International Day of Women and Girls in Science: Bethan Shaw

11 Feb 2020
Dr Bethan Shaw

For International Day of Women and Girls in Science we’re introducing you to several female scientists from across the NIAB group. Read their blog posts or watch their videos. In this post, we hear from Dr Bethan Shaw from the Pest and Pathogen Ecology team at NIAB EMR, based at East Malling in Kent:

I’ve worked at NIAB EMR in post-doctoral research for just over a year now. Before that, I was working here at East Malling from 2012-2015. Then I did my PhD, which was based at the University of Southampton and East Malling, so I’ve never really got away.

What does your job involve?

Lots of experiments! On a day-to-day basis, it’s largely leading on running research projects, but as research leader I design and execute the experiments too. More of my time is starting to be spent working on project proposals which is expected as you go higher up the ranks in research.

What are you currently researching and why?

My main research focuses on the fly, spotted-wing drosophila. Originally from Asia, it’s an invasive pest in the UK and a massive problem globally. We’re looking at ways we can lessen its impact on fruit production. There are a couple of big projects I’m working on now: one looking at entomopathogenic fungi as a pest control method, while the other looks at various  deterrents to stop the drosophila from egg-laying.

How did you get involved in science?

Well, it was a bit of an accident really! I did a degree in wildlife conservation, as part of that, I did my third-year dissertation on invasive flora and fauna in New Zealand. When I finished, I still thought I would go in wildlife conservation, so I took a summer job at what is now NIAB EMR, basically just to put on my CV! I ended up working on invasive insect species, got into entomology, and have never looked back.

Proudest achievement for NIAB or in your scientific career?

It’s a bitter-sweet moment actually. I was the person that found the first female spotted-wing drosophila in the UK, back in 2012. It was bitter-sweet because it’s a pest and a problem for growers, but from entomology and research point of view it was exciting! Other than that, successfully getting my PhD was a very proud moment – I think anyone who survives that deserves to have that as a proud achievement!

Biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?

I think for many people in science, it’s suffering from imposter syndrome. Although rationally I know that I‘ve spent the last seven years working on spotted-winged drosophila and I’m known as worldwide expert, there is always a voice in your head that worries someone will stand up and say you’re wrong. I’m not sure you ever really overcome it, you just need to remind yourself that you do know what you’re talking about!

Any tips for aspiring scientists?

Try working in areas that you wouldn’t normally think are your forte. I never even considered that entomology was something I thought I would get into. It was only through taking an opportunity that came up that I’m in the position I am in now.