitment to
education and equity for women and girls in science.
Since then, she has turned her research and career
aspirations into reality, setting up and leading The Worm
Hole, a research lab offering unique research and learning
opportunities to students, while continuing to advocate
for diversity and inclusion in STEMM.
In this interview, Ashley tells us how her love of science
has evolved, from her childhood pursuits to her research
interests today, and shares some of her proudest
professional and personal achievements so far. Turner
also describes some of the challenges that LGBTQIA+
individuals face in STEMM and outlines the steps that
can be taken to make STEMM environments more
inclusive and supportive.
Q: What motivated you to pursue a career in
science and led to your interest in molecular
A: My motivations for pursuing a career in science stem
from a combination of personal interest and a passion
for discovery. My passion for biology really started from
childhood excursions to the swamp with my dad and
brother, where we would explore the depths of the forest
and a local creek and wetland in rural Georgia.
In high school and college, I quickly discovered
my science courses to be the most meaningful and
challenging, with real-world applications that I could
see beyond the textbook. I became fascinated by the
complexities of life and how genes and the molecular
world influence everything from health to behavior.
I found science to be intellectually stimulating and
constantly evolving, fitting perfectly into my mindset of
lifelong learning.
Like many scientists, I am driven by an insatiable
curiosity about how the world works. I also have a deep
passion for sharing science with others through teaching
and mentoring. For me, a STEMM career holds endless
opportunities for exploration in both teaching and
research that allows me to continue learning and growing
alongside others through scientific discovery.
Q: Can you tell us more about your current
research interests and The Worm Hole?
A: I am currently an assistant professor of biology at
Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Alabama.
My teaching endeavors include offering unique research
and learning opportunities to students through coursebased undergraduate/graduate research experiences
(CUREs and CGREs), mentored research experiences and
other biology courses.
Pride in Science
Pride in Science
My research interests focus on two main areas: biology
education research (BER) and genetics research.
My BER interests include investigating the structure and
impact of CUREs and CGREs. I use this research to better
understand how biology students think, engage, learn and
benefit in CUREs/CGREs and how I and other instructors
can develop more effective ways to teach in these unique
learning environments.
My genetics research interests have largely been fueled by
a team of undergraduate and graduate student researchers
in The Worm Hole, a research lab utilizing the microscopic
roundworm C. elegans as a model system for exploring
gene function and evolution and molecular mechanisms
of disease. Our current research interests involve the
interplay between genetics, metabolism, aging and
Q: What do you enjoy most about working
A: I love working in STEMM as it allows me to combine
my two deepest passions of teaching and research into
one career. Both areas are challenging yet incredibly
rewarding components of STEMM that offer the
opportunity to leave a lasting impact on society through
two profound facets. The first is through novel discoveries
and findings that help shed light on biological processes
and the underpinnings of life. The second is by helping
train the curious, competent and compassionate scientists
and educators of tomorrow.
As a first-generation college graduate, I am very fortunate
for the training and experiences I was granted by my
mentors to support the scientist and educator I am today.
There were numerous supportive mentors who went
beyond just providing guidance and advice to foster an
empowering, mutual relationship that allowed me to
grow both personally and professionally alongside them
as colleagues and friends.
I strive to be this mentor for my mentees and students,
empowering them all to reach their full potential. I hope
my passion and work spark and ignite their curiosity to
want to know more to truly begin to unravel a question
and understand its complexity and beauty.
Q: What would you say are your proudest
A: Reflecting on my journey, I take pride in the
accomplishments that have shaped who I am today. One
of my proudest achievements is undoubtedly learning to
accept and embrace myself as a queer woman, a journey
that has empowered me to live authentically and advocate
for LGBTQIA+ rights with passion and conviction.
Among my proudest achievements are moments where
I’ve made a positive impact on others, whether through
lending a helping hand, inspiring change or fostering
Additionally, I cherish personal milestones where I’ve
overcome challenges, grown as an individual and pursued
my passions with determination and resilience. Just to
name a few, being a first-generation college graduate
(bachelor, master and doctorate), being an advocate for
my mom and family, being a supportive wife to the most
amazing woman, being a dog mom to the best
two Chiweenies.
My wife and I have recently started our journey of
becoming moms, one of the most exciting paths our
lives have taken thus far. Navigating the path to parenthood as a queer couple has presented its own set of
unique challenges, from overcoming societal barriers to
facing the significant financial burden of reproductive
services to accessing inclusive reproductive healthcare
and legal recognition.
However, facing these hurdles together has only
strengthened our bond and determination to make our
dream a reality, reinforcing the power of family and the
boundless capacity for love and resilience. We started the
Turner Tribe & IVF Journey crowdfunding campaign,
which is ongoing and continues to rally the support
of friends, family and allies who share in our vision of
building a family. Each achievement, big or small, serves
as a reminder of our capabilities and the potential to
continue making a difference in the world around us.
Q: What are the main barriers for LGBTQIA+
people entering and progressing in STEMM,
and what could be done to support them?
A: Entering and progressing in STEMM fields can be
challenging for LGBTQIA+ individuals due to various
barriers, including discrimination and bias, lack of
representation, hostile work environments and societal
stigma and stereotypes.
LGBTQIA+ individuals face discrimination and bias in
environments, ranging from subtle forms of prejudice
to overt acts of discrimination. This manifests in hiring
practices, workplace culture and interactions with peers
and supervisors. At-will employment is an example of the
imbalanced relationship between employer and employee
that leaves LGBTQIA+ individuals vulnerable.
A lack of visible LGBTQIA+ role models and mentors in
STEMM fields makes it difficult for individuals to envision
themselves succeeding in these careers. This lack of
representation can contribute to feelings of isolation and
imposter syndrome.
Pride in Science
Some workplaces have hostile or unwelcoming
environments for LGBTQIA+ individuals, where
they may feel pressured to conceal their identities or
experiences to avoid discrimination or harassment.
Societal stigma and stereotypes about LGBTQIA+
individuals create additional barriers to success
in STEMM fields. These stereotypes may lead to
assumptions about an individual’s competence or
professionalism based on their sexual orientation
or gender identity. The lack of inclusion ignores the
importance of LGBTQIA+ identities, discriminations
against the queer community and the intersectionality of
diverse identities and experiences.
To support queer people in STEMM, it is crucial to
take proactive steps to create inclusive and supportive
environments. First and foremost, be an ally and an
advocate. Advocates play a vital role in creating a more
inclusive and equitable world where queer individuals
can live openly, authentically and without fear of
discrimination or violence. There are numerous strategies
that can help foster support, including diversity and
inclusion initiatives, visibility and representation, safe
spaces and support networks, training and education and
policy advocacy.
By addressing these barriers and implementing
supportive measures, we can create more inclusive and
welcoming environments for LGBTQIA+ individuals
in STEMM, ultimately fostering greater diversity,
innovation and excellence in STEMM fields.
Q: Can you tell us about the diversity and
inclusion work you are involved in?
A: I am deeply engaged in diversity and inclusion efforts
and work, which is incredibly important to me. I actively
participate in several initiatives aimed at fostering a more
inclusive environment, both within my workplace and in
the broader community.
During my doctoral and postdoctoral studies at University
of Alabama at Birmingham, I co-founded GRADient at
UAB, a LGBTQIA+ organization for graduate students,
professional students, postdocs and allies. We carried
out several projects aimed at creating awareness and
support for queer issues, including restroom accessibility
on campus. We also hosted an event and raised funds to
help support the LGBTQ+ Prom event at the Magic City
Acceptance Center, a non-profit LGBTQIA+-inclusive
space for folks in Birmingham, Alabama. I am proud to
say that GRADient at UAB is still going strong and active
At Jax State, I have been involved in several capacities
supporting and advocating for diverse individuals. I serve
as a faculty facilitator of the Safe Zone team, helping train
and educate individuals in our campus-wide program that
works to ensure a welcoming environment for all gender
identities and sexual orientations at Jax State.
As a founding member of the LGBTQ+ Faculty & Staff
Collective, I have served and held several leadership
positions on the steering committee. Our collective focuses
on contributing and supporting a welcoming and inclusive
environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender,
queer and allied faculty and staff. We provide support
and mentoring for LGBTQIA+ students, strengthen
outreach to and retention of our LGBTQIA+ faculty,
staff and students, and provide opportunities for fun
social events and professional networking within the Jax
State community. Each year, we hold a fundraiser that
raises funds for the LGBTQ+ Alumni Chapter Annual
Scholarship fund. We also host and co-host several events,
including a cookout and other social and community
events. I have also co-advised the student group Full
Spectrum, giving a seminar topic talk and helping plan and
execute events on campus, including the LGBTQ+ Prom.
Due to my diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, I was also
invited and served on the President’s Jax State University
Diversity & Inclusion Committee as the LGBTQ+ faculty/
staff lead. My wife Jo and I continue to support and donate
to Magic City Acceptance Center and take part in the
Central Alabama PrideFest and Parade.
Having access to resources, nonprofits and groups
dedicated to supporting queer youth and individuals is
invaluable. As someone who navigated my own challenges
during youth, I understand firsthand the significance of
having a supportive community and access to resources
that can provide guidance, assistance and a sense of
belonging. I truly believe that creating spaces where
everyone feels valued and respected is not only morally
imperative but also crucial for fostering innovation and
“I believe that science is for all
and needs to be done by all.
LGBTQIA+ individuals have diverse
backgrounds and life experiences
that bring to the table different
perspectives and creativities
needed to address today’s most
complex scientific problems.”
Pride in Science
All these efforts hope to offer a lifeline to individuals facing
various struggles, whether it is related to mental health,
identity, education or other issues. By being an advocate
and supporting such initiatives, we not only empower
today’s youth but also invest in a brighter and more
inclusive future for generations to come.
Q: If you could give one piece of advice to
young LGBTQIA+ researchers beginning their
career, what would it be?
A: Be unapologetically you and find your community. I
am a proud member of the LGBTQIA+ community, and
identify as queer, lesbian and a cis-gender woman. It is
important for queer-identifying scientists and trainees,
allies and really everyone to know, see, communicate and
collaborate with other queer individuals and professionals
in STEMM. Your unique perspective and experience as
an LGBTQIA+ individual bring valuable insights to your
work and contribute to the diversity and richness of your
chosen field.
Make sure to seek out and connect with LGBTQIA+
communities and allies within STEMM. Having
supportive peers, mentors and allies who understand and
respect you can provide invaluable support and guidance
as you navigate your career.
Remember you deserve to be treated with dignity and
respect. Your voice matters, and your contribution to
science is invaluable. Keep striving for excellence and
know that you have the potential to achieve great things
in your STEMM career. I am part of a growing body of
queer scientists around the world sharing our stories and
journey through a project called 500 Queer Scientists. We
are here. You are beautiful and amazing!
Dr. Ashley Turner was speaking to Anna MacDonald, Senior
Science Editor for Technology Networks.
Credit: iStock,, Avery Cunningham
Avery Cunningham
Avery Cunningham is the EDI business partner at Birmingham City University,
director of international relations and strategy at oSTEM, and founder of STEM, LGBTQ & You.
He identifies as a biromantic, demisexual transgender man.
Kate Robinson
After completing a BSc in nuclear science and materials
in 2020 from the University of Birmingham, Avery began
working on widening participation in STEMM. He
currently works as an equality, diversity and inclusion
(EDI) business partner at Birmingham City University,
where he supports the faculty of computing, engineering
and the built environment, and the faculty of health,
education and life sciences, as well as various other
LGBTQIA+ initiatives across the University.
Since 2019, he has volunteered with oSTEM, the largest
chapter-based STEMM organization in the world. He is
now the director of international relations and strategy
and annual conference co-chair for oSTEM.
Avery remains dedicated to the LGBTQIA+ in STEMM
space, creating the regional conference event STEM,
LGBTQ & You while still a student, which has just
celebrated its sixth year. He also serves as vice chair of
IOM3 Pride, the Institute of Materials, Minerals and
Minings Pride network, and was the inaugural winner of
their Outstanding Contribution Award for EDI in 2022.
He is also a trustee of Birmingham Pride Community
Fund, which supports local LGBTQIA+ initiatives across
the West Midlands.
Q: How do you identify and what pronouns do
you use?
A: I identify as a transgender man. I’m also biromantic and
demisexual. Additionally, I am autistic and I identify as
a massive queer nerd, who loves things like Dungeons &
Dragons, board games and videogames.
These aspects of my identity are all significant because
they interact with how I experience the world. They shape
my perspectives, interactions and relationships in unique
ways, so I always like to introduce myself with all of them,
including the things I like to spend my time doing! I am
more than just my sexual orientation, my gender or my
disability. In terms of pronouns, I use he/him.
Q: What inspired you to create STEM, LGBTQ
& You?
A: Having attended the oSTEM (Out in Science,
Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) annual
conference each year in the USA since 2017, I found
an immense sense of community and support among
fellow LGBTQIA+ individuals in STEMM fields. There
was something profoundly empowering about being
surrounded by queer individuals who shared similar
passions and interests in STEMM.
One aspect of the oSTEM conference that particularly
resonated with me was the sense of camaraderie
and belonging among attendees. It wasn’t just about
showcasing research or professional achievements; it was
also about creating a space where queer nerds could come
together to share their work, their research or simply their
enthusiasm for their respective fields.
I wanted to bring the heart of the oSTEM conference
to the UK and create a similar sense of community and
inclusivity within the STEMM landscape here. STEM,
LGBTQ & You aims to do just that by providing a platform
for LGBTQIA+ individuals in STEMM to connect,
support each other and celebrate their multifaceted
identities. By showcasing the diversity of experiences
Pride in Science
Pride in Science
within the LGBTQIA+ STEMM community, we hope to
foster a more inclusive environment where everyone feels
valued and empowered to pursue their passions and make
meaningful contributions to their fields. I also wanted
a place where there was importance in acknowledging
the whole person beyond their professional identity as a
scientist or engineer. I think we sometimes forget about the
whole person.
Q: What do you enjoy most about working in
STEMM? What would you say are your proudest
A: I feel very on the tangent to STEMM at the moment,
though I still support it. Although I always say I still feel
like an engineer, in that I still analyze, design and create
to solve problems, my problems are much more peoplefocused now.
What I enjoy most about working in STEMM is that I
feel it’s a place where I get to be a huge nerd and solve
problems. There’s a sense of fulfillment in knowing that the
work I do has the potential to make a positive impact on
society. From when I wanted to work in nuclear energy and
solve our energy crisis, to now where I support STEMM
faculties through EDI, for me it has always been about
making the world just a little bit better. I think the best
thing we can all hope for is making a positive impact, no
matter how big or small, on other people.
One of my proudest achievements in STEMM has been
the communities I’ve created. Fostering spaces where
individuals can come together, share experiences and
support each other has been incredibly rewarding. From
mentoring transgender undergraduates to advocating for
diversity and inclusion in the STEMM community, I’ve
seen firsthand the impact that these communities can have
on individuals’ lives and careers. This includes my work
with oSTEM student chapters, the conference and all the
other bits I do!
Overall, what I enjoy most about working in STEMM is
the opportunity to pursue my passions, make meaningful
contributions to my field and inspire the next generation of
scientists and engineers to do the same.
Q: What are the main barriers for LGBTQIA+
people entering and progressing in STEMM,
and what could be done to support them?
A: There are barriers, and sadly, the more work I do,
the more I realize that some of these are societal rather
than specific to STEMM fields. While the discrimination
and biases faced by LGBTQIA+ individuals are prevalent
across many sectors, the impact within STEMM is
particularly pronounced. This is due to the traditionally
male-dominated nature of these fields and a lack of diverse
role models.
Considering this lens is crucial, as it highlights the
broader cultural challenges that need to be addressed
alongside those unique to STEMM. Recognizing this
overlap emphasizes the importance of our collective
responsibility in fostering inclusive environments, not just
within our professional domains, but in society at large.
By leveraging the influence we hold in STEMM, we can
spearhead initiatives that challenge these societal norms,
promote diversity and create a ripple effect that encourages
acceptance and equality beyond our immediate spheres.
Q: Have you faced any obstacles in your
career due to identifying as LGBTQIA+?
A: I haven’t had any specific instances of overt homophobia
or transphobia that have hindered me. However equally,
Googling me makes my identity very obvious. Also, if I
took out all of my LGBTQIA+ specific work from my CV
then it would be a lot less impressive!
I have always struggled with the feeling I have to be so out
compared to my peers.
The intersection aspect of my identity has been where
I have struggled the most. Being both autistic and
transgender can make you feel like an outsider in your
own body, let alone in STEMM. Along with this, science
is hard, so that feeling of self-doubt, that you aren’t good
enough and you aren’t achieving enough feels all the
more common. So, when you look around and people like
you don’t seem to be in STEMM, it makes it hard for you
to continue.
My identity has also been a barrier when considering
the next steps in my career. I have to make sure to ask
questions such as: will I be expected to travel to places
where it’s illegal for me to exist and if so, will I be
disadvantaged compared to my colleagues if I don’t?
I am limited to living in major cities so I’m more likely to
have a community of people like me to support me
if needed.
It’s also difficult finding a place that lets you look like you.
I’m far from saying all queer people have or need things
like tattoos, piercing and dyed hair, but finding places
where I can express myself in that way has been important,
but this causes me worries in interviews. Will they mind a
tattoo peeking out? Will they think this shirt is too loud?
Do they mind my stretched ears?
However, despite these obstacles, I keep trying to be my
authentic self. Sharing these experiences, looking how
I want to look and setting boundaries that keep me safe.
Hopefully inspiring some others to do the same along
the way!
Pride in Science
Q: If you could give any advice to young
LGBTQIA+ researchers beginning their career,
what would it be?
A: Find your community. I wouldn’t have finished my
degree without the community I found in oSTEM, first
through my chapter at my university, before finding the
global network. It’s where I found role models to look up to
across the UK and beyond, and where I found friends that
kept me going through all that. It’s also where I met my
partner of eight years, so I can definitely also recommend it
for that aspect!
These supportive communities, including our allies,
offer us so much in terms of guidance, mentorship
and understanding.
I have LGBTQIA+ mentors who have offered me so much
and have helped me believe I could find a place for myself,
and now I get to do the same for others. I have had great
support from many allies, from personal tutors who
pushed to get my name changed on systems and academics
advising me what to ask at interview to make sure a
supervisor is inclusive, to managers who are happy to sort
out surgical leave for me, rather than making it something
else to stress about.
Also finally, it’s a bit cliché, but believe in yourself and
your abilities. I had so many people believe in me and help
me get to where I am. People who heard my ideas and sat
down with me to help make it happen, and that’s how I got
here today.
Avery Cunningham was speaking to Kate Robinson, Assistant
Editor for Technology Networks.
“I believe that science is for all
and needs to be done by all.
LGBTQIA+ individuals have diverse
backgrounds and life experiences
that bring to the table different
perspectives and creativities
needed to address today’s most
complex scientific problems.”
Credit: iStock, David Bending
David Bending, PhD
Dr. David Bending is an associate professor at the University of Birmingham
and identifies as a gay man.
Blake Forman
David earned his PhD in immunology from the University
of Cambridge in 2011. In 2018, he formed his research
group at the University of Birmingham where they focus
on how T cell receptor signaling strength and dynamics
regulate T-cell function.
In this interview, we spoke to David to learn about
his experience in STEMM and his advice for young
LGBTQIA+ researchers beginning their careers.
Q: Can you tell us about your research
A: My lab is interested in understanding a population
of white blood cells called T cells; in particular, we are
interested in understanding how they might be utilized to
fight cancer.
The immune system has within it immunological
checkpoints. These are limits the immune system sets to
balance how much damage or inflammation a cell will
cause to clear any infection or tumor. These limits exist to
prevent an immune response from destroying healthy cells
in the body. Immune checkpoints engage when proteins
on the surface of T cells recognize and bind to partner
proteins on other cells such as some tumor cells. When the
checkpoint and partner proteins bind together, they send
an “off” signal to the T cells. This can prevent the immune
system from destroying the cancer. You can generate
very specific Y-shaped proteins that can adhere to these
immune checkpoints on the cells and block their ability
to receive an “off” signal, allowing the T cells to kill the
cell. A lot of our research is focused on understanding the
dynamic activation of T cells and how we can alter T-cell
behavior to better fight cancer.
We are also working with various clinical collaborators
on combatting cancers such as melanoma. Our group is
analyzing samples from patients currently undergoing
combinations of immune checkpoint therapies to identify
the optimal therapeutic regime with the best efficacy and
fewest side effects.
Q: What do you enjoy most about working
A: It’s a privilege to be able to run my research group
and have that autonomy. Although this can come with a
lot of setbacks, hard work and responsibility, we get to
lead the direction of our research. I am also interested in
technology development, so being able to use the latest
cutting-edge techniques is something that fascinates me.
In our research group, we’ve been developing new research
tools that we can use to capture changes in cells over scales
of hours compared to days.
Q: What would you say is one of your proudest
achievements to date?
A: One of my proudest achievements was receiving a Lister
Research Prize Fellowship in 2022. This is a competitive
prize with a long and tough interview process, so it was an
honor to be chosen that year as one of eight researchers
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Pride in Science
for a fellowship. This prize has been great as it has raised
awareness of my research, particularly among students
interested in completing summer projects. Often these
students go on to complete undergraduate and master’s
projects in the lab, and it’s inspiring to see these students
progress and develop.
Q: What do you feel are the main barriers for
LGBTQIA+ people entering and progressing in
STEMM, and what could be done to support
A: When I first started in my career there were no obvious
LGBTQIA+ mentors or role models in STEMM. Society
has now changed in the last 10 years and there’s more
openness, although we are seeing hate become prevalent
again in the world, particularly toward trans individuals.
However, generally speaking, in the immunology
community everyone is pretty welcoming in the UK, and
the British Society of Immunology is very progressive. I
think it’s important for any industry to have diversity.
In academia, there are always slight generational
differences, but I believe universities are now making
a more conscious effort to put networks and support in
place for LGBTQIA+ researchers and students. My advice
for researchers working in academia would be to find a
group where you feel comfortable and with a culture that
works for you. In my lab, we are part of the Birmingham
Fellowship Scheme, where new principal investigators
(PI) are hired from a diverse range of backgrounds. In
the cohort in my institute, I’m the only individual who
identifies as LGBTQIA+ (to my knowledge), but within
this team, we’ve formed this openness and transparency
that attracts people to come and stay in this environment.
Q: Have you faced any obstacles in your
career due to identifying as LGBTQIA+?
A: I did have one experience during a talk I did as part
of the STEM Village Immunology Seminar Series. The
series was a great initiative and provided a platform for
LGBTQIA+ immunologists to present their research
to the wider immunology community. Unfortunately,
the session was hacked by individuals who decided to
leave homophobic remarks. It’s disheartening that these
things still happen, but I think these types of events are
so important. Despite this, I would say overall things have
improved and there are no obvious barriers that I have
come across.
Q: If you could give one piece of advice to
young LGBTQIA+ researchers beginning their
career, what would it be?
A: You’re going to be happiest in the lab where you feel
most comfortable. When looking at joining a lab, ask
yourself if you will enjoy the research, if you are going to
get good mentorship and if the environment is inclusive
and supportive.
I would encourage anyone interested in going to work
or study in a lab to meet with the PI or other researchers
in the lab to gauge the work culture. I think feeling
comfortable in your work environment is so important and
that will be what keeps you engaged in the research.
Dr. David Bending was speaking to Blake Forman, Senior Science
Writer for Technology Networks.
“I think it’s important to put
myself out there as an LGBTQIA+
immunologist so there are role
models for other individuals in
the community.”
Credit: iStock, Giles Oldroyd
Professor Giles
Oldroyd, PhD
Professor Giles Oldroyd is the director of the Crop Science Centre at the University of Cambridge, and leader of the global
research consortium Enabling Nutrient Symbioses in Agriculture (ENSA). He identifies as queer and his pronouns are he/they.
Molly Campbell
Professor Giles Oldroyd is a leading expert on plant
biology. He is one of the few openly queer scientists
who have been inducted into both the prestigious Royal
Society (UK) and the National Academy of Sciences
Giles directs the Crop Science Centre at the University of
Cambridge, an institute focused on improving the equity
and sustainability of global agriculture. He also leads the
global research consortium, ENSA. In these two roles,
Giles oversees a diverse and international team of ~200
scientists. He uses his leadership platform to advocate
for diversity across STEMM fields while advancing
ground-breaking research to improve the sustainability of
agriculture around the world.
Q: Can you tell us about your research
A: My research focuses on understanding how plants
engage with beneficial microorganisms, arbuscular
mycorrhizal fungi and nitrogen-fixing bacteria, which
facilitate the capture of nutrients from the environment.
I study the signaling and developmental processes
necessary to accommodate these microorganisms and
the means by which we can enhance these associations
to greater benefit agriculture.
Q: What do you enjoy most about working
A: Even after more than 30 years as an academic, science
still excites me. I love those moments of discovery, those
moments when you see a result for the first time and
suddenly you understand something in a way you didn’t
previously. I’m especially motivated by the prospect of my
research having a tangible impact on the betterment of
society and the planet.
I really enjoy working with people, helping them as
much as I can to advance their own thinking and move
forward in following their passions. I really enjoy watching
someone develop as a scientist and I am particularly
appreciative when I can help women and minorities in
Q: What would you describe as the
achievements you are most proud of?
A: I am extremely proud of the work I have done that has
helped open up our understanding of how plants engage
proactively with beneficial microorganisms. It is
particularly satisfying to see a gene I discovered as a
postdoctoral scientist, 25 years ago, now under-pinning
crop improvements that we are currently testing
in the field.
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Pride in Science
Q: In your opinion, what are the main barriers
for LGBTQIA+ people entering and progressing
in STEMM? What more could be done to
support them?
A: LGBTQIA+ scientists are more visibly represented
today than when I began my career – especially at the
University of Cambridge – and I’m happy to say I’m seeing
more and more LGBTQIA+ scientists emerging.
However, diversity among leadership is still lacking, and
this reinforces the perception that success is only for a
narrow sector of society. Greater representation at the
higher levels of academia is not only good for diversity but
it’s good for innovation and for science.
Growing up LGBTQIA+ is not easy, and I know I bring
that baggage to work. Mentoring LGBTQIA+ scientists
and, indeed, all minorities, requires a sensitivity of
understanding, which is often lacking in academic
institutions dominated by scientists who have benefitted
from their majority status. Peer support groups and
sensitive mentors are really important to build the
confidence of minority scientists and to help them thrive.
Q: Have you faced any obstacles in your
career due to identifying as LGBTQIA+?
A: Yes, unfortunately, I have worked in toxic environments,
in which I was bullied by my seniors and left fighting to
be heard, valued and appreciated. At this time, I knew of
few other LGBTQIA+ scientists and was constantly told I
needed to have a thick skin to survive. This environment is
extremely detrimental to one’s mental health. I moved to a
different institution.
Q: If you could give one piece of advice to
young LGBTQIA+ researchers beginning their
career, what would it be?
A: See your uniqueness as your strength. Try to not be
afraid to turn up authentically as yourself at work. You
have a gift to offer organizations: by presenting your
unique take on sexuality or gender identity, you allow
others at that organization to feel more comfortable in
their own differences.
It takes bravery to be openly queer. But I have learned that
years of compromising your queer identity undermines
your self-worth and ultimately is a path to poor mental
health. Thriving as a scientist means thriving as a person.
Be brave and show who you truly are – you may be
surprised how positive the reaction could be.
Professor Giles Oldroyd was speaking to Molly Campbell, Senior
Science Writer for Technology Networks.
“It takes bravery to be openly
queer. But I have learned that
years of compromising your queer
identity undermines your self-worth
and ultimately is a path to poor
mental health.”
Credit: iStock, Dr. Jay Mandula
Jay Mandula, PhD
Dr. Jay Mandula, a Pelotonia Scholar and postdoctoral
researcher in Dr. Zihai Li’s lab at The Pelotonia Institute for Immuno-Oncology and The Ohio State University
Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute
(OSUCCC – James), identifies as a transgender man and uses he/him/his pronouns.
Laura Elizabeth Lansdowne
During a summer research internship at Harvard Medical
School/Massachusetts General Hospital in 2013, Jay
Mandula initially studied neuroscience, focusing on
the pathogenic role of aberrantly phosphorylated tau
protein in the development of neurodegenerative disease.
Although neurodegenerative research was an excellent
opportunity to learn fundamental research techniques,
Jay’s final project in the last year of his undergraduate
degree awakened a true passion for immuno-oncology.
His enthusiasm for immuno-oncology was further fueled
by subsequent work at Tampa Bay Research Institute
(TBRI), where he pioneered new immunostimulants and
led community outreach initiatives focused on cancer
immunology and vaccines.
Jay completed his PhD in cancer immunology and
immunotherapy at the University of South Florida,
based at Moffitt Cancer Center, adopting bioinformaticsoriented methods to improve the integration of wet
and dry lab data for enhanced understanding of
immunotherapy. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, he
also engaged in community outreach about vaccination.
Now a postdoctoral researcher at Ohio State University,
he continues to explore immuno-oncology, with
aspirations of pioneering myeloid-targeted therapies and
mentoring the next generation of scientists in a research
laboratory of his own in the future.
Q: Could you elaborate on your current
research interests within immuno-oncology?
What do you enjoy most about working
A: Throughout my doctoral training and into my
postdoctoral research, my primary focus has been on
developing a nuanced understanding of cancer-associated
myeloid cells. This includes interrogating how the tumor
microenvironment drives immunosuppressive myeloid
programming and identifying strategies to intercept
tumor-derived cues to restore immunostimulatory
polarization of myeloid cells and myeloid-dependent
antitumor immunity.
Despite the substantial success of anticancer
immunotherapy, immunosuppressive myeloid cells
remain a major limiting factor constraining durable,
curative responses. Furthermore, beyond simply limiting
the efficacy of current immunotherapies, therapeutic
approaches capable of leveraging the immunostimulatory
potential of tumor-associated myeloid cells remain
Therein, my current and future immunotherapy research
objectives are to:
• Establish a comprehensive understanding of
myeloid intrinsic and tumor-derived extrinsic
cues that regulate immunosuppressive versus
immunostimulatory myeloid function.
• Delineate the mechanistic drivers linking intrinsic or
extrinsic signals to impaired induction of antitumor
• Define and develop therapeutic strategies to target
central factors that direct immunosuppressive
polarization of myeloid cells in cancer.
• Interrogate the role of emergency myelopoiesis as
a source of tumor-associated immunosuppressive
myeloid cells and identify therapeutically targetable
drivers of dysregulated myelopoiesis.
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Pride in Science
Some of my proudest achievements have been watching
students I have mentored become independent, confident
researchers in their own right.
Q: Have you encountered specific challenges
in your career related to your identity as
an LGBTQIA+ individual? How have you
addressed these challenges?
A: I completed my doctoral research in Florida at the
University of South Florida/Moffitt Cancer Center from
2018 to 2023; over this period the Florida government
passed several iterations of anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation.
In 2021, Florida passed the “Protections of Medical
Conscience Act” which endowed medical providers
with the right to discriminate against and decline care to
LGBTQIA+ patients if patient care violated their religious
In 2022, Florida passed the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill (HB
1557) which limited/restricted the freedom of educators to
discuss or inform students about LGBTQIA+ topics.
Additionally, in May of 2023, Florida passed Florida Senate
Bill 254 which prohibited gender-affirming medical care
for minors while also placing significant restrictions on the
transition-oriented medical care of adults.
While some organizations ‒ including multiple universities
and research centers ‒ chose to speak out against this antiLGBTQIA+ legislation and show support for their students
and faculty, the University of South Florida/Moffitt Cancer
Center failed in its support for LGBTQIA+ students and
elected multiple times over to say nothing in support of
LGBTQIA+ students/faculty/researchers.
It is worth noting that some faculty at USF/Moffitt
strongly opposed the institution’s unwillingness to speak
out on behalf of its LGBTQIA+ members including my
mentor and PI at the time, Dr. Paulo Rodriguez, and other
prominent LGBTQIA+ faculty including Dr. Eric Lau, who
went above and beyond to support LGBTQIA+ students
As a transgender man receiving lifesaving hormone
treatment, this legislation prohibited my ability to receive
the medication I need to remain medically stable.
Due in no small part to this discrimination, I no longer
suggest LGBTQIA+ or other minorities (most notably
international students) pursue their PhD or higher
education in Florida.
This discrimination also motivated me to come out
publicly about my gender identity to serve as a visible
and vocal example of how these policies impact the
LGBTQIA+ community.
Q: How can institutions better support diversity
and inclusion?
A: As exemplified by the chilling silence of my alma
mater, refusing to speak out about overtly discriminatory
legislation is one of the most counterproductive
approaches institutions can take. Visibly and vocally
communicating to students and faculty that they will be
supported and protected is essential. In instances where
access to medical treatment or similar rights are being
infringed upon, institutional provisioning of alternative
services or care options can be lifesaving.
Q: In what ways do you think increased
visibility of LGBTQIA+ scientists can impact
the field of immuno-oncology and STEMM
more broadly?
A: I think increased visibility for LGBTQIA+ researchers
can show aspiring LGBTQIA+ scientists in younger
generations that their identity does not and should not
prohibit their ability to love science and become part of the
STEMM community. Acceptance and inclusion are often
won via visibility and, in particular, the visibility of more
established LGBTQIA+ researchers helps to shift the onus
off of the shoulders of early-stage researchers who may be
in more vulnerable positions where being out is not safe ‒
especially in areas like Florida.
In the context of immuno-oncology, LGBTQIA+ patients
often receive a lower level of care in cancer diagnosis and
treatment, in part due to medical fear surrounding their
LGBTQIA+ identity. Additionally, legislation such as
“I love STEMM for its creativity,
intellectual freedom, tangible
progress and potential for
mentorship intrinsic to this
career path.”
“The unwillingness of my doctoral
alma mater to support LGBTQIA+
students/researchers and the
reality of the loss of essential
medical care substantially
impacted me during this period
of my doctoral research.”
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that enacted in Florida means that medical providers can
outright refuse to treat LGBTQIA+ patients. If patients
can see LGBTQIA+ researchers and doctors, they will
feel safer seeking care and treatment. Similarly, minority
stress, such as overt LGBTQIA+ discrimination, often
coincides with increased cancer-associated risk behaviors
such as tobacco and alcohol consumption which place
LGBTQIA+ individuals at even higher risk of multiple
cancer types.
Q: If you could give one piece of advice to
young LGBTQIA+ researchers starting their
career, what would it be?
A: First and foremost, my advice would be: “You belong
here, and don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t”. I want
young LGBTQIA+ researchers to know that they are not
alone and that they have substantial value in contributing
to the field of research. I would strongly suggest that
younger LGBTQIA+ researchers seek out established
LGBTQIA+ mentors in their research field of interest,
as they play an essential role in offering advice on how to
navigate any professional and interpersonal hurdles that
may arise.
Jay Mandula was speaking to Laura Elizabeth Lansdowne,
Managing Editor at Technology Networks.
“We need a diversity of
perspectives in science,
especially cancer research,
if we want to make progress
in finding treatments and cures.
Diverse identities in STEMM
should be celebrated not
condemned; however, this is
not often the case.”
Credit: iStock, Dr. Raquel Cuella Martin
Raquel Cuella
Martin, PhD
Dr. Raquel Cuella Martin is an assistant professor in the Department of Human Genetics at McGill University.
She identifies as a lesbian woman.
Sarah Whelan, PhD
Raquel Cuella Martin earned her PhD from the Wellcome
Center for Human Genetics at the University of Oxford,
where she described the role of a DNA repair protein
in response to “The Guardian of the Genome” – the
tumor suppressor p53. During her postdoctoral work as
an EMBO long-term fellow at Colombia University, she
used CRISPR-dependent base editing to characterize
mutations in DNA damage response proteins. Since joining
the Department of Human Genetics at McGill University
in 2022, her research has focused on using cutting-edge
genome editing to understand the DNA damage response
and probe its association with human disorders.
In this interview, we spoke to Raquel to learn about her
research, her experiences working as an LGBTQIA+
researcher in STEMM and her advice for others
beginning a STEMM career.
Q: Can you tell us about your research
A: My research interests revolve around the DNA damage
response. We use genome engineering-based approaches to
tackle outstanding questions in this area.
During my postdoc, I worked on the adaptation of highthroughput precision genome engineering tools for so that
we could study protein function at high resolution, going
from generating the full loss of a protein to being able to
generate point mutations within a protein. This technology
is extremely powerful and allows us to systematically
analyze protein function and identify new protein–protein
interactions that were otherwise hidden.
Specific projects we are working on now include trying
to separate the functions of certain proteins in the DNA
damage response in the repair of the DNA lesion from the
control of cell cycle progression. Some proteins control
both processes at the same time and it’s very hard to tease
apart those functions. When those proteins are involved
in tumorigenesis, you want to know how each function
contributes to the end result. We have developed a recent
interest in using these kinds of approaches to identify
druggable sites within proteins.
Q: What do you enjoy most about working in
STEMM? What would you say are your proudest
A: One of the things I like most about my job is that we are
always surprised by how nature works. You often have an
idea and a model at the start of a piece of research, a lot of
the time what you are investigating doesn’t work how you
think it did. I really like that – I like to be challenged. I like
that you have to be critical of your results, and sometimes
you have to understand that the way you thought
something would work is not how it works. I think there is
something beautiful in understanding even if it’s just the
truth of how two proteins come together or how a process
works. This has been exciting to me since I did my master’s
and PhD – or even my undergrad.
In my current position as an assistant professor, one of the
things that I enjoy the most is mentoring students. I’ve
always felt very proud when I had that eureka moment.
But I think it gives me more satisfaction to see my trainees
reach those points when they come to me and say, “I think
this is what is.” Getting them to build their critical thinking
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Pride in Science
skills and grow as scientists is one of the most fulfilling
things about my job.
You could say that mentoring is the part of my job that
makes me the proudest. The end goal, traditionally, is to
publish that paper or get that grant – but that, to me, is not
very fulfilling. In my lab, what I’m most proud of is when
I see my trainees happy in their day-to-day and enjoying
science, not just working hard towards an end goal. Being
able to get them to understand that they need to find their
passion and find joy in the details of their day-to-day, that
makes me proud. When I go around the lab, I see them
happy, and I see them working and motivated. It’s like
being able to be able to inspire the next generation.
Q: In your opinion, what are some of the main
barriers for LGBTQIA+ people entering and
progressing within STEMM?
A: Some employers, not that they don’t have goodwill,
sometimes fail to understand the realities LGBTQIA+
people face. Even in my workplace, I have had to explain
to senior colleagues a couple of times what they/them
means. Those senior colleagues might be unconsciously
or consciously mis-assigning pronouns to nonbinary
people who could be working for them. I have seen gender
breakdowns to see how many men and women are working
in an institution, and it is still very binary and is assumed
based on external appearance. You could be in a workplace
and people don’t understand that you have a partner,
and in my case, my partner is a woman, that relationship
dynamics might be different. It’s very easy to make
those realities invisible, to not be able to acknowledge
or understand them or understand the challenges they
could face.
Additionally, if you don’t see yourself represented in an
industry, you are never going to think that’s your place. In
my workplace, I am in a cis male-dominated institute, so it
is hard even for me to see myself represented there.
Q: Have you faced any obstacles in your
career due to identifying as LGBTQIA+?
A: I thought very carefully about this question because I
thought not when I initially read it. But then the more I
think about it – and though I don’t think I’ll categorize
them as obstacles – I have heard comments here and
there. There are things that you can’t shake away, and
no matter which institution you are in or where you go,
you still hear them. To give you an example, I have been
open about my identity as a lesbian woman since the early
days of my career and on social networks, participating
in initiatives to give visibility to the community. In the
environments I have been in there haven’t been any
issues, but I have heard comments that are perhaps
diminishing my achievements because of equity-seeking
policies. I have heard things like, “If you write that you’re
LGBTQIA+ when you apply for a grant, you might get it
easily.” I think that that’s just not right. I feel like I always
say that I have been lucky, but we need to stop thinking
that we are lucky when we don’t face any obstacles,
because nobody should face any.
When I participated in Faces of Cell I heard the comment,
“Do you want to be known for your research? Or do you
want people to only read your research because you are
part of the LGBTQIA+ community?” And I think, how
are those two things separate from each other? If other
young lesbian girls or other people from the LGBTQIA+
community can see me as a role model then that’s good,
and if somebody reads the paper only for that, that’s also
good. If there are equity-seeking policies that might bring
more resources to traditionally discriminated groups, go
for it, because there is a long way to go to bring everybody
onto the same opportunity level.
Q: If you could give one piece of advice to
young LGBTQIA+ researchers beginning their
career, what would it be?
A: I always say that it might be an uphill battle, but your
ability to change the environment that you are in is beyond
what you can imagine. We always tend to gravitate towards
safe places, but STEMM is not going to be a safe place in
many institutions, and we need to work to create those
safe places. So go for it, don’t get discouraged, support
yourself and people who have had the same experiences
and educate yourself and the people around you. It’s an
uphill battle, and sometimes not one that you want to
fight. But your place is here, in this field, in this job – so
fight to create those safe environments for yourself and
everybody else.
Dr. Raquel Cuella Martin was speaking to Dr. Sarah Whelan,
Science Writer for Technology Networks.
“I feel like I always say that I
have been lucky, but we need
to stop thinking that we are
lucky when we don’t face any
obstacles, because nobody
should face any.”
Credit: iStock, Stephen Robinson, PhD
Stephen Robinson, PhD
Dr. Stephen Robinson is a group leader at Quadram Institute
Bioscience (QIB) and a senior lecturer at the University of East Anglia. He identifies as
a gay man.
Rhianna-lily Smith
Stephen grew up in the US West (Colorado, Wyoming,
Montana and California). He started his career at the
University of California, Santa Cruz, studying for his
PhD, investigating mammary gland biology under the
supervision of Professor Charles Daniel. During his
studies, Stephen gained a firm understanding of how
to use and manipulate the mouse mammary gland as a
model system for investigating developmental biology
and cancer.
Stephen later moved to Boston to complete his
postdoctoral work at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology with Dr. Richard Hynes. The mouse models
he generated during this time continue to be a powerful
tool for studying the role of leukocyte rolling in several
research fields, and this role helped to develop his passion
for cell adhesion.
In 2000, Stephen moved to the UK to work as a principal
scientific officer with Cancer Research UK studying
angiogenesis. His work with Professor Kairbaan
Hodivala-Dilke, at Barts Cancer Institute, included
publishing groundbreaking studies on the roles played
by integrins during angiogenesis; changing the research
community’s perception of how integrins function in vivo
to regulate both normal and pathological angiogenesis.
Stephen then moved to the University of East Anglia
(UEA) in 2011 as an independent principal investigator,
studying cell adhesion and angiogenesis. In 2018, he took
on a synergy post with Quadram Institute Bioscience,
focusing his lab on understanding host–microbe
interactions in the context of cancer as well as cell
adhesion and angiogenesis. Stephen was also awarded
UEA’s PhD Supervisor of the Year in 2018.
Q: Can you tell us about your research
A: Historically, my lab focuses on understanding the
molecular basis of endothelial cell adhesion and migration
in regulating angiogenesis. We have established a
reputation for combining the use of transgenic and
knockout mice with cellular and molecular biology to
gain mechanistic insight into physiological and tumor
angiogenesis. More recently, we have investigated how
microbial communities and specific microbiota members
interact with the host to regulate vascular development
and health, as well as tumor immune surveillance in
breast cancer.
Q: What would you say are your proudest
achievements while working in STEMM?
A: I would say mentoring the scientists that come through
the lab, particularly the PhD students. I have always been
lucky to work in labs with amazing supportive supervisors
(during my undergrad, PhD and postdoc years – my PhD
supervisor was like a second father to me), and I try to
be the same. For me, the key is not making someone into
a mini-me but supporting them in whatever endeavor
they want to take on next. People coming out of the lab
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Pride in Science
have gone on to do many different things, with only a few
staying in academia, and I think that is so cool.
Q: Have you faced any obstacles in your
career due to identifying as LGBTQIA+?
A: For me, personally, the biggest obstacle has been myself.
I was closeted until I was in my early 30s.
If I’d known any out scientists, that might have helped me
to feel comfortable enough to be myself. So, I guess, that’s
who I try to be now: a confident gay scientist who is openly
out so that junior scientists have someone to look at and
say, “Hey, it’s okay to be me.”
Q: How do you balance your professional
identity as a scientist with your personal
identity as an LGBTQIA+ individual, especially
in environments where there may be varying
levels of acceptance or understanding?
A: Not very well, is probably the real answer to that
question. The approach I’ve taken more recently (last
couple of years) is to not suppress any of the LGBT side
of things. Sometimes, that probably means people know
more of my “business” than they’d like to. But it’s too hard
to create multiple identities for different situations.
Q: If you could give one piece of advice to
young LGBTQIA+ researchers beginning their
career, what would it be?
A: Find someone who is “like” you and ask for their
guidance when you need it and rely on their mentorship.
Dr. Stephen Robinson was speaking to Rhianna-lily Smith, Editorial
Assistant for Technology Networks.
“I think I would have achieved
so much more if I’d allowed
myself to be my authentic self,
but I perceived such a stigma
associated with being gay, that
I was too afraid to come out.”
“I guess I am (finally) learning
not to care so much if people
aren’t comfortable with who I am.
This extends to openly displaying
tokens of my identity (LGBT related
or not), like pride items, piercings,
tattoos, etc.”

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