IMAGINE a scientist - someone in a white lab coat, goggles and plastic gloves paints the stereotypical picture, but who is wearing them?

If tradition holds true today, many people will envision a man.

According to WISE, which campaigns to get more women into male-dominated industries, women make up just 24 per cent of the UK's STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) workforce.

Much work is being done to readdress that imbalance, however, and some companies are exceptions to the trends.

Healthcare company Novo Nordisk reported in its 2018 gender pay report that women make up 64 per cent of its UK workforce.

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Two scientists at its Oxford research centre, based at Oxford University's Innovation Building in Headington, have shared their experiences to encourage more girls and women to consider a career in science.

Fang Zhang, senior director and head of discovery, technologies and genomics, said: "There are a number of very talented ladies making a lot of exciting contributions to science.

"It can be challenging for young women in the field, but if you stay there and believe in yourself, these things will become good experience for you.

"If you do something well, people can see that and you will gain confidence in yourself."

The mother-of-two said she has always had a 'strong passion' for the industry, particularly after seeing her dad experience illness when she was a child.

Dr Zhang, who was first in her family to go to university, said: "I felt pretty helpless, and felt something needed to be done in research so there were more options available for patients and families and doctors."

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She initially pursued a career in engineering, partly due to being good at maths, but gave it up after about two years.

The Oxford resident added: "I felt a deeper passion for healthcare, and made the decision to switch into what I had a passion about.

"I have never regretted making that life change.

"No career path is smooth, but if you feel you are following your heart, you can overcome it."

She joined Novo Nordisk Oxford Research Centre in August 2018, having already worked at its centre in Beijing and at other science centres in the USA.

Lena Kristina Hansson also works at the Oxford centre, as the principal scientist, and was instrumental in setting it up.

She said: "I think getting people engaged [in science] from a young age is important. I was very lucky as my mum was a chemist."

The researcher, whose background is in computer science, said having a more diverse workforce can only be a good thing in her role.

She explained: "When you are trying to solve the same thing, you are more likely to [succeed] if have people of different cultures and gender and years of experience, as you all bring a unique perspective."

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Asked why more women should consider a career in science, she added: "I'm one of the lucky few who loves their job.

"No matter what else happens in your life, you're going to spend a big portion of it in you job, so follow what makes you happy as it is such a big part of your life.

"For me, the research is very rewarding, and there are almost no two days the same - there's always something happening.

"That's the most important advice - if you do what makes you happy, the rest will follow."