Wednesday 23 June 2021 at 2:30pm

Making connections and breaking the mould: Dr Julia Wilson, Cambridge Co-President

Dr Julia Wilson

Dr Julia Wilson, Associate Director at the Wellcome Sanger Institute and Co-President of the Cambridge Chapter


Julia’s journey

Earlier this year, the Cambridge Chapter welcomed Dr Julia Wilson as one of its two Co-Presidents. Julia has been a Chapter Lead with The Rising Network since 2019. Initially she was the Lead for Life Sciences within the Cambridge Chapter.

Originally from rural Northumberland, Julia was one of four girls and the first in her family to go to university. “I set out to become a scientist, which I did. Only after going quite a long way down a scientific career realising that I was much happier talking about science than actually doing it. And I had no idea you could have a career within science and not work in a lab.”

Now in research management, Julia’s position at the Wellcome Sanger Institute is focused on expanding the reach and impact of the organisation’s science.  She blends scientific knowledge with the capacity to build and develop the relationships necessary for the organisation to deliver its work.


Rising Network

In 2019, Julia met The Rising Network’s founder, Lily Cheng and was “blown away by the holistic approach that the Network has applied to women’s networking. It was refreshing, yet welcome, to be asked about self-care in the context of our organisational strategy for supporting women.”

Outlining her reasons for joining the Network, Julia focuses on the connections between people that The Rising Network makes possible:

  • Meeting like-minded individuals with lived experience. “This is authentic and a huge motivator for me.”
  • Peer support and mentoring. “Using these tools to build confidence is so important.”
  • Hearing others’ amazing stories and challenges. “This gives me real insight into what’s possible and the impact of experiences outside my own – it’s invaluable.”

In 2021, Julia took another step on her journey with The Rising Network, becoming Co-President of the Cambridge Chapter, alongside Sharon Budworth.


Breaking the mould

Julia’s journey to being one of our social activists was seeded by female role models throughout her life.  As she moved into High School, the head teacher of her Middle School made an impact that would raise the ceiling of her aspiration:

“This was rural Northumberland in the early 1980s. Gender stereotypes were entirely normal to me, and it is fair to say that my horizons were not broad. Age 12/13 before moving to High School, we each had a personal session with the head teacher, where she wished us well and asked what we planned to do with our lives. I thought I could be a nurse, which she agreed was a noble thing. But wouldn’t it be better if I became a doctor? A dear friend thought she could be an air hostess, which also didn’t land well. She now has a very senior role in aerospace. None of us realised this at the time, but she was a mould breaker, and was determined that we shouldn’t be limited only by what we could see around us.”

Julia continues to promote mould-breakers and make the successes of women visible, through her day job and in her Co-Presidency of the Cambridge Chapter: “I deliberately try to promote women and showcase their abilities and contributionswe all need to make these talents more visible.”  And it’s the invisibility of women’s talents that Julia sees as the main challenge to progress, even in 2021.

“We mustn’t diminish the advances that we have made but the female invisibility problem is always there. I know this is a massive generalisation, but women tend to speak less in meetings, and ask fewer questions. We don’t continue to remind others who we are and what we do. In part we’re trained to do this, we get things done behind the scenes, make sure of the details and the deadlines. But we’re not masters of visibility. I strive to change that in everything I do, showcasing women’s talents to make them more visible.”


Positive connections

Julia believes strongly in the power of networking and maintaining positive connections with others. Nurturing relationships and networks is the biggest life lesson she would offer to others. “It is amazing how often I reach out to colleagues from my post-doc years or ask them for introductions, and of course vice versa. I have been surprised by how small the world really is and how useful that can be!”

Julia values the community within The Rising Network, as well as the opportunities for connection between women from many different walks of life.  “I was inspired by the Rising Network, it felt warm and welcoming. I felt I could contribute in a small way to help others navigate through the myriad of challenges, and also work to smooth pathways for future women.”

We’re so grateful to Julia Wilson for sharing her expertise, experiences and passion for social change as a Chapter Co-President!


If you’d like to get involved in your local Chapter, you can find out more about becoming a Chapter Lead here.