Celebrating Women at Imperial – Dr Sherrianne Ng

Dr Sherrianne Ng


Support for women throughout their career journey is critical to creating gender equality in the workplace. To mark Women at Imperial Week (4 – 8 March) and the upcoming International Women’s Day (8 March), we spoke to Dr Sherrianne Ng, to understand the experiences, support and issues women may face as they progress through their careers.

Dr Sherrianne Ng is an NIHR Imperial BRC-supported Research Associate in the Section of Pregnancy, Parturition and Prematurity

Tell us a bit about your career, background and current role.

I am originally from Singapore but moved to Perth, Australia, in my late teens to further my education. Having always been fascinated by bacteria and biology being my favourite subject in high school, I pursued a BSc in Biomedical Science and Molecular Biology. I was particularly interested in Microbiology and Immunology during my undergraduate course and decided to continue with an additional year of BSc (Hons) in Biomedical Science where I undertook a project with Professor Andrew Currie from Murdoch University, Australia, that focussed on understanding the immune responses of preterm infants during bacterial bloodstream infections (neonatal sepsis). As part of my research project, I had the opportunity to visit the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at King Edward Memorial Hospital, Perth, Australia, and saw first-hand the impact being born premature had on babies who were still in incubators. This experience sparked my passion for Preterm Birth research as I wanted to contribute to work that could improve the lives of these babies born too early.

This consequently led to me undertaking a PhD with the same primary supervisor as my honours project, where my research focussed on identifying genes and metabolites that could improve the diagnosis of neonatal sepsis in preterm infants. Due to the multi-faceted nature of my PhD, I was involved in clinical study management, wet-lab work including processing of blood samples and performing experiments, and acquired dry-lab skills by analysing high-dimensional data using bioinformatic methods. I was also awarded a travel grant from the NH&MRC of Australia Preterm Centre of Research Excellence to do lab exchanges at the University of British Columbia, Canada; the University of Copenhagen, Denmark; and the University of Edinburgh, UK; where I learnt bioinformatic skills and gained exposure working with preterm piglet models. Throughout my PhD, I was an active member of the Postgraduate Student Association, where I first joined as a Public Relations Officer and then became President of it. During my time on the committee, we organised numerous events to promote and create a supportive postgraduate environment.

After graduating from PhD, I took up a position as a Projects Officer for the Raine Medical Research Foundation in Western Australia before moving to London for my postdoctoral research at Imperial College London. My research continues to be in the Preterm Birth field with a focus on using multi-omics approaches to understand host microbiota interactions during pregnancy, in relation to Preterm Birth.

Can you share a time when you felt supported in your career journey by a colleague or mentor?

The most recent example of when I have felt supported in my career journey has been because of my line manager, Professor David MacIntyre, who has continually provided guidance and empowered me to pursue opportunities and interests beyond my existing skill set and expertise. This has included support in undertaking professional development courses as well as contributing to outreach and public engagement initiatives.

What has been the proudest achievement of your career so far?

One of the proudest achievements of my career so far would be when I shared my Preterm Birth research work as a Young Scientist Presenter at the Global Young Scientist Summit 2022.

There are two main reasons this was a particularly big milestone for me. Firstly, I had to undergo multiple selection rounds to have the opportunity to present. It started with an application to be 1 of the 20 nominations put forward by Imperial College London for the event, of whom only 10 would be selected as participants with the remaining as viewers. The next stage was having to be selected by the GYSS committee to be a participant in the event, where they had over 1,700 nominations from institutions across the world. Following this, I had to submit a short description of my research to qualify for the next selection round where I had to convey the inspiration and motivation of my research area in a 30-second video. I remember having to constantly remind myself to tune out to any feelings of self-doubt and instead focus on just doing my best for each selection round, so when I finally received the good news that I had been selected to present, I felt a great sense of relief and happiness to be able to achieve what I had wanted to do.

Secondly, the Summit consisted of global young scientists from multi-disciplinary backgrounds, ranging from mathematics to medicine, and speakers who were recipients of awards including the Nobel Prize, Turing Award and Fields Medal. The general public, including my family and friends, could also tune in to the presentations virtually. Compared to past conferences that were specific to my field, being able to present my work and share my passion for Preterm Birth research to a diverse global audience, who were from non-academic and academic multi-disciplinary backgrounds, felt like the culmination of continued years of support and guidance from supervisors, mentors and colleagues as well as family and friends who have helped me to go further than what I have ever thought possible.

Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome or self-doubt in your career? How did you overcome it, and what support did you find helpful?

Of course! I have definitely experienced those moments, especially when I was first starting out in my career. I learnt to overcome them by attending workshops and courses, including those organised by the PFDC at Imperial, that taught me to be more aware of my inner critic and the action steps I could take to overcome imposter syndrome and self-doubt. Having people in more senior positions supporting my career decisions and empowering me to pursue opportunities I may otherwise have been apprehensive to take has also helped me to gain confidence in my skills and abilities. I think often at times when we experience imposter syndrome or self-doubt, it is because we are focusing on what we lack instead of the skills and/or expertise we already have. Learning to reframe my mindset has helped me to stop doubting myself and focus instead on a growth mindset where I know that even if I currently lack a skill and/or expertise, I have the ability to learn the skill and develop my expertise.

What role can people in senior positions play in supporting and advocating for women’s career advancement and equality in the workplace?

In my opinion, they can enable open conversations where the needs and aspirations of women at each stage of their careers can be heard and understood. Since women at different career stages will experience different challenges and needs, and these factors can be influenced by life events (e.g. taking a career break due to maternity leave), people in senior positions can consider implementing adaptive policies and building a workplace culture that focusses on equity rather than solely equality to provide a conducive environment for all women regardless of career and/or life stage to advance in their careers.

What advice would you give to women who are just starting their careers, based on your own experiences?

My advice to women who are just starting in their careers is to invest in yourself and your networks. Investing in yourself means identifying areas in your life you think can be improved and taking advantage of resources and/or courses that are on offer that can help you to grow as a person both in your professional and personal life. For example, when I first started my position at Imperial, I attended numerous professional development courses offered by the PFDC and this helped me to better navigate my career journey. Investing in your networks to me means maintaining networks you have built, helping to lift others up by value-adding to their lives, and surrounding yourself with people who can help lift you up because you can trust their guidance.

Finally, I think it’s also important to be actively aware of times when the person limiting you from taking opportunities is yourself. Each time I have found myself having self-doubt and being apprehensive about taking up an opportunity that I know will help me to advance, I have gone back to a quote from the book “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg, which I read as an undergraduate student, that goes: “So please ask yourself: What would I do if I weren’t afraid? And then go do it”. And each time, I have realised in hindsight that taking up the opportunity provided me with valuable experiences that have helped me to gain more confidence in myself.