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Women in Science

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Video clip: Maggie’s senior colleague helped her with her first paper. Maggie tries to help her students in the same way and once a year they have a writing workshop for two or three days.

Yes well I think anything you do a study on you have to write up. So it’s just part of the process. So I think I’ve learnt to write over the years. I don’t think I was awfully good at writing initially. My very first paper was interesting because I wrote that when my supervisor was on maternity leave and one of the other senior scientists in the unit, I asked if she’d read it and she read it and she came and knocked on my door and she just said, ‘Maggie, this is awful. It’s very badly written. It’s really terrible. I think you have to do a bit more work on it.’ And she gave, just gave it back to me. And I was like, pretty upset and then the next day she came along to my room and she said, ‘You know Maggie, I’ve been thinking about that paper. I think there’s some very good ideas in there. Why don’t you come along to my house and we’ll work on it.’ So I said, ‘Thank you very much.’ She worked at home one day a week which was where I think I got, became my practice all throughout my career actually. Not now [laughs] and I had to go on the train. She picked me up at the train station. We got to her house. I thought we would just start working. She said, ‘No, we must first have a coffee. We’ll have a coffee and we’ll discuss what we’re going to write.’ So we did that and she said, ‘Okay, now we write.’ And she said, how did she do it? ‘I shall, I’ll write and when we get to a bit, I’ll tell you to explain it to me.’ So she would go through. ‘That paragraphs alright.’ Then she’d go through and she’d say, ‘Now tell me what you mean to say?’ And then she’d write it down. It was all hand written at the time.


And this is how we did it. And then it got to lunch time and she said, ‘Okay we’ll stop now and we’ll have lunch.’ Put it away. Had a discreet lunch. The afternoon was pretty much the same. Then we had tea and then we finished it and then she went, ‘Sherry?’ And then we went to the train station [laughs].

That paper is probably one of my most highly cited articles. I know it’s my first, so it’s had many years to be highly cited but none the less it’s extremely highly cited. And it’s single authored because in those days you didn’t put all the rest of the people on because it was just you because it was your idea, and it’s incredible. But what she gave to me was just incredible that day and that’s something I’ve always tried to do for my students. So we’ve always tried to work very closely with them when they write and we’ve also had a once a year writing workshop where we all get together and we, you know, for two or three days, we write and we eat, we sleep and we you know, we have fun. But the focus is on writing, writing skills. I think it’s so important.