Here at Yourgene Health, we are very proud that a large proportion of our genomic technologies and services business, including senior leadership and laboratory managers, are powerful women. We believe it is important to showcase the impressive range of talent we are lucky to have, including our women and girls in science.
In light of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we would like to place a spotlight on a few members of our team and share their inspiring stories and experiences of being successful women and girls in the science industry.
Jo Mason: Chief Scientific Officer
“I am Jo Mason, the Chief Scientific Officer at Yourgene Health.
When I was younger my Dad gave me a picture with a quote on it “she thought she could, so she did” and I always just did. I found things I thought would be interesting and always just went for them. If anyone ever told me that I couldn’t (it happened plenty of times during my PhD), I just stuck my stubborn heels in and doubled down my efforts. As a woman in science, I see it as part of my job to help other women in science – I love mentoring people and seeing them succeed.
I was the first generation in my family to get a PhD. I did my PhD at Cambridge, then I did a Postdoc in Birmingham studying cell signalling pathways in cancer. I left academia and went to work in Biotech for a company called BioVex, where we developed a oncolytic virus to treat breast cancer and melanoma’s. Today this is used worldwide as an immunotherapy treatment for melanomas under the name Talimogene laherparepvec (T-VEC).
When NGS technologies first came to market I set up a comparative genomics group with Public Health England and used sequencing to track outbreaks of high containment pathogens including Flu and Anthrax. I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to live overseas with work, spending 3 years in Malaysia with my family, working on a whole variety of projects from sequencing 25 ethnic Malaysian genomes and a study of genetic diversity on Proboscis monkeys amongst many more weird and wonderful sequencing projects.
Since returning to the UK, I have worked within the NHS setting up a NGS sequencing facility to introduce the first cancer panel in service and sequence the first 500 clinical genomes. I sequenced the odd genome or two as the Director of Sequencing and Sample Acquisition for the 100,000 Genomes Project, and worked on early cancer detection technologies using epigenetics biomarkers.
I was recently invited to join the Board of Directors at Yourgene Health which, after a long time working at a senior level but never able to break through to C-suite, I was thrilled to accept. Honestly, the change can feel a little intimidating sometimes, but the rest of the Exec have been very supportive and welcoming. It’s a pleasure to now welcome Mary Tavener as a Non-Executive Director to the Yourgene Board, increasing the diversity on our board. Companies are made stronger by embracing diversity, and as women we have a voice and a valuable contribution to make to Yourgene Health and to Science.
My advice for other women is to believe in yourself enough to take the opportunities that present themselves.”
Joanne Cross: Director of Marketing
“I am the Director of Marketing at Yourgene, I have been here for 8 years and have worked in the molecular diagnostics industry for over 20 years. I head up a global team covering strategic marketing communications, digital comms, product marketing and product management. I absolutely love my role, no day is ever the same, it’s challenging, fast paced, dynamic and rewarding.
I feel privileged to work and collaborate with such talented colleagues and peers, many of whom are women leading the way in science. At Yourgene, I am really proud that a large proportion of our senior scientific leaders and heads of laboratories are female. They are all very inspiring and set a great example to our younger girls in the business and the wider industry. I’m by no means a leading researcher, a technologist or a clinical scientist, but I do an important role that helps to commercialise and make molecular diagnostics accessible to doctors and laboratories and eventually to patients, to enable them to positively impact human health.
I have a BSc in Medical Microbiology but I never felt I wanted a career, or that my pipetting was good enough, for a role in a laboratory. However, I found my communications experience, coupled with my life-science degree and a passion for genomics well suited to the career that I have been lucky enough to have. My first role in the industry was at personalised medicine company DxS Ltd, then moving to QIAGEN Manchester where I learnt all about cancer companion diagnostics. After a short career break to have two children, in 2014 I then joined Yourgene Health (formerly Premaitha Health) as a part-time flexible working marketing freelancer. I soon accepted a full-time role, worked hard, built a brilliant team and I am now Director of Marketing. I’ve been really lucky to be inspired, supported, coached and motivated by many wonderful people, many of whom are women in science, many of which I am fortunate enough to call my friends.”
Louisa Ive: Product Marketing Manager
“After graduating with a BSc in Human Genetics from UCL, I spent 3 years training to become a Clinical Scientist in Genomics within the NHS. I learnt to analyse and interpret DNA to identify genetic and genomic abnormalities from patient samples, which may cause inherited or acquired (non-inherited) diseases.
In my current role as Product Marketing Manager at Yourgene Health, I am applying my skills to take to market commercially innovative products within the molecular diagnostics space. I am proud that I am able to utilise my experience to build solutions that truly help Clinical Scientists, and other healthcare professionals, in their day-to-day work and beyond.
I think it is so important that we continue to work to inspire more women and girls to enter STEM careers. Women bring unique perspectives to scientific conversations, and tech companies with greater diversity in their workforce have been consistently shown to perform better from both a revenue and product design perspective. Science and technology are shaping the way the future looks, and so it is absolutely essential that women are represented and have a voice. I absolutely love what I do, and I hope I can be a role model to show that important STEM career paths exist outside the laboratory.
If I had to give one piece of advice to women and girls looking to enter STEM, it would be to focus on problem solving. Find a problem that you’re passionate about fixing for future generations, and get busy gaining skills and experience to help you be part of the answer.”
Dr Rachel Shelmerdine: Product Manager
“I’m Dr Rachel Shelmerdine and I’m Yourgene Health’s Product Manager, responsible for defining the product vision and strategies for each of our business areas and developing our strategic product roadmaps. It’s key that we build the right products and really solve the right problems for our customers.
My role at Yourgene Health has evolved since being part of the company as a start-up back in 2013. I’ve held various positions in R&D from Lead Scientist through to the Head of Innovation & Medical Affairs. I had a little girl last March so after a break I’ve come back to a new challenge in the Product Management team and I’m thoroughly enjoying using my technical background in a more commercial environment.
Not many people know, but I actually have 4 degrees! A Medical Biochemistry BSc and a PhD in Molecular Immunology paved my entry into a career of Molecular Diagnostic development which started with a small company called DxS in Manchester, who were later acquired by the much larger company QIAGEN. I then studied for an MSc in Statistics while I was working in various scientific roles and more recently, I completed an EMBA business Masters in 2020, although I’m still waiting for my graduation ceremony thanks to COVID-19!
Whilst it’s hugely important for women in science to support one another and recognise our achievements, I was interested to read more on the history behind the International Day, 11th February, created by the UN and credited to Scientist, Dr Nisreen El-Hasemite (Ref). The International Day of Women and Girls in Science aims to encourage more girls and women to take up jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It is a celebration of the achievements of the women who paved the way for those of us who succeed in scientific professions today.”
Throughout my career, I’ve been very lucky to be surrounded by several excellent role models and mentors, both male and female. They have helped me to learn, develop and pushed me to achieve everything I’ve set my mind to. I think this has always helped my confidence grow, especially in new roles or new fields. I’ve never considered myself or my career to be of interest to others but I was incredibly humbled recently when my 12 year old niece emailed through her school project profiling a ‘famous scientist’ and she has chosen me as her subject matter. It made me proud to be a ‘woman in science’.