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

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Famous Women Life Scientists

Women have shaped the history of life sciences. To celebrate UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we take a look at some of the famous and influential women life scientists from throughout history.

rachel-carson

Rachel Carson: An American marine biologist, her iconic 1962 book ‘Silent Spring’ brought attention to the dangers of synthetic pesticides accumulating in the natural ecosystem, and kick-started the global environmental movement.

 

jane_goodall_gmJane Goodall: Perhaps the most famous primatologist ever, this British OBE spent many years of her life in Tanzania studying man’s close relatives, and is considered the world’s number one expert on chimpanzees

 

marie_curie_c1920Rosalind Franklin: It is often assumed that Watson and Crick were responsible for discovering the molecular structure of DNA, but in actual fact, much of their work was based on earlier research done by this English X-ray crystallographer, who successfully identified the double helix nature of DNA molecules.

 

nobel_prize_2009-press_conference_physiology_or_medicine-11Elizabeth Blackburn: This Australian-American Nobel Prize winner made incredible advances in our knowledge of the telomere – the structure that protects the ends of chromosomes, and co-discovered telomerase, the enzyme that replenishes telomeres.

 

barbara_mcclintock_281902-199229Barbara McClintock – This American geneticist made incredible advances in the field of genetics by studying maize crops, uncovering various processes such as genetic recombination, transposition, and gene regulation.

 

dorothy_hodgkin_nobelDorothy Hodgkin – An American biochemist, she developed the technique of protein crystallography, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, being only the third woman in history to have received this (the previous two being Marie Curie, and her daughter Irène).

 

mary_anning_paintingMary Anning – An English fossil collector; despite having no formal education in science, she discovered a huge variety of Jurassic fossils along the coast of Lyme Regis, including never-before-identified species such as ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs, and became one of the foremost figures in palaeontology at the time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday Feature Episode 33: Natalie Gardiner

Episode 33 of the Tuesday Feature highlights Natalie: someone who is doing fantastic research and making a real difference for gender equality here in FLS.


 

Please explain your research to the general public in about ten sentences or less.

I work on diabetic neuropathy a disorder that can affect the nervous system in diabetes. It is associated with a die-back of the nerve endings that supply skin, muscles and internal organs. This can lead to a whole host of symptoms – from unpleasant gastrointestinal and bladder problems to increased skin sensitivity and pain, often even the pressure of clothes or bed sheets can cause discomfort.  A loss of sensation can coincide with the die-back of the nerves, and this increases the chance of tissue damage and ulceration – which sadly often necessitates amputation of toes, feet or lower limbs.  In my lab we are characterising key changes that occur in gene, protein and metabolite levels in the peripheral nervous system in diabetes. We are interested in finding out what causes the nerve problems and are looking for ways to promote regeneration of damaged nerves and protect nerve function.

A Minute lecture on diabetic neuropathy by Olly Freeman, see recent paper in Diabetes

How does this research benefit the general public?

The World Health Organisation estimated that almost 1 in 10 adults worldwide have diabetes, and the incidence of diabetes is ever-increasing. Approximately half of all patients with diabetes will develop some form of diabetic neuropathy, from mild to more chronic. This can have a huge impact on health, happiness and quality of life. There is currently no treatment. Basic research is therefore needed to better understand diabetic neuropathy and ultimately develop an effective treatment that prevents or limits the progression of the disorder.

What are your other roles here in the Faculty?

I am currently the coordinator for the Women in Life Sciences (WiLS) group here in the faculty and also a member of the Equality and Diversity Leadership team and ATHENA SWAN self-assessment team. I first started going to the WiLS meetings when they were organised by Kathryn Else.  At this time, I had just returned to work after my first maternity leave and started my RCUK fellowship, so I had a lot to learn – how to manage a lab, how to get lab work done in time for nursery pick-up time, and how to cope with very little sleep! I found the WiLS meeting really helpful – learning new management skills and strategies, making new contacts and friends and forging new research collaborations.  Since taking over as coordinator I have organised several bespoke training programmes and workshops based on demand identified through suggestions and surveys (such as a 6-month Coaching and Leadership Program) and talks from internal/external speakers (such as Prof. Dame Athene Donald). I would particularly like to get more students and postdocs involved. Last year I worked with a number of very talented and enthusiastic undergraduates to arrange talks and create a great WiLS photoproject around the time of International Women’s Day. I am always looking for more ideas for workshop/meeting/International Women’s Day events– so if anyone has any suggestions please do email me.

How important is it for Women to be represented in life sciences?

Very! Life sciences does have a better gender balance than some other STEM areas, if you look at the profile of FLS from our ATHENA SWAN Silver renewal application you will see that women are generally well-represented (61% of our undergraduates, 50% of postgraduates and 51% of research staff are female). The proportions do decrease in academic positions and with seniority (32% of all academic staff in FLS are female; 17% of the professors are female),  but there are signs that this gap is narrowing (for example, an increase in the proportion of female senior lecturers/readers over the last 5 year from 18% to 37%) hopefully this will continue.

Do you have any science heroes? who inspired you to do science?

Not sure I particularly have a hero – I was always interested in life sciences and was strongly encouraged by my teachers to study Biology at University. I caught the research bug during my final year project and decided to do a PhD.  I greatly enjoyed the Royal Institutional Christmas lectures given by Nancy Rothwell, and this helped convince me to pursue a career in neuroscience.  After some time doing postdoc positions in London, I moved to Manchester and Nancy became my mentor during my RCUK fellowship!  I try to mention the work of Rita Levi-Montalcini in undergraduate lectures – a key woman in neuroscience! During World War II, her academic career was halted by Mussolini’s ‘Manifesto of Race’ so she responded by setting up a research lab in a bedroom in her parents’ house to study nerve development. She moved to a lab in the US in 1946 and six years later isolated Nerve Growth Factor – a factor which promotes nerve development, survival and regeneration. She shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for her role in this discovery.

How has working in Manchester helped you?

Manchester has a great research environment and people are willing to collaborate, so I have got to do work that I would not have been able to do elsewhere. The support facilities, and most importantly the people who run these facilities, are fantastic – a great source of advice.

Finally, what do you do outside of work?

I have two young sons which means that home life is loud and busy.  We try and burn off energy at the weekends going walking, kicking/throwing/hitting balls around and recently by digging – as we have just taken on the challenge of an overgrown allotment.


 

 

 

International Women’s Day events (Guest blog by Natalie Gardiner)

It was International Women’s Day yesterday, and we hope you all saw our inspiring quotes for females across the Faculty. nataliegardinerToday, Dr Natalie Gardiner, our Women in Life Sciences lead, tells us a little bit about the people who put this project together. We also hear from a few more women working in the Faculty.

I worked initially with Moyin Kwok and Sarah Ingham to develop events for International Women’s Day, aimed at engaging with FLS undergraduates. So we were pleased to be joined by a team of enthusiastic undergraduates, Lara Clauss, Christina Mott, and Khatsha Ali  who all took leading roles in the projects and events.  I’d like to thank them all; Nick Pettican who designed the posters and of course everyone who gave up their time to join in these events, particularly Nancy Rothwell, Sheena Cruickshank, Kathryn Else, the Worm Wagoners, Helen Ryder, and Manchester Debating Union.  I hope we can continue to run annual events.

The University of Manchester should be really proud of its cultural diversity and of course, its achievements in Life Sciences – do I need any more reason to participate in such an exciting project?

Moyin Kwok | International Recruitment and Marketing Manager

I am a firm believer that institutions have both a social responsibility and a key part to play in reducing gender inequality, boosting the representation of women in academia and working to remove obstacles to their participation in public life. I see the events we are organising for International Women’s Day as being a small part of that overall process which the University of Manchester is striving to attain and am proud to play my part.

Sarah Ingham, Faculty Development Manager

I’m really keen for undergraduates to recognise the role of Women in Science, so that in future we may be better represented

Laura Clauss

The idea behind the Women In Science photo series was to challenge the perception of what most people instantly think of when they hear the word ‘scientist’. It was more than just highlighting that there are increasing numbers of women in the STEM workforce. It was about capturing the ‘individual’ within the white lab coat

Christina Mott, who worked with Shi Yu (Arthur), Cecil Barnett-Neefs, and Chen Xin En (Felicia) to create the portfolio of photos taken with some of our Faculty’s life scientists

I think its important for women in science to inspire and celebrate each other, the events organised in honour of international women’s week promotes this at a wider scale

Khatsha Ali

Faculty events for International Women’s Day

IWD LOGOThe Faculty will be running a short series of events for staff and students in the lead-up to International Women’s Day on March 8.

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell will kick the series off with her talk ‘A Life in Science’, which will be followed by a Q&A session. It promises to be an intriguing account, covering Prof Dame Rothwell’s research in the field of neuroscience, her contributions to the understandings of brain damage after stroke and head injury, and her path to becoming the first woman to lead The University of Manchester. The talk will take place on Tuesday March 3 in Stopford Lecture Theatre 1. Doors will open at 12.50 and the talk will start promptly at 1. You can pre-submit any questions by completing this survey and please book online if you wish to attend.

On Thursday March 5, there will be a panel discussion on ‘Women in Science’. This will take IWD posterplace in the Roscoe Building between 5 and 6.30pm. The panel, including female members of the Faculty, will discuss the under-representation of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and possible ways to resolve the issue.

The series will close with two events on Friday March 6. Dr Sheena Cruickshank asks the question ‘Are we too clean?’ in her 1 o’clock talk in Stopford Lecture Theatre 1. With improvements in hygiene and the availability of treatments increasing life expectancy for many, the talk will look at how this may make us more vulnerable to other diseases. Sheena will then join Dr Joanne Pennock and Professor Kathryn Else, who will be presenting the Worm Wagon initiative in the Stopford foyer from 12-3pm. The Worm Wagon raises awareness of global worm infection through interactive games, traditional Indian art, and informative displays. The team won the 2013 Manchester International Women’s Day award for Women in STEM.

The series offers a fantastic opportunity for staff and students to learn more about the work of women in life sciences. We hope to see you there.

International Women’s Day 2014: inspiring academics

With International Women’s Day just around the corner, we are highlighting a few of the Faculty’s inspirational female academics.iwd The women below are experienced communicators who can each speak passionately about their areas of expertise. We hope they can inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

Egyptologist Dr Joyce Tyldesley is currently researching the theory of the curse of Tutankhamen and the impact the Egyptian king had on various aspects of modern life. She is also writing a book on Nefertiti and how the bust of the Egyptian queen is still influencing modern perceptions of beauty. Joyce’s previous books and articles on ancient Egypt include three television tie-ins, and Cleopatra, Last Queen of Egypt, which was a Radio Four ‘Book of the Week.’ Her most recent book, Tutankhamen’s Curse: The Developing History of an Egyptian King, was published in February 2012 and won the Felicia A Holton Book Award from the Archaeological Institute of America.

Dr Sheena Cruickshank is a passionate science communicator who created ‘The Worm Wagon’ alongside two colleagues. The Worm Wagon is a mobile workshop that illustrates the effects of the parasitic worm infections which affect approximately 2 billion people across the globe. A key 2020 goal for the World Health Organisation is to provide deworming medication to 75 percent of school-age children, improving their school attendance and raising levels of education. Sheena is also a former winner of the Manchester International Women’s Day award for Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and has been awarded the Society of Biology Science Communication Award.

Professor Eriko Takano is the final female academic we focused on. She is researching the use of synthetic biology for the large-scale, genome-based reengineering of antibiotic production. Her research aims to combat antibiotic resistant bacteria, which is an emerging public health threat worldwide. Furthermore, she aims to apply the synthetic biology tools developed in her research group to design and produce not only antibiotics, but a wide range of bioactive molecules, including anti-cancer agents.