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Hanadi Hassan-Nixon
Dr Hanadi Hassan-Nixon

With the support of a Daphne Jackson Trust Fellowship, Hanadi returned to research after a 12-year career break.

A keen experimentalist

“Burning paper with magnifying glasses, making mud pies, and reacting old car battery solution with aluminium ore” is how Hanadi remembers her childhood, playing with her brothers. Between learning science at school and experimenting at home, she became fascinated by chemistry.

Her love of chemistry continued throughout school and she went on to study botany with chemistry at university. In the final years of her degree, the connection between living organisms and chemical reactions captivated her and she realised her passion lay in the area of biological chemistry.

After a successful PhD researching disease resistance in cereal crops, Hanadi worked in protein engineering to develop a device that helped diabetic children monitor their blood sugar levels. However, after having her first child, Hanadi found it too difficult to leave her baby in the care of someone else and she decided not to go back to work. 

Career breaks and the Daphne Jackson Trust

Hanadi Hassan-NixonFollowing a 12-year career break (working part-time as an administrator) Hanadi decided to return to scientific research, securing a Daphne Jackson Trust Fellowship. The Daphne Jackson Trust is a leading UK organisation that supports scientists and engineers in returning to research following a career break. They offer fellowships, with mentoring and re-training, to women and men going back into STEM careers after a break of two or more years.

Hanadi is now six months into her Daphne Jackson Fellowship at Imperial College London, working to develop a diagnostic device that will help clinicians decide on appropriate treatment for patients suffering from hay fever and asthma. “It is great to be able to go back to work and use your embedded scientific knowledge in real and practical life,” she says. Relishing the daily challenge of learning new techniques and theories, she describes her work as “linking chemistry, biology and medicine in one simple device.”

Hanadi is grateful to the Daphne Jackson Trust for giving her the opportunity to return to research:

“If I manage to develop this device within the two years of my Daphne Jackson Trust fellowship, I shall feel that I have significantly contributed towards improving one aspect of human health. The seed for this achievement is the Daphne Jackson Trust funding.” 

Since returning to work, Hanadi has found it challenging to catch up with the advancements of scientific research. Learning how to use the latest equipment and familiarising herself with the literature have caused her difficulties, as has finding time to network and establish new contacts. Regardless, Hanadi’s advice to others who are considering returning to research after a career break is to "go for it." 

“I encourage any person to resume their scientific career even after a long break.  It is amazing what the brain retains and what you can contribute from your previous scientific and life experience.”

Words by Isobel Marr
Images © Stephen Lake / Royal Society of Chemistry
Published June 2015

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