I was honoured to be contacted, about 4-5 years ago now, by a group of microbiologists.  They asked if they could prepare a Wikipedia page about me, specifically about my research and leadership roles across various microbiology societies. I hadn’t been involved with anyone generating Wikipedia content or editing before, and I was impressed by how thorough the checking of information sources and photos etc. was. 

 Earlier this year, I and several colleagues were looking at various web links for notable women from our University but also more broadly from the region.  Once again it was disappointing to see how very few women had their achievements covered within Wikipedia pages. I am blessed with the support of a lot of women and men who support such an agenda amongst our staff and students, so I asked for interest in volunteering to commence a campaign to change this, via holding a wikipedia edit-athon campaign.  I was heartened that many came forward to get this started, across the arts, humanities, social sciences as well as STEM subjects.  Several people had some experiences of smaller such campaigns in their own subject areas, bringing much needed experience.  All the volunteers had ideas of women across these diverse subject areas that they felt were worthy of such inclusion and that they could seek out the sources required to provide the evidence of these achievements. I was grateful that Dr Jenny Baker, a talented researcher within the College of Engineering, agreed to lead the project and she and I have had several productive meetings to progress this. 

 Fast forward to the summer and we were looking for a suitable platform to launch the wiki edit-thon campaign.  Swansea University was joining the International Day for Women in Engineering for the first time and thankfully La-Chun Lindsay agreed to be our keynote speaker.  As this attracted a good crowd we used this to launch the campaign, having set the date for the training session and editing for September 28th. I am thrilled to have support from two Wikimedians in Residence from both the National Library of Wales and the Wellcome Trust. These, and other notable supporters, will give training on how to find and develop content on some inspiring women from our region and how to edit Wikipedia pages too.You can find mor information at our university Wikipediaedit-athon page.

Jenny and I also decided to prepare a short podcast on why we felt we needed to set up a Wikipedia edit-athon campaign, I hope you like it and look forward to seeing the first results from our campaign!

August 7th, 2017

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This week, Swansea University is celebrating one of the happiest events in the calendar and indeed the highlight of the academic year– our degree congregations! Here we pride ourselves on doing this with a mixture of tradition and informality, for example, including poetry and song as part of each ceremony.  Graduation is a great opportunity for me and the University staff to acknowledge and celebrate success and wish our new graduates well on the next stage of their journey. I always enjoy speaking to new graduates to hear about their time with us and also keeping in touch with our alumni and the wonderful things they go on to achieve.

Participating in degree ceremonies, meeting new graduates and their families/friends and helping them enjoy the occasion is all a great part of the job to me. It’s a personal time too when one has taught and worked with students over many years. Without doubt most of the proudest moments of my working life have been watching my students cross the stage and be admitted to their degrees. The ones we get to know best are frequently our personal tutees, those undergraduate students who undertake research projects with us and our Masters and PhD students.  Each academic knows only too well all of the issues that many of our students have had to cope with with in order to succeed. I was thinking of one in particular today. Together, she and a sibling were supporting each other to ‘work their way’ through university to increase their skills and life chances. As her sibling had a young child, they shared the childcare, arranging their studies and paid employment around this all too.  She sometimes found exams very stressful and I recall more than once that she came to see me for some support just prior to an exam, and we talked together to work up some coping strategies. Fast forward 15+ years, she is now a highly respected scientist and her sibling a medic.  Others will know of many similar instances of how lives were changed through education and the experiences of university life.

I was reflecting too on the various roles that I played at many different ceremonies during my career, at the University of Exeter carrying the ‘wand’ for my subject area to reading out all of the postgraduate names, a tricky task that took me much of a week to prepare, to giving speeches and orations for honorary graduands at Swansea University. In 2015 I was thrilled to be the first woman ever at Swansea University to officiate at a degree ceremony whilst the Vice Chancellor was away.  This week too, I am officiating and once again admitting some graduands to their degrees. For me this is a great honour and I feel that it is very important to see women playing such roles!

So, it’s back to preparing my speeches for the next ceremonies. I hope that all our graduates will look back with great affection to their time with us, what we refer to in one poem as ‘these graduation day smiles’ and will keep in touch with us via the alumni association.

More information about Professor Lappin-Scott and her work can be found at the following links:

Linkedin,  Swansea TedXTalk,  STEM ‘Pioneer’ Award 2017,  WISE Award 2016,  Womenspire Award 2017, Soapbox Science,

 

July 25th, 2017

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I have been thinking a lot lately about ecosystems.  As a microbiology undergraduate at Warwick University I learned  that microorganisms largely do not exist as individual pure cultures in natural environments but rather as dynamic, complex, interacting communities, frequently benefiting from the presence of the others in the ecosystem.  These microbial ecosystems carry out many of the key processes of life on Earth, for example nutrient cycling, water purification, or within our bodies for example, our gut microbial ecosystems aiding food digestion and overall health.

I applied this to my own research, starting with my PhD.  At Warwick University an interdisciplinary research approach was emphasised right from the start – for my part using plant sciences, soil microbiology, biochemistry, physiology and biotechnology approaches to my research and I’ve broadened this further since then. A further benefit of ‘growing up’ as a researcher at Warwick was there was very much the attitude of ‘if you need something for your research then go and find a way to source it or raise the funds yourself’ and I have found these skills very useful.

I have been participating in the FEMS (Federation of European Microbiology Societies) meeting in Valencia in July and this meeting has brought together more than 2,500 from the international microbiology research community, forming an ecosystem, albeit of researchers. Research conferences play a key role in fostering the sharing of data, ideas and collaborations, so it was heartening to note that more than one third of attendees were early career scientists and from such a broad range of countries the researchers are working in. This diversity within the researcher ecosystem, from Australia, through South Korea and the Middle East; countries all over Europe to North America – is a highly unusual mix and this was reflected in the discussions, exchanges of ideas and exciting new collaborations that result.  I encourage early career researchers to break away from those researchers that they already know at the conference and strike up fresh discussions and make new acquaintances, as this can greatly benefit our research agendas and widen collaboration worldwide.

Such meetings remind us all of our own earlier career and what it felt like to be at your first few scientific meetings, happily FEMS seeks to support early career scientists to truly be part of the conference.  Undoubtedly too, attending conferences reminds us too of our love of our subject and for me the fascination of microbiology –  playing a key role in addressing many of the global challenges, for example the need for clean water, a safe food supply to feed a growing human population, microbes undertaking environmental biotechnology processes etc. The fascination certainly returned for me when some of the researchers reminded us of the shear scale of the microorganisms within our bodies, not solely in terms of numbers but that the combined microbial genome within our bodies is greatly in excess of our own human genome!

The FEMS biennial meeting in Valencia is my first since I was elected as the Vice President.  For me this means looking at the event through a different lens, one of considering how we can build on the good work of others, ensuring a ontinual healthy ecosystem of researchers, fostering a diversity of views and fresh ideas, to help us better use microbes towards resolving many of the global challenges and ensuring that we encourage the research ecosystem to keep working on the microbial ecosystems seems a great place to start.

More information about Professor Lappin-Scott and her work can be found at the following links:

Linkedin,  Swansea TedXTalk,  STEM ‘Pioneer’ Award 2017,  WISE Award 2016,  Womenspire Award 2017, Soapbox Science

July 12th, 2017

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I was thrilled to learn recently that the Welsh organisation Chwarae Teg had shortlisted me for the ‘Womenspire STEM Pioneer’ award for 2017, alongside two other women whom I greatly admire. (There’s more information about the Womenspire awards in the press notice below.) I learned that many of my colleagues from across Swansea University had nominated me and I am delighted to note the goodwill messages via social media too, when the University announced my shortlisting. I recognise that, as one gets later in their career, the opportunities to be recognised for various achievements in turn increase and I am very grateful to my colleagues, thank you all.
I have been pondering on such awards, on the purpose they serve and whether there should there be separate awards for women. Thinking back to both the Womenspire and the WISE 2016 award evenings it was an absolute delight to feel the sense of empowerment of the women in the room and see the very apparent ‘can do’ attitudes of all that attended. I note that there are many other such awards internationally too and I consider that they serve a highly valuable function. It is highly beneficial to raise the profile of women in STEM and in leadership, to increase the visibility of women’s contributions and create a culture of celebrating all of women’s talents and achievements. I have noticed, time and again, that the women in organisations feel that they have a voice, that they make significant and worthwhile contributions and that they are appreciated when there are such awards, in summary it does make a difference.
And now, with my STEM colleagues, we are preparing for Swansea’s Soapbox Science to give a platform/soapbox for women researchers across the STEM subjects to share their passion about their work with the public. In doing so many young girls are able to see that lots of women have very worthwhile work and that they too could have such careers – and maybe out there, there are the future women in STEM!
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Professor Hilary Lappin-Scott, Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor at Swansea University has been shortlisted for an Individual Award in the Chwarae Teg Womenspire Awards.

The Womanspire Awards celebrate the amazing achievements made by women across Wales. They include a wide range of categories to ensure that the winners will be reflective of the achievements being made by women from all walks of life.

Professor Lappin-Scott has been shortlisted in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Pioneer category. The nomination and shortlisting recognises her personal and professional work to develop opportunities for women in STEM. Hilary works tirelessly to inspire, support and encourage women in STEM at all levels locally, nationally and internationally.

Hilary, a Professor of Microbiology, has been a scientist for over 30 years and has supervised fifty PhD students to their successful completion and has published 200+ scientific papers. Her work is recognized as internationally excellent e.g. she received the prestigious Schlumberger Stichting Award .

Hilary is the Vice President of the Federation of European Microbiological Societies, steering the development of the discipline on a global scale. She plays numerous leadership (UK wide and international) roles within STEM, shaping the future direction of research, supporting the international networking of scientists and the exchange of scientific ideas for the benefit of the global scientific community.

At Swansea University Hilary leads, directs and supports the progress of STEM through her current role as Senior-Pro-Vice-Chancellor.

Recently Prof Lappin-Scott devised the “Utilising All Our Talent” initiative at Swansea University, which established a senior group of female staff, facilitating both networking and support. For International Women’s Day 2015 she created the “Inspiring Women” campaign, whereby women from all areas and careers stages are showcased and celebrated, with STEM women well represented throughout and devised the Mary Williams Award which recognises staff who supports others to achieve their full potential. Hilary co-authored the Welsh Government paper ‘Talented Women for a Successful Wales’and delivered a TEDXTalk, which discussed the barriers girls face and challenges they need to overcome when entering the STEM arena

In 2014 Hilary brought “Soapbox Science” a public outreach platform promoting female scientists, from London to Swansea to challenge the public’s perception of women as scientists too, and inspiring the next generation of female scientists. She also attracted the very successful British Science Festival to Wales which Swansea University not only hosted last year but also provided the impetus for the Swansea University Science Festival being held in September this year.

Hilary received the 2016 WISE Campaign “Hero” award in recognition of “her passion about change on a global level and without boundaries. The award citation said that Hilary was “ Busy, visible and creative and she brings together science and industry to improve lives.”

Speaking about Hilary’s Womanspire Award shortlisting Professor Richard B Davies Vice Chancellor, Swansea University said: “As a highly respected scientist and a Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor at Swansea University, Hilary has a demanding and hectic schedule. But her infectious enthusiasm for science never falters and it is hugely to her credit that she always manages to find the time to encourage and support other women to have successful careers in science. She also makes important strategic contributions, nationally and internationally, to addressing the under-representation and retention of women in STEM. This includes policy development, conference contributions, and membership of advisory and review panels.

“ I thank Chwarae Teg for giving Hilary the opportunity, through her shortlisting for their Womenspire Awards, to champion here in Wales the opportunities for women in STEM.”

Chwarae Teg received over 300 nominations across the 12 categories recognising the extraordinary achievements many individuals and organisations have made in leading equality in their industry such as business, arts, sports, STEM, rural and education.

Chief Executive, Cerys Furlong said, “Following the success of last year’s event we knew that there were more incredible individuals achieving and championing equality here in Wales. We’ve been overwhelmed with the stories and have seen some empowering and compelling nominations that we can’t wait to share with you on 21 June at the Wales Millennium Centre.”

More information about Professor Lappin-Scott and her work can be found at the following links:

Linkedin,  Swansea TedXTalk,  STEM ‘Pioneer’ Award 2017,  WISE Award 2016,  Womenspire Award 2017, Soapbox Science

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Chwarae Teg, Womenspire, STEM, diversity, women, STEM pioneer, Swansea University, Hilary Lappin-Scott, empowerment, Richard B Davies, inspiring women, soapbox science.

 

June 14th, 2017

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Like many of us I joined in events celebrating International Women’s Day this year. I have been considering what strategies work to bring about the changes needed, to raise awareness of the work and contributions of women in organisations, to make women feel a visible and valued part of work communities and to celebrate women’s achievements, helping to empower female staff. I am invited to speak at numerous events on these very topics so thoughts I would share some of the initiatives that these audiences really respond to, one of these being the #InspiringWomen initiative. This is based around one of the ways that we celebrate International Women’s Day at Swansea University, whilst helping to drive culture change – but it has a few twists to it too!
We wanted a way to showcase the range of successful women that are working, studying or supporting Swansea University now, or in the past. When we put out a call inviting staff across the university to nominate suitable candidates we were overwhelmed with both the scale and quality of the response. After scrutinising each nomination there was still a huge pool to draw from. So we decided that, instead of celebrating for just one day, we would run this campaign for the entire month of March and feature all of these #InspiringWomen.
Here’s the #InspiringWomen from 2017, all have wonderful stories of their contributions and achievements.

So instead of limiting this to one day of celebration on March 8th we run this campaign over four weeks. Each week a different set of women are featured, with a ‘click through’ to open up and learn more of their inspiring stories. We have used this format for three years now and it really has grabbed attention, getting very high volumes of ‘click throughs’ and people reading the stories. Other organisations have also really warmed to the idea, enjoying the celebratory nature of the campaign, the fact that it is highly effective and yet very low cost. The feedback I get is how thrilled the participants are to have their contributions recognised in this way.
I would be happy to hear of other ways to recognise and celebrate the contributions of women in the workforce, to help us prepare for IWD 2018.

More information about Professor Lappin-Scott and her work can be found at the following links:

Linkedin,  Swansea TedXTalk,  STEM ‘Pioneer’ Award 2017,  WISE Award 2016,  Womenspire Award 2017, Soapbox Science,   Swansea Uni PVC profile, Research Gate

March 15th, 2017

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Finding and celebrating your heroes: The Mary Williams award

I am really pleased by the widespread interest in Swansea University’s Mary Williams Equality and Diversity staff award so I thought I would expand on what the award is, why we set it up and the perceived benefits of the award. I encourage others to set up similar schemes to find and recognise their female heroes whilst simultaneously celebrating the achievements and contributions of their staff towards greater gender equity in the workplace.

First of all, we established the Mary Williams Group at Swansea University. This started really as a spin off from a small group of senior women from across the University that I invited to a celebration of Ada Lovelace day in October 2013. We all felt it beneficial to meet up and share experiences and so agreed that we would like this group to be sustained, to provide a supportive networking for senior women across the University. Note, this was not limited to women in the STEM subjects nor to academics. When searching for a name for the Group I recalled being told that Professor Mary Williams was the first woman appointed to an established Chair at Swansea University and similarly the first to hold such a Chair in the UK (in 1921). I know that there are other claims to be the ‘first female Professor at a UK university’ rather than the first to an established Chair – we celebrate her as a pioneer at Swansea University! So the Mary Williams Group was established and provides a networking group for women, with workshops, discussion groups and leadership in equality and diversity.

At Swansea University we are working hard to ensure greater equality and diversity in all that we do, to fully utilise all of our talent to be a successful university. We thought it would be fitting to recognise staff who go ‘above and beyond the day job’ to support increasing inclusivity and the development of others via a prize called the Mary Williams award and to award this annually. There is more about the award here http://www.swansea.ac.uk/personnel/equal-opportunities/marywilliamsaward/

A little more detail about the Mary Williams award – it is open to all staff, males and females, academics and professional services staff to find a worthy recipient each year. We established the terms of reference for the award, inviting staff to nominate colleagues for the award and why the person (or team) is worthy of such an award. A team of judges makes the final decision. It’s so heartening to see the wide range of staff put forward by their colleagues from every area of the University, for the award. The entire process is run by the Human Resources Equality and Diversity team, amongst their other duties. They notify the winner, but importantly they also notify and thank the nominators and everyone who was nominated to thank them for all their work and congratulate them on being nominated.

We commenced this in 2014 and so have had three winners so far. The award and recognition has made a huge difference to the university community and ensures that we celebrate our work on utilising all of our talent. The Vice Chancellor includes the presentation of the annual Mary Williams award to the awardee at the summer graduation ceremony, thus consolidating the Mary Williams award as a central part of university activities. I have spoken of this award and scheme at many external events and am heartened by the warmth towards this.

I encourage others to consider establishing similar awards to celebrate and recognise all of the talent at their universities and work places too, it was very easy to set it up, is low cost yet is a highly acclaimed, celebratory award, good luck! More about Mary Williams.

More information about Professor Lappin-Scott and her work can be found at the following links:

Linkedin,  Swansea TedXTalk,  STEM ‘Pioneer’ Award 2017,  WISE Award 2016,  Womenspire Award 2017, Soapbox Science,   Swansea Uni PVC profile, Research Gate

March 2nd, 2017

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It’s conference season in the academic world and lots of us are preparing our presentations or already away with our extended academic community. I’m currently in the beautiful city of Montreal at the International Society of Microbial Ecology, the #ISME16 meeting. It’s probably the most significant conference for me, covering virtually every area of my research interests. Also I’m ‘time served’ on ISME, having been elected onto the Executive from 2001 to 2012, including being Vice President, President (twice) and Board member and am now the UK Ambassador. If you don’t know this learned society – it’s big! The meetings are generally over 2000 delegates from 60-70 different countries, so it’s a massive exchange of the latest findings in this important field of Microbiology.

Being at the meeting, enjoying interactions with colleagues old and new over 5 days has me reflecting on past meetings of ISME. Early this week I ran, with two senior scientists, a packed session (500+ delegates at their first ISME meeting) for early career researchers to help them get the most from the conference and support them to get started in networking to enhance their research and opportunities. This very much reminded me of my first ISME meeting, ISME4 in Ljubljana in 1986, so exactly 30 years ago. I was there alone as a post- doc researcher badly in need of my next academic job. I took my first ever poster (I’d no idea how to make a poster so overdid the glue and it stuck on the poster board unaided!) and had to learn how to get the most from the conference by making a lot of mistakes first. For example, I tried to catch a bus from my hotel to the conference centre but inadvertently stood on the wrong side of the road, ended up on a bus that went slowly into the hills and stopped at a terminus a long way from the conference centre. The bus driver and I looked at each other, I couldn’t understand any Serbo-Croat but assumed that the bus would eventually go back into the city, which luckily it did!

In fact I had a job offer before I left Heathrow, bumping into someone who became highly influential in my career, Bill Costerton, when the flight was delayed. (I was working at Calgary University with him two months later.) I recall sitting in the opening ceremony in awe of all that was going on around me, little did I know that one day it would be me on the stage as ISME President, opening the ISME meetings in Cairns and then Seattle in 2008 and 2010. Yesterday, when speaking to the early career researchers I told them of this story of my first ISME meeting and that I was ‘keeping the stage warm for them’ as we need some of them to take over running the Society, to ensure our subject continues to flourish. I always enjoy these sessions with young researchers and work with them, visiting their posters and discussing their research.

On the final day of ISME16 I will present the Bill Costerton prize to the best young scientist’s poster, in memory of this fine scientist. And it reminds me too of how its important that senior scientists give time to support our next generation too.

More information about Professor Lappin-Scott and her work can be found at the following links:

Linkedin,  Swansea TedXTalk,  STEM ‘Pioneer’ Award 2017,  WISE Award 2016,  Womenspire Award 2017, Soapbox Science,  Swansea Uni PVC profile, Research Gate

 

August 25th, 2016

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Welcome to my first blog! I’ve been meaning to start a blog for some time and here it is. In my postings I’m planning to cover the types of things I do in my working and personal life on global issues around universities and higher education, the challenges and need for achieving greater diversity in all we do, about the STEM world in particular, musings from some of my travels, some of my experiences as a member of the team that runs a university and occasionally about all things microbiology and my research! So an eclectic mixture of topics which I hope will be of interest.

As a senior female scientist I am frequently asked to speak at events about ‘my story’ so I thought that I would cover a little of this, to give some context. I am from a widening participation background, born into a town of low aspirations and under achievement in the north east of England. The life expectations for the girls, at the time, was to leave school at 15 or 16 and to work to provide some money to supplement the family’s income, before marrying and having children. The girls in my school year had virtually no opportunities to study. For the boys, at the time, the ambition was to get an apprenticeship at one of the large ‘works’ in the area and follow their fathers and brothers into shift work, early marriage and children.

I followed the ‘leave school early’ and worked in several jobs before giving it all up and like others, spent time traveling in Europe and North Africa. This gave me time to think about what I wanted to do. I always liked travel and I was keen to have a job that might take me to different places in the world, so I thought ‘why not try science’ as this might support such choices? I needed to get more qualifications so enrolled in night classes whilst working full time to support myself. I got two A levels in nine months and was delighted when Warwick University offered me a place. Once in higher education I loved it. This enabled me to progress from BSc to PhD, through various post-doctoral Fellowships in the UK and internationally, prior to my first academic post at Exeter University.

The years slipped by and before I knew it I became the first ever (there were two of us promoted on the same day) female Professor appointed to the experimental STEM subjects at Exeter University, the first female Head of Biological Sciences and then Dean of the Postgraduate Faculty and eventually moved into the senior team at Swansea University.

Along the way I’ve played various leadership roles in universities, government, learned societies, nationally and internationally and lots of other external roles besides these. What I have noticed is that at every single career stage the numbers of women that I’ve worked with have got fewer and fewer, until it became a regular occurrence for me to be the only woman in the room. In the Biosciences fields there are lots of women studying for BSc and PhDs but they seemed to disappear and the majority of the senior level posts are held by men. I’ve looked around and not liked what has been happening with girls and women in STEM subjects.

Fast forward to 2016, I so often hear stories of impediments to girls and women’s career and life progression, in STEM subjects and more broadly too. It’s important to stress that this is not a UK phenomenon, I’m currently involved in projects in Australia and Canada too. So I was pleased to be invited to be a TED speaker at the recent TEDx event in Swansea. I decided that, rather than speaking on my research, that I would instead focus around the imagined scenario of girls growing up in 2016 and what their life opportunities might be within STEM careers and also covering what things work to raise the visibility of women and support them to progress. The TED talk is available here –

More information about Professor Lappin-Scott and her work can be found at the following links:

Linkedin,  Swansea TedXTalk,  STEM ‘Pioneer’ Award 2017,  WISE Award 2016,  Womenspire Award 2017, Soapbox Science, – Swansea Uni PVC profile, Research Gate

July 28th, 2016

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