“The biotech industry represents the interface between science and technology,” says Heather Anne Wright. “It’s a broad way to think about how research is translated and applied.”
Born in Transvaal, South Africa, Wright’s journey to applications scientist at Fluid Imaging Technologies in Scarborough was far from direct. She is a classically trained pianist who spent most of her young life preparing for a career in music. “But I loved science, too, and I wanted to be able to make a living!” she says, laughing.
During her undergraduate work at the University of New England, Wright, took an internship at Bigelow Laboratory in Boothbay Harbor. There she met her first serious science mentor, Paty Matrai. “She propelled my interest forward. She gave me opportunities to go out to sea, conduct research in her lab and participate in global projects. It was real science.” That same summer, Wright met Chris Sieracki, the developer of the FlowCam, a particle analysis instrument that Fluid Imaging is known for.
For the next 20 years, Wright, 42, held research and teaching jobs and eventually moved to Europe to pursue doctoral work. When her funding ran out, she returned to the States. “I sent out over 200 resumes. The science field is incredibly competitive, and gender does matter, especially in pay scale and roles of leadership.”
When she was hired, there were three other women at Fluid Imaging, in admin and marketing roles. Now the company is two-thirds female. But there are still challenges. “It takes a strong woman to say, ‘Hey, listen to me.’ You take some flack if you’re the first person to do that,” Wright says. “When I meet other women in similar careers, I hear that many are still trying too hard to silence their ideas. They don’t want to be pigeonholed as the ‘talky female.’”
Wright often speaks up for coworkers who are less confident, especially when interacting with management. She believes firmly in women supporting other women and recalls a time when there wasn’t much peer encouragement in her field. “I feel like we are much better about promoting ourselves and each other as female scientists. Twenty years ago there was a lot of competition between women trying to break into these male-dominated roles.”
Wright is optimistic about the future for women in her field. “If we shift our perspective toward skills, merit and experience, we can remove gender from the equation. Things are improving slowly because we’re talking about it. And that’s a good thing.”
Sarah Holman is a writer living in Portland. She is enthusiastic about cheese plates, thrift shop treasures and old houses in need of saving. Find her online at storiesandsidebars.com.