Be Inspired / 14 March 2018

Life of the female scientist will inevitably incur more career disruptions than that of their male counterparts. For Mirana, her disruption is a tug of war -albeit a good one- between her two loves; science and motherhood. Heading off for six months maternity leave in April, it’s a frantic time for Mirana at ARMI. Juggling the life of a group leader, new mother, a soon to be mother of a second child, lab deadlines, impending maternity leave and (to top it off) a burst pipe at home, Mirana’s got her work cut out for her.

Mirana Ramialison with her son Thibaut
Soon to become two, Mirana with her son, Thibaut who was born in March last year.

Head of the Ramialison Group, Mirana works with her team in understanding the underlying causes of congenital heart disease - an abnormality that develops in the heart before birth. “One baby out of a hundred is born with a heart defect, ranging from mild to severe” commented Mirana, “and we know it can be attributed to genetics”.

Despite its commonality, the cause of congenital heart disease is still unknown in 80% of the cases, making it near impossible to treat. Mirana and her team work tirelessly to fix this, using the analogy “If you don’t understand how your car works, how can you expect to fix it?”. Working with her group, they analyse genomes, both in the lab and using computer software. Here they search through ‘junk’ DNA, an unfortunate term for DNA that is non-coding, to find genetic links with the disease. Mirana’s long-term goal is to make a dent in the number of cases attributed to genetics. “If we can reduce that number of 80% —it would be such a great achievement”.

With maternity leave on the horizon, Mirana will miss the science in her everyday life. “Listening to the results that my group are generating, discussing the outcomes – this is the best part of my day!” exclaimed Mirana. Her love for home life is just as strong. Expecting a girl in April, ARMI and her colleagues have been very supportive, especially her lab members, making adjustments and ensuring flexibility in the lab during Mirana’s leave. Despite being on said leave, it doesn’t sound like Mirana will ever be truly gone from the lab, enjoying being able to stay in touch with her team’s research. “Even if I am on maternity leave, I will still have meetings with my staff through skype and such,” said Mirana.

“It’s a tough balance” admitted Mirana, “It’s hard to be away particularly if you’re leading the lab – you are the intellectual guarantee! [As a mother] there will inevitably be a career interruption, no matter what they say. But there are supports in place.”

“ARMI is committed to supporting female scientists in the workplace, helping them to balance the challenges associated with maintaining a career and taking time off to have a family” commented Professor Peter Currie, Director of Research at ARMI. For Mirana and ARMI, “this support comes in the form of flexible working arrangements, co-supervision of students, support in administrative burden and colleague mentoring. Mirana is one of many female scientists that we’ve been able to support in negotiating this difficult balance. Keeping talented female scientists is a priority for ARMI”.  

Despite the pressures, Mirana was quick to acknowledge the support that ARMI, her colleagues and most importantly her team members are providing to her. “Their support and understanding has been vital for me to overcome the interruption” insisted Mirana. “It’s difficult to quantify but the moral support I’ve received at ARMI, and just hearing the occasional “let me know if you need help with anything” from so many colleagues is very encouraging.”

As far as the future is concerned, there is only one certainty — April can’t come soon enough! We wish you all the best during your maternity leave Mirana and look forward to a new baby in the lab soon.