International Women's Day: 'it’s time to celebrate quality over quantity, and ensure equality of opportunity'

Dr Emma Hayhurst

Dr Emma Hayhurst is a molecular microbiologist at the University of South Wales with expertise in anti-microbial resistance. 

She is interested in the transmission and detection of antibiotic resistance in the environment and the clinic, and in the wider issue of reducing inappropriate prescriptions through improved diagnostics, public engagement and improvements in public health. 

Dr Hayhurst who helped to make a rapid test for Covid-19 has just received £50,000 in funding from the UKRI's Women in Innovation Awards to further develop the same technology to better diagnose urinary tract infections (UTIs), one of the world’s most common infections. She is the co-founder and CEO of Llusern Scientific.

How would you describe your experience as a woman scientist? 

Early on in my career I don’t think I really felt defined by gender. As I got older, I found it frustrating to see so many of my talented female colleagues leave the profession because they couldn’t make the long hours and short term contracts work for them. Personally, once I became a mother I found that I lost confidence in my research and re-gaining that has been an uphill struggle. I have always brought my whole self to work which I think is quite a feminine trait – I am quite an emotional scientist! I used to feel uncomfortable with that and see it almost as a weakness but the older I get the more I’m sure that you can only be yourself and so I’m much more comfortable being just who I am in work.


Which barriers would you say exist to you as a woman scientist and how can we overcome them?

I think there is still a large expectation that to achieve your potential you should work in a traditional way – long hours, proudly don’t take your holidays, work full time. What we need to move to is recognising that a) that will put a lot of people off, especially women, who don’t want to make that choice and b) it is not necessarily the best way of working. I think it’s time to celebrate quality over quantity and ensure equality of opportunity to all scientists, even those who choose to work part time. Working flexibly and part time allows us all to be more fully human and I think our science is better for it. I’m an advocate for the two-to-four day week – for everyone!


Tell us about your current research

My current project is developing a point-of-care test for the diagnosis of urinary tract infections (UTIs). UTIs are the most common infection globally. Risk of suffering from UTI increases with age – and more than 90% of sufferers are women. Anyone who has suffered from a UTI (and over 50% of women will have done) can tell you that even an ‘uncomplicated’ UTI can cause severe pain and discomfort but UTIs can also be fatal if not properly diagnosed and treated – over 5,000 people die from a UTI every year in England and Wales. Our test would help solve this issue by telling the GP whether someone has a UTI and what bacteria is causing that UTI, thus allowing better treatment decisions to be made. 

Dr Jeroen Nieuwland  and Dr Emma Hayhurst

Dr Emma Hayhurst with research partner Dr Jeroen Nieuwland


Why is it important to empower women in science?

Ultimately, the biggest driver for encouraging diversity in STEM should be about the benefit that it brings to the workforce and the world, rather than the other way round.  We should encourage diversity because our workforce is impoverished without it. We are facing perhaps more challenges than ever before in our history.  We cannot solve these problems by thinking about them in the same way we always have, and in the same way that everyone else does.  To really move forward requires the diversity of ideas and thoughts that comes from having a workforce with a rich variety of different backgrounds. We need all young people to recognise the challenges we face and want to work towards trying to overcome them.