Non-Traditional Career Paths into Academia

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The Piscopia Initiative is hosting a panel discussion with female Mathematics researchers who took a break at some point during their career

About this event

Do you want to return to academia after a long break to do a PhD or to pursue research? Or are you considering taking a break but not sure if you should? Then this event is for you!

Come along to our "Non-traditional career paths into academia" event on Tuesday 15 February, 1-2pm (GMT).

There will be short intros by our panelists about their career path and experience as a woman in math, followed by a panel discussion and Q&A. Our panelists are female mathematicians who have all taken a break from academia at some stage in their careers for various reasons.

Brief descriptions of the career paths of the panelists are provided below. Confirmed panelists are:

  • Prof. Rachel Bearon (University of Liverpool)
  • Dr. Catherine Higham (University of Glasgow)
  • Prof. Sue Sierra (University of Edinburgh)
  • Cathie Wells (PhD student at the University of Reading)

Questions can be submitted when you register and will be answered anonymously. There will also be time to ask live questions during the event to the panel.

We are women in mathematics research who are happy to talk to you about non-traditional career paths in academia!

This event is aimed at women and non-binary people in Mathematics, but anyone (including people in different disciplines) is welcome to attend!

Don't hesitate to contact us at with any questions.

Career paths of the panelists:

Prof. Rachel Bearon: After completing my Undergraduate and PhD studies in Maths at Cambridge, I joined my husband in Seattle who had relocated due to work. We spent a fantastic 4 years there – I was warmly welcomed into the Biological Oceanography Department at the University of Washington where I got to learn how to do experiments on swimming algae & did manage to secure some research funding, whilst also doing a bit of part-time lecturing for the Maths Department. I had my first child in Seattle in 2005, and then applied for lectureship position back in the UK so as to be closer to family. Alongside my life as a mathematician, family is really important to me, and raising my 4 children is very much a team effort - involving my husband, extended family, teachers & friends. I’m also fortunate to work in a University which actively promotes gender equality, flexible work patterns, and has excellent mentoring schemes, which have all helped my promotion to Professor in 2018 and Head of Department in 2020.

Prof. Sue Sierra (she/her) graduated from Oberlin College in the US in 1993 with a BA in Mathematics and a minor in Women's Studies. After 3 1/2 years in as a PhD student in Mathematics at the University of Michigan, she left to pursue other interests, and spent 5 years working as a trade union organiser and 4 years as a policy advocate for social and economic justice. She returned to the University of Michigan in 2005 to complete her PhD (with the same supervisor), and graduated in 2008. After postdocs at the University of Washington and Princeton, in 2011 she joined the faculty at the University of Edinburgh School of Mathematics, where she is now a reader. Her mathematical interests include noncommutative ring theory, Lie algebras, and algebraic geometry. She has never written a CV which includes all of her professional experience.

Cathie Wells is a third year Mathematics of Planet Earth CDT PhD student at the University of Reading. Originally Cathie had hoped to study for the PhD she was offered in 1996, but the best laid plans do not always run smoothly. She only returned to fulltime university study in 2018, having been a secondary school mathematics teacher for the preceding 21 years. Eventually she was inspired to return to studying by all of the plans and projects of her Sixth Form University Interview Preparation Group. Her experiences in the classroom have been an excellent preparation for academic conference presentations, resulting in various prizes, including the Ivar Izaksen Prize (ECATS 2020) for Most Inspiring, Effective and Professional Presentation by an Early Years Researcher and the SIAM National Student Conference (2021) Best Presentation Prize.

About Piscopia:

The Piscopia Initiative ( is a student-led outreach scheme that aims to encourage women and non-binary students to pursue a PhD. Join our mailing list to stay updated on all our events:

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Organizer Piscopia Initiative

Organizer of Non-Traditional Career Paths into Academia

The Piscopia Initiative is an outreach scheme to encourage women and non-binary participation in postgraduate research programmes in the mathematical sciences. Through awareness schemes, information events and application support and mentoring, we aim to empower capable women and non-binary people in the early stages of their mathematical careers to believe in academia as a viable option and bring their aspirations to fruition. For more information see or find us on twitter @_Piscopia

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