Science and sexuality

Coming out was never going to be easy. I was raised Catholic and attended a convent school. My desperate struggles to fit in and conform to society had a severe impact on my mental health. Aged 16, I came out to my family after years of deliberation.

The following two years were exceptionally difficult, feeling isolated and rejected: I had no idea whether I’d ever be accepted.


Finding inspiration

Growing up with a younger sister with Down Syndrome proved truly inspirational. Seeing her overcome every hurdle she faced with such resilience galvanised my belief that everyone has a purpose in life.

I had a dream of becoming a scientist, however, due to my socioeconomic status (raised on a council estate in south London), my aspirations were very different to that of my peers. Being a scientist wasn’t a common aspiration.

Lucky and her sister

Lucky and her sister

Rising above it

Determined, I took all the negativity and challenges I’d faced and put that towards achieving a first-class degree in Medical Biochemistry. It was during this time that I found a passion for research and embarked on a PhD in Medical Microbiology.

The scientific field is heavily male dominated and heteronormative.  As an early career scientist entering this field as a woman, it felt intimidating, I feared my sexuality was an additional barrier alongside my gender.


Working it

I’ve faced instances of discrimination that may seem small to some, but have a heavy impact on the way the work place is experienced by LGBTQ+ people. For example, people have made passing comments my manner of speech and dress sense (in regards to my sexuality).

I’ve been party to the occasional lesbian ‘joke’ that will be familiar to any woman in a working environment. Luckily, such incidents haven’t dominated my working life, but it’s a shame they’ve played any part in my career.

respect + equality

Get out

At the start of my PhD, I kept my sexuality hidden from some of my colleagues. Over time, it became exhausting, attmepting to avoid use of female pronouns during personal conversations. I didn’t remain closeted for long. The situation was distracting me from what was most important: my research.

I became extremely nervous about writing this piece and about how it may be perceived by peers in the field, especially those who’re more established. The fact that these legitimate concerns crossed my mind proves we still have a long way to go before we can claim to have a truly inclusive sector.

Lucky Cullen in the lab with rainbow flag

Lucky Cullen in the lab


Next up

I’m a scientist and want to be known for my contribution to the field. Being a gay woman has no sway on my skills, strength, or ability. I hope those who’re in the early stages of their career, who might be struggling or experiencing doubt about entering the field, can find strength from my story.

It’s next generation who will continue to forge a path that’s proud and loud, advancing diversity and a passion for science. It would also help if previous generations were able to leave their prejudices at home.

We need to celebrate our differences and stand up for a science with no barriers!

Happy 1st LGBTSTEM Day J

Lucky Cullen




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