Dr Pia Ostergaard – Pioneering geneticist who works part time hours

Dr Pia Ostergaard leads several projects in gene discovery and has successfully identified gene mutations that cause primary lymphoedema, an inherited abnormality of the lymphatic system that can cause swellings of the limbs and body due to fluid build-up. Primary lymphoedema is a lifelong, often disabling condition which can be distressing, debilitating, and often painful. Pia’s discoveries have been published in peer-reviewed journals and presented at international conferences. Pia carries out her research at St George’s University of London, where she also teaches.

Pia had nearly finished a PhD in zoology in 2002, when she had to go on maternity leave with her first child. Her second child was born 14 months later, and Pia submitted her thesis 13 months after that. Pia obtained her PhD from Imperial College in 2004. She had carried out the majority of the work for her PhD at the Natural History Museum, in department of zoology, but after the career break and with the help of the Daphne Jackson Fellowship scheme, she changed field and retrained in Medical Genetics. Pia made the change because she wanted to change into a field with more job opportunities.

The initial fellowship was followed by two other part-time fellowships sponsored by The British Skin Foundation and The British Heart Foundation. Following this Pia was promoted to Lecturer in Human Genetics in 2013, senior lecturer in 2015 and Reader in 2017. Pia now works full-time, but no week is the same. She has the flexibility from her employer to plan her own time, she can work compressed hours and she can also work from home. This allows her to fit her work around bringing up two teenagers.

Pia says: “I have two children, my 15 year old son Jeppe and 14 year old daughter Sif. They are both preparing for their GCSEs and I love being able to be around so they can feel supported. I like having enough flexibility in my schedule and I feel fortunate that I am able to do this, and yet still work to the peak of my potential.” She continues: “My employer is very flexible with me in terms of how I plan my time. Since both my children are at secondary school, I’m able to organise my work so that I can work mostly during term-time only. I feel like I am able to be the ‘best of myself’ in both worlds, rather than trying desperately to juggle the two, and that I have an employer who get, and value that, plus my incredibly supportive husband Erik, who helps make it all gel together.”

Pia also manages to find time to act as a Trustee for the Daphne Jackson Trust, a charity that helps scientists, engineers, technologists and mathematicians to return to a scientific or research career after a break of two years or more for family, caring or health reasons. Pia says: “The Trust enabled my return to scientific research, thus I want to ‘give back’ some of my time in recognition of what a tremendous help this was to me”.

Related stories