Becoming the Best: Women in Science

Women have made great strides towards achieving equality in science, but there’s a still a long way to go – according to a leading scientist from The University of Manchester.

Dr Hema Radhakrishnan, one of the nation’s top sight researchers, today launched a programme of events at The University to encourage women to advance in their field.

Called ‘Becoming the Best’, women from across science spoke to an audience of female academics and students on International Women’s Day.

The event was organised by Dr Radhakrishnan, Deputy Associate Dean for Social Responsibility and Professor Amanda Bamford, Associate Dean for Social Responsibility – both at the Faculty of Life Sciences.

The move builds on the prestigious Athena Swan Silver Award given in October 2015, which recognised the Faculty’s commitment to tackling gender inequality in higher education.

The Equality Challenge Unit gave the award to just 87 departments in the whole of the UK.

The Athena SWAN charter was established in 2005 to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science.

Dr Radhakrishnan said:

 “Even though we are a long way forward from even 10 years ago, women are still more likely to progress in their careers at a rate that is slower than their male counterparts.

“Men and women do things differently and offer different perspectives; it doesn’t make sense to lose the talents of half the population.

“Women often drop out of science in the period between getting their PhD and finding an academic position and it’s family life which can act as a barrier.

“Sometimes, though it’s simply a question of women not putting themselves forwards for promotion.

“So to break that barrier, we have implemented flexible working, coaching and mentoring schemes – as well as establishing a Women in Life Sciences Group.

“And this programme is part of that ethos.”

Professor Bamford added:

” We strive to develop a culture of fairness, opportunity, flexibility, and respect and want to be a beacon in gender equality.

“So there is no pausing in our efforts, especially as we are now working towards our Athena Swan Gold award”

The event included a keynote speech from Professor Teresa Anderson MBE, Director of the Jodrell Bank Discover Centre

Other speakers at the event included:

Lopa Patel MBE – digital entrepreneur and founder of inclusion think tank ‘Diversity UK’.

Dr. Heather Williams – Director of ‘ScienceGrrl’, which celebrates and supports women in science.

Dr. Narmeen Varawalla – Executive ice-president and chief scientific officer of Lambda Therapeutic Research.

Dr Santos Bhanot – Chair of Asian Circle, a charity which supports vulnerable and disadvantaged women in India.

Professor Susan Kimber – Co-director of NEWSCC.

Angela Saini – Science journalist, author and broadcaster.

Professor Amrita Ahluwalia – Deputy director, The William Harvey Research Institute.

Professor Aline Miller – Professor of biomolecular engineering, The University of Manchester


National Trust work experience launches

In partnership with the National Trust the Faculty of Life Sciences have launched a new work experience program giving undergraduate students an opportunity to get hands-on experience working with one of the UK’s largest conservation charities. The monthly events, organised by Amanda Bamford and Adam Hugill, led by Ashley Deane, a Manchester Biology Graduate and National Trust Ranger, each focus on a different area of conservation giving students a wide range of experiences.



Shortly before Christmas, 14 Life Sciences students headed down to the National Trust site at Styal Mill for the first of these events focussing on fish passes and submerged camera technology. The students spent the morning learning about the importance of fish passes and got their hands dirty practising how to carry out the regular maintenance of the passes and how this affects its use by fish. After a chance to explore the site further the students braved the Manchester weather and carried out river surveys measuring river flow and their profiles working closely with Ashley, fellow ranger Claire Disley and Manchester PhD student Cecilia Medupin.


The day was a great success with all involved looking forward to the resumption after the Christmas break:

Ashley Deane, National Trust Ranger:

“Having graduated from the same university with many of the same units I studied still available to study today I have put together the whole programme designed to offer opportunity for undergraduates to gain practical experience which will help them in extremely competitive jobs hunt. All the students seemed to thoroughly enjoy the day- in all a great day was had all round.’’

Charlie Hewitt, 2nd Year Biology Student:

“Ashley was great and her enthusiasm for her job made the event. It seems that she gets a lot out of what she does and has made me consider a similar role to hers for my own future.”

Amanda Bamford, Associate Dean for Social Responsibility:

”I am really delighted that we have been able to develop this exciting collaboration between our Faculty and the National Trust. This is a unique opportunity for our students to learn and work alongside National Trust rangers out in field, helping with the protection and care of habitats and wildlife and importantly gaining valuable work experience.”

Adam Hugill

If you are interested in one of the future events please contact


Dr David Kirby discusses science advisers in film and TV

Faculty researcher Dr David Kirby was recently featured in an article and podcast for Nature Jobs, focusing on the role of The front cover of Dr Kirby's bookscience advisers in film and television. In his book, Lab Coats in Hollywood, science communication and film studies expert Dr Kirby looked at what draws scientists to the world of film. He interviewed 25 scientists to investigate how film producers used scientists on films such as Hulk, Finding Nemo, and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

According to Dr Kirby, in an age where stereotypes are closely scrutinised, producers and writers are often most interested in knowing what scientists are really like. The questions the scientists are asked, and the time the advisers are needed for, varies depending on the film or TV series.

After many years immersed in the world of Hollywood media, Dr Kirby feels he has learnt a great deal. For any scientist wishing to follow his footsteps, he suggests they need to really understand the world of entertainment to work well with filmmakers and television producers. He says:

“Scientists underestimate how much science is communicated through films and television shows. Science is not just defined as what you find in a textbook. Science includes images of scientists themselves, the scientific process, scientific institutions, and science’s place in society. My research shows that when scientists become involved as consultants for the entertainment industry they are able to positively influence representations for all of these aspects in addition to making scientific facts more accurate.”

To find out more about Dr Kirby’s research, and the role of the science advisers in general, read the Nature article and listen to the podcast.

‘Meet the Sloths’ with Faculty alumni Becky Cliffe

slothsSwansea University PhD student Becky Cliffe, who graduated from our Faculty in 2011, will be discussing her experiences of working at Costa Rica’s Sloth Sanctuary on the Animal Planet TV channel at 8 pm on Thursday, November 14th. ‘Meet the Sloths’ is an eight part documentary series which will feature dramatic sloth rescues, emotional releases, and all of the daily dramas associated with providing a home to over 100 orphaned and injured sloths.

The series will also feature a lighthearted look at the groundbreaking research undertaken in Costa Rica. Becky and her colleagues will be doing exclusive interviews and Q&A sessions in the coming weeks, so keep a look out for updates.

A Faculty Graduate Discusses his New Career in the Bahamas Based Sharklab

CJ Crooks graduated with a Zoology with Industrial Placement BSc in hammerhead2012. He spent his placement year in the Bahamas, working at the Bimini Biological Station Foundation ‘Sharklab.’ The Sharklab is a non-profit organisation offering internships and placements to people interested in shark research and ocean ecosystem conservation. They’ve published scientific papers, appeared in TV shows, films, and documentaries, and they possess the largest genetic database of a single shark species in the world.

After graduating, CJ returned to the Bahamas as the Media Manager of the Bimini Biological Field Station. He relishes the variety in the role, which sees him heavily involved in bringing in income and exposure via production companies and social media. He is the primary contact for every production they host and is leading their website reconstruction and the improvement of their Facebook andTwitter accounts. He also releases details of their fascinating research to media outlets.

sharkupcloseMost important to CJ is the fact that his role makes scientific research accessible to the public. He currently organises a non-technical Naturalist Course focusing on shark biology and ecology which is open to anyone over 18. He also runs Research Experiences for people who are unable to commit long-term or are too young to volunteer. Of course, the most exciting element of the role is his involvement in research: whether tagging a free swimming great hammerhead or catching a 12 foot tiger shark, no two days are the same.

CJ also gets to indulge his strongest passion while working in the Bahamas. As a keen photographer, CJ documents the research via still and motion pictures which he sells on a freelance basis to the public, the media, and production companies. The images that accompany this article are his and there are many more to be seen on his website. CJ had this to say:

“I’m living the dream right now. I learn and see new things every day and live on an idyllic Caribbean island. None of this would’ve been possible without the Faculty; the opportunities provided were second-to-none and shaped my prospects as a graduate. I highly recommend the placement year; it helped me to realise my passions and dreams.”

Sam Pearson tells us of his career in science communication after graduation

attenboroughSam Pearson graduated with a Zoology degree in 2009 and has already had the privilege of interviewing Sir David Attenborough. We talked to him recently about life after graduation and he told us all about his career in the media and gave some useful advice to current graduates.

What was the best thing about studying at The University of Manchester and more specifically your course?

One of the best things was probably the city, it is uniquely diverse, and probably the best city in the UK to be a student. Living in the ‘student village’ of Fallowfield and being only a short commute from the University and the city centre on one of the best bus services I’ve come across was fantastic! Public transport will never be as easy (or as cheap) again! With regards to Zoology, undoubtedly the best things were the field courses. Getting the opportunity to study in Ecuador, on a Scottish island and even getting out and about in Manchester were all brilliant. The culture, practical knowledge and ability to work in a team have proved very useful professionally, as well as being great experiences.

What career path were you interested in pursuing when you were a student?

Wildlife film making (or pretty much anything relating to wildlife communication!)

“Getting the opportunity to study in Ecuador, on a Scottish island and even getting out and about in Manchester were all brilliant. The culture, practical knowledge and ability to work in a team have proved very useful professionally, as well as being great experiences.”

How did you get into working in TV?

Getting into TV takes a lot of hard work and perseverance. Some of my friends and colleagues chose to do Masters courses in media-focused subjects, which are great for learning the practical skills and industry knowledge, but I’d had enough of formal learning and chose to dive in head-first! This meant starting from the bottom, securing internships and work-experience whilst working in menial runner and production assistant positions in order to get the necessary industry experience. After a year of struggling and on the brink of deciding it wasn’t for me, I managed to secure a job at ITV Studios working in the Factual department. This proved to be the turning point and has subsequently led to a variety of roles in several businesses, both in production and online.

I imagine the highlight of your career was interviewing David Attenborough – can you tell us a bit about it?

In my current position at UKTV I work as the Multiplatform Producer across all the factual channels, one of which is the natural history and science channel, Eden. I produce online support for our programmes, including David Attenborough’s Natural Curiosities, where Sir David addresses some of the curios that first inspired him to pursue a career highlighting nature’s wonders. One of the supporting pieces for this series is an online interview using questions collected from Eden’s fans across Facebook and Twitter, this provided a great excuse for me to go and meet him! Watching him work is an absolute inspiration. Not only is he a font of knowledge, he works incredibly hard for long hours, retaining focus throughout the shoot. Before each scene he will take a quiet moment by himself to piece together what he’ll say, and then deliver his piece to camera with incredible precision, usually in only one take. It is an incredibly humbling experience meeting one of your personal heroes, never mind one of the most famous and admired people in the world! To say I was a bit nervous when the time came to ask him the questions would be an understatement!

Based on your own personal experiences, what advice would you give to recent graduates?

First and foremost your CV is most employers’ first impression; make sure that yours is great by seeking advice from careers advisors or those in the profession. Work experience is a very useful way to bridge the gap between academic and professional experience, make relevant contacts, it’s also a great way to find out whether you’re suited! However, make sure that you aren’t exploited as free or cheap labour — there needs to be a plan for you while you are there; shadow the right people, gain the right experience and don’t end up just filing their paperwork.