Behind the lens at Imperial
We speak to four members of the Imperial LGBTQ+ community whose work is behind the scenes
Edited by Laurie Anderson and Elizabeth Nixon
Communications and Marketing Manager, National Heart & Lung Institute
Meeting the meerkats
I’ve always had an interest in animals, which led me to do a degree in zoology. My first job as a zoologist was working in the Kalahari Desert in South Africa studying meerkats for a year, which completely changed and shaped my life. I learned so much from being somewhere so remote with a group of people who are all passionate about what they do.
The experience led me to decide to move into communications, because I really enjoyed the science but realised I didn't really want to be a scientist. So I did a Master’s in science communication which led to me working as a researcher for radio and TV science programmes.
I eventually ended up returning to the meerkats as a TV researcher. Then one day I ended up holding a microphone boom and doing some sound. This then led to me doing some filming, and eventually to me becoming an assistant camera/sound person for various wildlife shows, which I absolutely adored. I did a lot of filming in South Africa and filming mongooses, and, strangely, some work in Scotland filming people’s pet cats.
After some time working for the BBC’s Technical Support unit and for camera hire companies, I got to a point where I needed to think long term. The filming work was really exciting, but it was really temporary work. Contracts lasted a few months and in between you had to do other jobs to make ends meet. So I came to Imperial to move into something a bit more permanent and science focused.
The small things add up
I've been really lucky to do what I’ve been able to do. But I’ve found there were challenges in the TV work to do with sexism. At one camera hire company, they wouldn't let me attend any demonstrations of new cameras , even though I was one of the few people there who had filming experience! You never really know if you have been passed over for jobs because of these sorts of preconceptions.
I think the challenges we face in the queer community aren't always big things – it’s more small things that all add up. Because I don't dress in a way that people see as normal for a female person, whenever I walk into a public bathroom I take a bit of a breath. I've been asked to leave bathrooms so many times and had men telling me I shouldn't be going into them. Similarly on the tube you can get looks, or laughter, or sometimes aggression. It doesn't happen all the time, but it can just happen randomly when you're on your way to work, or out with a friend.
My partner and I have a one year old boy. During the process my partner had to sign forms in the ‘dad’ field, and we had people, even healthcare professionals, asking how we can both be parents. It frustrates me that some people are unaware of these things, but then if you've never experienced it, why would you be aware?
Standing up and being counted
When I was growing up, there was nobody in the public eye who was gay, and there was nobody in my life who was gay. So my role models have appeared as I've learned about the movement. People like Marsha P Johnson who stood up at the time as a black trans woman – I just think that's amazing.
I've also met some great people through Imperial. A former colleague, Imogen, spoke openly about the challenges of being a trans woman in science. It’s amazing for people to be sharing their stories and trying to make a change.
Follow your passions
The main thing is to do something you're passionate about. If you're going to work in communications, try and find something you really want to communicate about, because it’ll be more fun, and your work will be better.
I think sometimes we undersell ourselves, particularly women. You should aim above what you think you can achieve. Find inspiration all around you in what you enjoy.
Undergraduate, Department of Life Sciences
My boyfriend recently introduced me to the song Smalltown Boy by Bronski Beat, because it exactly sums up my life so far. I'm from a town in the most western part of Wales and I did my primary and secondary school education there. I was the sort of student who would interrupt the teacher to ask questions, and my teachers kept saying: “Well, that’s a degree level question, I can’t tell you about that”. So I thought, I’ll have to do a degree in it!
When I was thinking about going to university I went to a showcase in Llaneli where there was a stand from Imperial. I spoke to this lovely woman who told me about all the science and research going on at Imperial and it sounded great.
The road to Imperial
Covid hit in the final year of my A-levels. My school shut so I was left alone for six months until my grades came out. And then they were wrong – my grades changed four times!
I was signed up to go to Cardiff University, but a phone call from my head of sixth form while driving through a forest lane on a caravan holiday changed everything. He said: “Your grades have changed, get on the phone to Imperial!” So I had a frantic hour-long conversation, but after a terrifying five minutes where I had no university place, I had switched to Imperial.
I have enjoyed it so much being here, and I’ve found an interest in neuroscience that means I now want to go on to do a Master’s and a PhD and continue a career in research. Coming to Imperial has really helped me figure out what I want to do.
I remember being in primary school and saying to my mother that I felt like I didn’t really fit. I used to worry about going to school and having to pretend to be someone else. This was the biggest challenge I faced growing up, because you can't hide who you are. As a gender-fluid-pansexual-Welsh-working-class person, kids are going to bully you. You're not going to fit in, no matter what you do. And that was a big thing, as it affected both my social abilities and my academic results. It's only really got better since coming to university, where I’ve found people who felt the same as me.
Joining IQ, Imperial's LGBTQ+ student society, is the best decision I've made since coming to London. I heard about this event at the union called Glitter Bomb that was organised by IQ. When I got there all my friends were there, and the place was covered in glitter! I thought, this is the place I want to be. This year I’m IQ's Campaigns and Union Liaison Officer. I’ve mainly been supporting other members of the committee, helping to run events and keep the club ticking over. We've put a lot of emphasis on having intersectional officers this year, so there’s a space for everybody.
The only person that comes to my mind as an LGBT+ role model is Katya Zamolodchikova from Ru Paul’s Drag Race. Who’s an odd choice as she’s a 40 something year old drag queen who didn't win! But since I came out, I think I’ve sat down and watched some piece of content Katya has released every day. Her sitting there being so honest about her experiences has helped me figure out my own things, and be honest about myself.
Take a deep breath
I would say to all the people who feel left out, and ostracised: no one really fits everywhere. There are so many people, so many places, so many different group structures and cultures, that statistically there's going to be a group of people where you belong. So if people are feeling alone in the middle of the night, then just breathe, and hope for a better tomorrow, because it will come. I have the benefit of hindsight now so I can say it!
Teaching Laboratories Technician, Faculty of Medicine
Behind the scenes
After graduating from university with some experience from doing a laboratory teaching assistant role, I landed a technician role at the University of East London. I worked there for a few years and learnt the operations of how a large teaching lab runs successfully. My next move was to Imperial where I’ve been supporting all the undergraduate and postgraduate courses that run in our labs at Hammersmith for two and half years. My work involves a lot of behind the scenes preparatory work for lab sessions, as well as overseeing and managing the safe use of laboratories.
As a woman in a technical field, it can sometimes feel a little daunting trying to make yourself heard. It can be difficult to speak up about your thoughts and ideas. But if we have confidence in ourselves and our abilities, as we should, this translates into our actions, and the end results we achieve. I’ve been lucky to have some exceptional colleagues and line managers along the way who have supported my journey from the jump.
Going with the flow
Learning to be flexible has been important in my career. It’s very important to have goals and to know where you’re headed. But you also need to be willing to go with the flow of where opportunities take you. If it’s a chance to learn something new and expand your skill set, it will always be helpful to your career.
I have role models all around me
For me, my LGBT+ role models are the people that I work and collaborate with through my job, and also through Imperial 600 and the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Centre. Fortunately, many names come to mind! They all have values that I really look up to, such as inspiring others to make change, commitment to their community, and overcoming obstacles that may appear in their way.
I went to my first Imperial 600 event a few summers ago. It was such a great opportunity to meet LGBTQIA+ colleagues from across the College and learn about one another’s experiences. I knew from that moment that I wanted to be more involved. So when Simon Levey reached out to see if I wanted to be co-chair I immediately went for it! So far in my role I’ve been getting stuck in to organising LGBT+ History Month, Women at Imperial Week through the lens of LGBTQIA+ staff members, and hosting our Hammersmith branch of the Imperial 600 book club.
I think it’s important in your career to be who you are, no matter what! Don’t give up just because you feel you don’t see yourself represented. This just means that there is a space ready for you to fill up, so make the space uniquely yours and really make a difference.
Product Portfolio Officer, Information and Communication Technologies
Since finishing university, my career has been in project management, specialising in technology. I started out in the financial sector. After a few years, when the sector faced another financial crisis, I decided to find a happier environment and moved over to higher education in 2016. Since then I have worked for two universities supporting the delivery of large-scale digital transformation activities.
Throughout the different roles in my career, I have always found there’s a lack of appetite for change. It feels like everyone wants it, but no one wants to do it. Mindsets can range from embracing change to actively resisting it, and sometimes it has been a challenge to sell the long-term vision.
My second biggest challenge stems from expectations around the speed of change. Digital transformation is rarely quick, due to there being so many components. The speed of change can be frustrating – especially when the end goal is in sight!
Bringing your whole self to work
I think it’s important to be your true self at work. So if you’re part of the LGBT+ community, why not bring that to work. I’ve been busy distributing rainbow lanyards, putting up rainbow bunting for LGBT+ History Month, and sharing pronoun badges.
Even talking about your life outside of work is part of it. I went to Brighton Pride last year, which was absolutely brilliant, and it was great to come back and tell those stories to colleagues. If everyone lets their personality show, you end up seeing the lovely variety of the people you work with.
I think for staff support groups like Imperial 600 to be successful they need two elements. The first is creating a safe and sociable space for members of the LGBT+ community. The second is education and awareness for colleagues who aren’t part of the community. For example, managers need to know about gender and trans rights issues, as they could manage someone who identifies as non-binary, or trans.
Over the last 18 months I have taken on a voluntary role in ICT to lead and champion equality, diversity and inclusion. I believe ICT is going through a complete change in mindset in terms of community, culture and recruiting diverse talent. It’s overwhelming to see the amount of positivity towards making the workplace an environment for everyone.
A couple of weeks ago in ICT we had a Time to Talk session that I arranged. I said to everyone, no work laptops and no talking about work, and I'd put a load of conversational prompts on the tables. I looked around and everyone was laughing and talking over a coffee and cake, and it was brilliant to see.
Finding the perfect fit
If you have a passion to do something, and the motivation to make it happen, you will succeed. My advice would be to aim high and go for new challenges. Demonstrate the parts of the role you can do, promote your soft skills and show off your personality. It's important to emphasise your personal values too, as the importance of organisational culture is recognised more and more.