How Genesis helped Professor Kate Hardy discover work-life balance through the great outdoors
Written by Kate Hardy, Professor of Reproductive Biology, Imperial College

I arrived home on a Sunday afternoon, tired after an intense three-day meeting in Birmingham about hormones. I dumped my travel bag on the floor in the hall, and was hit by a desperate need for trees, green space, with no cars, trains, buses, noise or pollution. I turned around and headed out the door to Kew Gardens, and after an hour or so walking among the trees I felt totally restored. Being outdoors in green spaces is now essential for me.

I am a full-time scientist, working on female reproduction. It’s a fascinating field, and I am lucky enough to love what I do. Specifically, I carry out research on how eggs grow in the ovary, and how their growth is regulated by hormones produced in the brain, and other proteins secreted by different types of cells in the ovary. I also collaborate with my colleague Professor Stephen Franks, who is a world expert on Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is not uncommon and can lead to infertility and a propensity to put on weight as well as develop Type II diabetes. It is also often associated with high levels of androgen and we have been exploring the effects of high androgen on the eggs and other cells in the ovary. We have published many papers together on this. Genesis has helped support this work and we are very grateful for that.

My working day is wonderfully varied; I can be discussing and planning experiments with members of my lab, preparing a lecture for teaching students or for presenting at a conference, analysing data, writing the scientific paper or applying for money to fund our research. Genesis has been an amazing support for our research, particularly helping to support our talented younger scientists as they work for their postgraduate degrees and develop their careers as independent scientists.

While I love my work, there are times when I can feel quite overwhelmed by how much there is to do. It is during these times that I have learnt how much happier and calmer I feel being outdoors in the countryside or a park, or on a beach. The importance of walking and being outdoors for my mental health only truly hit me on a Genesis challenge in 2015, during a trek in Morocco. The first day we headed over a plain, with the Atlas Mountains in the distance. After an overnight camp we started steadily climbing the lower slopes and after several hours came over the brow of a hill, to be faced with the most incredible vista of higher mountains. There were no cars, no roads, no pylons, not even any vapour trails in the sky. It was totally silent apart from birdsong. All we could see that was moving were two men on a mule in the distance. I was filled with a complete feeling of peace and calm, and most importantly, had a light-bulb moment that I will never forget. I realised that times like this were essential for my mental well being, and that I had to give myself permission to spend time doing what I love – being outdoors and walking. The trek was an incredible experience and was an opportunity to meet a group of amazing women who all had their own stories to tell of why they were moved to be involved with Genesis. I have kept in touch with many of these women from the Morocco trek, and also a later trek that I took part in, in Burma.

As a scientist I need time and space to think and let my mind wander. That is how we come up with new ideas and theories, and think of new experiments, which may lead to new treatments. I don’t have many ideas in my office in front of a computer – I have them when I am in the lab or talking to colleagues or walking to work. I consider that my journey to work is part of my working day – it involves a half-hour walk through two beautiful local parks to get to the tube and sets me up for the day ahead.

I was inspired by the International Women’s Day Campaign theme – #BalanceforBetter. I was born in the early 60s, at a time when being a good woman was about being well behaved, obedient, caring, nurturing of others, indeed putting others before ourselves. I still believe that being kind and caring for others is key, but to lead a fulfilling life at home and at work we also need to nurture ourselves, and we can only do that by balancing our own lives. It has taken me a long while to learn that spending time doing what I enjoy, and making it a priority, is essential for my well-being.

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