Celebrating Women in Science and British Science Week

Posted on 09 March 2017

To celebrate International Women's Day and British Science Week, six leading women in science share their thoughts on choosing a career in science, challenges for women in STEM and advice for the next generation.

Professor Danaë Stanton Fraser

Professor Danaë Stanton Fraser is a Professor in Psychology at the University of Bath and directs the CREATE Laboratory. Professor Stanton Fraser's area of expertise is human-computer interaction with a focus on the design and evaluation of mobile, virtual and pervasive technologies.

What inspired you to pursue a career in science/engineering?

Following my Psychology degree, I had three part-time jobs: teaching English as a foreign language, working as a researcher on a virtual reality project and working at a radio station to fund my aim to pursue a career presenting in the media. However, on the same day as being offered a job reading the news on a local radio station, my supervisor said he had been successful on a grant he had named me on and I could do a PhD part-time. I finished the PhD in two and a half years and have not looked back!

What advice would you give to the next generation of women?

Things that I have done that I feel have stood me in good stead are: Volunteering to lead, taking on informal mentors and mentoring others. Also I'm constantly challenging myself so I'm on a continual learning curve.

Dr Almut Veraart

Dr Almut Veraart is a Reader in Statistics at the Department of Mathematics at Imperial College London. Prior to 2011 she was a postdoc and later, assistant professor at CREATES at Aarhus University in Denmark. With a DPhil in Statistics from the University of Oxford Dr Verhaart also holds a 'Diplom' (MSci) in Mathematics and a 'Diplom' (MSci) in Mathematics and Economics from the University of Ulm, Germany, and an MSc in Applied Statistics from the University of Oxford.

What inspired you to pursue a career in science/engineering?

Already, when I was a teenager at high school, my interests were very broad (ranging from Latin and Ancient Greek to the Natural Sciences). Since I was particularly fascinated by Mathematics, I decided to study mathematics at university, which turned out to be an excellent choice!

What advice would you give to the next generation of women?

The career opportunities in Mathematics and Statistics (and the new discipline of Data Science) are excellent these days both inside and outside academia. Hence I would strongly advise those pupils (both women and men!) who enjoy mathematics, to consider studying for a degree in mathematics (or a related field).

Professor Anna Peacock

Professor Anna Peacock is a Professor of Photonics within the Optoelectronics Research Centre, University of Southampton, where she leads the Nonlinear Semiconductor Photonics Research Group. The focus of her research is on the design, development and characterization of novel semiconductor material waveguides for applications in areas such as optical communications and sensing. She is a fellow of the Optical Society (FOSA) and the Institute of Physics (FInstP), and currently holds an EPSRC research fellowship.

What do you think is the most significant barrier to females in science?

There are several barriers facing female scientists at different stages of their careers. For example, gender stereotypes can make it difficult to encourage young girls to engage with science, whilst a lack of female mentors and limited flexibility in working conditions result in many women giving up on their careers at a later stage.

What is the biggest challenge for women?

We need to continue to challenge stereotypes, show that women can be just as successful in science. We also need to work to ensure that the next generation of women scientists get the help and support they need to reach the top level positions, without having to sacrifice too many personal choices.

Professor Rachel Williams

Professor Rachel Williams is a Professor of Ophthalmic Bioengineering in the Department of Eye and Vision Science, Interim Institute Research Lead and Deputy Head of the Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease at the University of Liverpool. Professor Williams completed an honours degree in Engineering Science from the University of Exeter and was awarded a scholarship for an MSc in Biomedical Engineering at the University of California at Davis. On returning to the UK for a PhD at The University of Liverpool she has followed an academic career at this university. Professor Williams works closely with clinical ophthalmology colleagues on several cross-disciplinary projects. Currently an EPSRC Engineering for Growth fellow working on 'Building advanced materials to treat vision loss. In 2014 Professor Williams was recognised as an EPSRC RISE leader in partnership with the Royal Academy of Engineering.

What inspired you to pursue a career in science/engineering?

I always enjoyed science at school and my parents were medics so there were always discussions around science and medicine at home. I was better at physics and maths and this led me to want to use my interests to address problems in medicine. I have found this to be a hugely rewarding career and the cross-disciplinary aspects means I am always learning new things.

What advice would you give to the next generation of women?

Find out what interests you and find out how to make it happen. I have found that it is sometimes necessary to reach outside your 'comfort zone' but by doing so the rewards are well worth it. So aim high and don't be surprised when you achieve your goals.

Dr Candice Majewski

Dr Candice Majewski of Sheffield is a senior lecturer in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Sheffield, specialising in research and teaching in Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing).

What inspired you to pursue a career in science/engineering?

I've always enjoyed the logic behind Maths and Physics, and Engineering was a way of combining the best bits of both subjects. My decision to go on and specialise in 3D Printing was simply that it absolutely captivated me the very first time I saw it!

What advice would you give to the next generation of women?

Take time to find out what you're really passionate about, and then find a way to make a career out of it. The most successful people I know do what they do because they love it, and that shines through in every aspect of their work.

Prof Sarah Spurgeon

Prof Sarah Spurgeon, Head of Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at University College London. Professor Spurgeon received B.Sc. and DPhil degrees from the University of York in 1985 and 1988, respectively. Her research interests are in the area of systems modelling and analysis, robust control and estimation in which areas she has published over 300 research papers. She was awarded the Honeywell International Medal for 'distinguished contribution as a control and measurement technologist to developing the theory of control' in 2010 and an IEEE Millennium Medal in 2000.

What do you think is the most significant barrier to females in science?

The most significant barrier to females in science in the UK relates to misleading but persistent perceptions of the characteristics of a scientist and what people involved in scientific careers do. These perceptions are all too frequently informed by narrow stereotypes which do not reinforce the creative and enabling nature of science and do not encompass the true diversity of potential role holders. As well as impacting on the choices females make around their own scientific careers, these perceptions may also impact on the decisions of others due to unconscious bias.

What challenges do the next generation face?

Scientific skills and understanding underpin the challenges and opportunities of twenty-first century society. These challenges are varied and require diverse skills and teams to develop solutions. We need to constantly challenge the perceptions.

British Science Week

British Science Week is a ten-day celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths - featuring fascinating, entertaining and engaging events and activities across the UK for people of all ages. It provides a platform to stimulate and support teachers, STEM professionals, science communicators and the general public to produce and participate in STEM events