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Women in Science

Katja did her PhD in chemistry but then became interested in biochemistry and molecular biology. After working in Manchester and London she moved to Oxford. She obtained a four year fellowship from The British Heart Foundation and is looking at disease mechanisms of inherited heart conditions called cardiomyopathies.

Portrait of Katja Gehmlich© Women in Science


at the time of the interview - October 2014

Katja is a Research Fellow working in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine in the Radcliffe Department of Medicine. She has one child. 

Extended biography

at the time of the interview – October 2014

Katja became interested in science partly because her mother was a science teacher and her father was an engineer. She enjoyed science at school and decided to study chemistry at university. She then decided to change and study biochemistry and molecular biology, and stayed on at the same university in Germany to do her PhD in cell biology.

After completing her PhD, Katja and her husband moved to the UK to take up postdoc positions. Katja was a postdoc in Manchester (her “excursion” into cancer biology) and she soon returned to Cardiovascular Science, taking up a postdoc position in London in 2007. In terms of work-life balance, working 3.5 days in the lab in London and 1.5 days in her husband’s office in the Midlands worked out well. In 2010, Katja moved to Oxford to work as a senior postdoc/project manager and she enjoyed both aspects of the job. Again, she was able to work from home one day a week until she and her husband relocated to Oxford.

After three years in Oxford, Katja wrote a research proposal and successfully applied to a charity for a four year fellowship. With the start of the fellowship in Sep 2013, Katja became Principal Investigator in her department and continues to look into disease mechanisms of inherited heart disease. Funded by the fellowship, she is supported by a research assistant, who carries out part of the laboratory work.

I think there is still the stereotype that when you have children, it’s the woman who stays at home and will take care of the kids. But I think hopefully this is changing

Three months into the fellowship Katja went on maternity leave for six months. The department was very supportive and covered the costs of maternity leave. With the help of a very supportive husband, she could stay in touch with work during maternity leave, e.g. by attending occasional meetings. After seven months Katja returned to work full time, while her husband covered part of the child care for the first months. She is grateful that academic work gives her flexibility in terms of working hours and location (e.g. working from home). Arranging child care was stressful, as the university child care service could not provide a place when she wanted to return to work. Now her daughter has a full time place at a university nursery, which is excellent and financially affordable.

Katja decided to return to work full time because she thinks academia does not work as a part time job. Being back at work full time allows her to focus on her research projects. Katja is involved in the Athena SWAN Initiatives in her department and enjoys seeing the changes in culture at her work place. She is German and has been living in the UK for more than 10 years.