Finding your identity
Asel took a post-doctoral position at Arizona State University and it was here that she found her academic identity.
“I took a post-doctoral position working with Prof Mike Thorpe and Prof Simon Billinge, after we had moved to Arizona when my husband Stephen was offered a post-doctoral position in Mike’s group. I think I was very lucky, as both Mike and Simon were great mentors. I decided that I wanted to study zeolites and I found that I have a unique set of skills and knowledge spanning mineral physics, crystallography, biology and chemistry – I think combining many skills and insights from different disciplines really works for my research”.
Asel and her husband moved back to the UK and her daughter, Melinda, arrived in 2010. While on maternity leave, Asel came up with an idea for using silicas to protect and store vaccines. “For the first time in this project, I thought of protecting the vaccine from the environment for transport and storage, using a radically new methodology, and then releasing it for use as and when required. I believe that the idea is very exciting and have made it my top research priority, as the implications of such a project working can potentially make major improvements to health programmes worldwide.” Asel now continues her research on vaccines as a fellow at Bath University.
On gender equality in chemistry, Asel feels there is much work to do, although she herself had many female role models growing up.
“I don't think today we have true gender equality in chemistry. We need more women coming into chemistry and we need more women progressing in chemistry.
"There were plenty of times when I was commented on or bullied as a woman in science, most of the time by my colleagues. Sometimes, I brushed it off and sometimes it really affected me for a long time. I think the fact that I am where I am now shows that we have gone far in addressing the diversity issues, but there is still much to be done.
I am optimistic about the future of women in chemistry because now we have recognised that there is a problem many of us are working to make it better. I hope by the time my daughter grows up that society as a whole will be more accepting of many personal differences and backgrounds.
“My advice to young female chemists would be: believe in yourself, dream big and be proactive.”
Dr Asel Sartbaeva was featured in our video as part of the campaign surrounding our 'Breaking the barriers' report into women’s retention and progression in chemistry. Read the report and share the findings using the digital pack on our website.