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Trans staff: Rachel’s story

Dr Rachel Jean Pawling tells her story as a member of the academic staff in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, University College London.


I am a 34 year old postdoctoral research associate in the UCL Department of Mechanical Engineering. I first came to UCL as an undergraduate in 1997, graduating in 2001 and continuing my studies in a part-time PhD. I gained my PhD in 2007 and have continued my research in the department.

My area of research is computer aided ship design, and I have been quite active in this subject, being lead or co-author on approximately 25 papers, including reprints in trade journals and regular presentations to the main national and international conferences on this subject. This means that, professionally, my being transgender will never be a secret.

I have been aware of the schism between my physical or assigned sex and my gender identification since I was in primary school. My first thoughts of transition came in my early teens when I learned that such a thing was possible. I came close to transitioning in my early twenties, after graduation, but lost my confidence. After a decade of increasing discomfort, in mid-2012 I resolved to transition – although this decision making process did not happen overnight, and rather there was a change over some unspecified period from ‘no’ to ‘yes’. Much of the material I was exposed to in my formative years concentrated on the negative side of the process – difficulties in finding understanding doctors and psychiatrists, the strain of having to live a highly restricted life to satisfy their demands, potential delays etc.

This all convinced me that I wanted to come out to my friends – for the second time – and to explore my gender identity with them before approaching medical professionals for further help. This started in early October 2012, when I first presented as female at a private dinner with a friend. In early November I began to spend weekends as a woman, both in private and with friends. Through mid-November I was telling more of my friends that I intended to transition, at that point only part-time, but intended to move forward as fast as possible.

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The materials published on this page were originally created by the Equality Challenge Unit.