Gillian Halket

Daphne Jackson Research Fellow

In 2001 I completed an industrially sponsored PhD at Glasgow Caledonian University, in Bacterial Systematics, enhancing the bacterial identification products of my sponsor bioMérieux Inc. Afterwards, I moved to the USA as a post-doctoral scientist, and I led a team developing the Bacillus identification product part of the VITEK®2 Compact automated identification system. My responsibility was to move the project from research to development, delivering a commercially robust product whilst adhering to the strict policies of the biotechnology industry. I returned to the UK due to my husband’s job commitments in 2004, at a point where I could continue on the Bacillus project as a consultant, based in Glasgow. I implemented evaluation trials of the VITEK®2, alongside the taxonomic study of Bacillus species, and progressed to a Research Fellowship in microbiology at Glasgow Caledonian University in 2005, where I was based for the next 7 years.

Up to 2012 I had published 22 peer reviewed papers, co-authored an invited book chapter, and reviewed articles for several journals including the Journal of Clinical Microbiology and the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology.  At this stage I had three children aged 7 years, 5 and 1, and had successfully fitted academic research work around three periods of maternity leave as well as other family commitments.

I have returned to scientific research after a 6-year career break caring for my children.

In 2012 I took a career break to care for my three children.  The decision was primarily due to the poor health of my 1-year-old son, and the pressure this placed upon our young family; it was always my intention to return to research once all three of my children were of school age. In 2017 with my son starting Primary School I was successfully awarded a Daphne Jackson Fellowship, co-sponsored by the BBSRC and the University of Strathclyde.  This represented a new field of microbiology for me, moving from the more traditional area of bacterial systematics into the exciting and fast-moving field of bacterial genomics; but with 11 years of Post-Doctoral research experience and strong self-motivation, I felt I had the seniority suitable for such a role. The Daphne Jackson Trust  is “the UKs leading organisation dedicated to realising the potential of scientists and engineers returning to research after a career break for caring reasons”. The Fellowship is based on 0.5 FTE and I find that working part-time affords me the flexibility to fulfil family responsibilities while still allowing the commitment required for re-training. SIPBS have been fully supportive of this work pattern.

In July 2018 I set up a collaboration with Professor Carol Munro, of the Aberdeen Fungal Group, an MRC status centre, with whom I hold a seed fund grant of £7,500 from the Scottish Universities Life Sciences Alliance  (SULSA) Antimicrobial Resistance fund: “Antifungal potential of compounds produced by thermophilic Actinobacteria from compost, upon strains of azole resistant Aspergillus fumigatus”. This represents a key stage towards establishing myself as an independent researcher, as this is the first project for which I am the Principal Investigator.