DSRU expands research team and 80% are women, nearly double the UK average in science roles

8 March 2022

Ahead of International Women’s Day on Tuesday 8 March, the UK’s independent Drug Safety Research Unit (DSRU) has announced it’s doubled the size of its research team in the past year, and that 80% of researchers are women, nearly double the UK average.

The Covid-19 pandemic created unprecedented demand for DSRU’s drug safety studies in the UK and Europe, monitoring and analysing adverse effects of new drugs and vaccines.

These run alongside a substantial portfolio of non-Covid-19 research, including safety studies for UK’s annual flu vaccine, post-operation painkillers, treatments for ulcerative colitis and to prevent dribbling in children with neurological disorders.

DSRU’s 11-strong team of highly qualified medics and postgraduate research fellows includes nine women and two men.

Nationally, less than half (46%) of professional science roles are carried out by women, while just 24% of all STEM roles – covering science, technology, engineering and maths – are carried out by women, according to figures from the Office of National Statistics (1).

Professor Saad Shakir, director of the DSRU, said: “Our research informs national regulators and pharmaceutical companies on whether products are safe, so we need excellent scientists and medics to produce these crucial analyses. As we’ve grown our team, our goal has always been to find the very best person for each role. But I think we’ve been more progressive than many scientific institutions in recognising that flexible working has benefits for our researchers individually, and for what DSRU can deliver for our stakeholders.

“Offering flexibility allows us to recruit better candidates from a larger talent pool, who are then more engaged and productive on research assignments. We’ve been able to attract some very highly skilled and experienced women, including working mothers, by offering the chance to work from home – even before the pandemic – or reduced hours, so they can balance a challenging and fulfilling job with their lives at home.”

Dr Catherine Fry joined DSRU in September 2021 as epidemiology research fellow, following a two-year career break after her youngest son was born.

She said: “I left my previous job with a nutrition firm because I couldn’t get the flexibility I needed round my children. When I started looking for jobs again last year, I saw the DSRU role, which mentioned flexible working and I now work three days a week. I’m loving it so far. I’m focusing on epidemiological analysis, which I really wanted. It’s a busy and challenging role that stretches me professionally. But I still get the time I want with my children.”

Dr Alison Evans is a senior research fellow currently leading DSRU’s safety study on the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine. She joined DSRU in 2012, after working as a postdoctoral research fellow at University College London studying the genetic aspects of hereditary heart disease.

She said: “Part of the offer from DSRU was doing half days on Fridays, with the morning working from home, and this was long before the pandemic. I don’t have children but this flexibility still makes a huge difference to my week as I can get some chores, or life admin, done and my weekends are free so I can do more fun things.

“Not many research employers have been so forward-thinking. I’m sure the extra flexibility together with the professional opportunities to learn and advance are what’s attracted so many talented women to DSRU.”

The DSRU is an independent and internationally renowned research unit that monitors, studies and communicates the safety and risk management of medicines.