Deborah Cockerill – or Debs among friends – shared her experience of creating her own science communications company and becoming a successful woman in business for International Women’s Day 2023. 

Since childhood, Debs aspired to run her own business. After studying Life Sciences at UCL and working in science publishing, she developed a passion for working with entrepreneurs to commercialise scientific innovations that have the potential to benefit society. The opportunity to use her instinctive business mindset to support scientific discovery led her to create Sciad Communications in 2008, where she now manages a team of communications professionals and an impressive portfolio of Life Science clients. With a strong sense of family and a natural drive to improve – demonstrated in her dedication to improve her parkrun time – Debs spoke of the importance of creating a culture that enables and encourages a positive work-life balance.  

Q: What do you consider your major strengths and proudest achievements in your career?  

A: Since I was young, I’ve always been a ‘people person’ with a business-oriented mindset. I love being surrounded by creative people with new ideas, and thinking of how to make these ideas a reality – especially in the field of translational science. It’s this drive that’s allowed me to grow Sciad into such a creative team that I have full confidence in – something I consider to be one of my big achievements: everything in my career has led to Sciad being what it is today.  

But at the same time, I consider raising a family and having a healthy work-life balance a major achievement. This morning, for example, we got up early and had pancakes as a family for my daughter’s birthday, and I’ve structured my day so that I can get home early to celebrate with her. This work-life balance is something I strive to give everyone at Sciad equal access to, so everyone can be there for their family when they need to be.  

Q: Do you have any role models or inspirations that have shaped your work?  

A: I think generally I’m more inspired by the attributes that lead people to success rather than specific individuals. For example, the ability to revolutionise an idea with passion and integrity is a trait I look up to.  

However, one stand-out role model from my personal career is Vitek Tracz who was integral in bringing Open Access publishing to academia through his company BioMed Central along with his peers such as David Litman at Public Library of Science. Open Access has had a huge impact on scientific progress, enabling information to be shared across disciplines, and I think Vitek’s qualities were key to this progress. I consider him a philosopher as well as a business person. He challenged the status quo asking why we do things the way we do, meaning he truly believed in everything he worked on.  

Closer to home, I’ll always admire my mum for being such a level-headed and strong character. 

Q: How can a leader build an inclusive team?  

A: The priority for me has always been in making sure everybody feels empowered and enabled to contribute their ideas. A successful work culture gives people the space to be creative while maintaining the ability to make fast decisions. This needs people to be honest, open, and have confidence in the integrity of the team. A team is what you make it, and I encourage an environment that allows people to put their best foot forward.  

Q: Have you seen any changes in attitudes towards women in the biotechnology and business sectors? 

A: Overall, I think things have got a lot better. There are more opportunities for women in leadership and there have been legislation changes that have greatly improved women’s experiences and protection. But despite the progress I’ve seen in the Life Sciences and Marketing sectors, there are other industries that still have a way to go. 

Q: What are your own experiences of balancing family and work?  

A: I think it depends on context and the stage I’ve been at in both family and work life. Right now, I can be flexible and work effectively while still prioritising and spending time with my family. But when I was initially setting up Sciad, I worked right up to having my daughter and didn’t have any maternity leave as it was my own start-up.  

Ultimately, I think it all comes down to childcare. The UK needs affordable and accessible childcare that allows women to choose how they balance work and family.  

Q: And finally, do you have any advice for women in different stages of their careers?  

A: Whatever stage you’re at, do what you really want to do, and do it with passion and integrity. If you care about something, you’ll naturally work hard. I’d advise women to be brave and to make decisions with a positive outlook. You have to have confidence in yourself to make the right decisions and to follow your passion.  

One of the best parts of my life is working at Sciad with the team – thank you for all your hard work.  

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Photo of Paula Burton