Dr Hannah Alfonsa came to St John’s as Junior Research Fellow in Pharmacology in 2016. She was awarded a Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellowship for four years from November 2017.
Hannah Alfonsa.jpg

I grew up in Indonesia, where culturally we feel obliged not to speak our mind to our seniors. Starting medical school at the age of 16, in a field dominated by men, I always felt like I was not supposed to have an opinion. When I arrived in the UK to do my PhD in Neuroscience, I was a very quiet student (I still am very quiet – most of the time) and only shared my ideas once I had the data to back them up. I guess that’s how I fell in love with Neuroscience: I can now have an opinion about something important as I learn to ask, and answer, questions experimentally. Still my default thinking is that people would not care about what I have to say or about my science, because I am an Indonesian woman, and a pretty short one too. I feel small most of the time. When St John’s appointed me to be a Junior Research Fellow, for the first time I felt that, ‘Hey, they care about my science so much that they invested in me!’ It was like a breath of fresh air, giving me a boost of confidence I desperately needed. It’s still terrifying navigating academic life here in the UK, but I am now brave enough to try. 

This photo was taken three months after my first baby daughter was born. I am hoping that we can all try to be better so she never has to feel small for being different or a woman, and never has to be afraid to share her ideas, in a world that can only benefit from more ideas.