Women In Science – feat. Dr. Sioned Jones

We caught up with Dr Sioned Jones, Co-Founder and Chief Operations Officer at BoobyBiome a female-led biotech start-up developing live biotherapeutic products derived from the breast milk microbiome.

The purpose of article series ‘Women In Science’ is to feature, showcase and share the reality of being someone that identifies as a woman in science. We gather and showcase stories, career journeys, as well as advice and wisdom.

Jazz @ ADLIB: Could you please introduce yourself as well as your background?

Sioned: I’m Dr Sioned Jones, co-founder and Chief Operations Officer at BoobyBiome. I have a Master’s in Chemistry and have recently completed my PhD as part of the London Interdisciplinary Doctoral programme at King’s College and UCL. My PhD combined chemistry and biophysics to develop novel tools to solve problems in cell biology.

It was during my PhD that I was exposed to the world of biotech where it became clear to me that women’s health and maternal health are under-researched and underfunded. There is so much we don’t understand about women’s bodies – can you believe that breast milk was thought to be sterile for years?

In the second year of my PhD, around the time that microbiome science was on the rise and ‘gut health’ was becoming trendy, I co-founded BoobyBiome. Our biotech start-up develops live bacteria-based products for babies with compromised microbiomes – formula-fed babies, c-section babies* and premature babies – who do not have access to breast milk.

*Babies born naturally are colonised by bacteria in the vaginal microbiome, whereas babies delivered by c-section are colonised by bacteria in the environment and on surgical equipment. Some studies suggest breast milk can reverse the poor microbiome of c-section babies, but statistics show that mothers who give birth via c-section struggle to breastfeed.

Jazz @ ADLIB: Have you faced any challenges or barriers as a woman in science, and how did you overcome these?

Sioned: Growing up, I was lucky to have supportive parents and an incredible female Chemistry teacher – called Bev Chem – who nurtured my abilities and inspired me to study chemistry. But at University, I noticed that most at the top of their game were white and middle-aged men. This can make you second-guess yourself and sometimes assume their opinion supersedes yours. As three female co-founders, we have been judged on how we present ourselves and our company branding – are we still too scared to say the word ‘Booby’ in 2022?

I’ve found that the best recipe to overcome doubt often experienced as a woman in science is to surround yourself with women who want to help build you up. I’m lucky to have many of these ‘shiny cards’ in my network, from my colleagues and PhD friends to mentors and supervisors. One mentor has been instrumental in the success of BoobyBiome. She throws opportunity after opportunity our way – whether it’s an invitation to attend an event or an introduction to a potential investor. I will be forever grateful for that. This experience has reinforced how important it is to hold the door open for other women, and at BoobyBiome we are dedicated to doing that for future female scientists.

Jazz @ ADLIB: How do you feel gender influences opportunities within the science sector?

Sioned: We’ve always, as women, been systematically pushed away from science, engineering, and maths. Often the walls of science departments depict portraits of successful male scientists, creating a misconception that science isn’t for women.

Particularly in academia, women face the ‘motherhood penalty’, having to decide between a successful academic career or building a family. I’m a big advocate for shared maternity and paternity leave – and that we should follow in the footsteps of countries mandating this.

We should also acknowledge that gender has influenced science and medical research. Until 1993, women were excluded from all clinical trials. This means the white male body has been accepted as a standard, and we don’t have the datasets to know how women respond to different treatments/drugs and what their prognosis may look like. There is still a perception that pregnant women or breastfeeding mothers are a population that you can’t do any research on – and so we don’t know what’s safe or what’s not.

Jazz @ ADLIB: Are there any changes that you would implement in the educational sector to make the field of science more attractive to females as a career path?

Sioned: A vital step is to disrupt stereotypes and remove biased perceptions in learning material. We need to stop limiting women! We should be more visible in scientific roles – as teachers, as researchers, and as leaders in industry. It is crucial to demonstrate that STEM subjects and a career in these fields are open to girls and that they are crucial for advancing knowledge in these areas.

‘Women in STEM’ type events should also take place in primary and secondary schools, and not just at universities. By the time people reach university, they have often already decided what career they will follow.  

Jazz @ ADLIB: What would you say has been the best advice you have received during your career as a female working in your role?

Sioned: The best advice I’ve received is to back yourself. Don’t be afraid to challenge people and ask questions, whatever their gender or position of power. Often the best scientific conversations happen when people disagree!

Jazz @ ADLIB: What advice would you like to pass on to the next gen of females in science?

Sioned: My advice to early researchers is to put yourself out there and network. Go and meet other like-minded women and find the support and mentoring that you need to succeed. Trust your gut, and don’t let anyone make you second guess yourself.

Written by

Senior Recruiter

Biotechnology & Pharmaceuticals

View profile

Jazz Jones