Post-Doc in North America

As someone in their ‘more senior years’ as an academic, I get asked to tell ‘my story’ about how I got from being a girl growing up in Middlesbrough to a Professor of Microbiology and Senior Pro-Vice Chancellor.  This post covers how and why I moved to North America for a Post Doc and how this opened up opportunities for me and enabled me to get a faculty position at Exeter University three years later.

After my PhD at Warwick University I had a first post-Doctoral position at the Institute for Biotechnological Studies in London.  The funding was running out for that three year post and I needed to secure a job fast.  I had attended my first international conference near Copenhagen a few months earlier and had given my first talk at an international conference – but more about that experience in a later blog posting! I started to understand the benefits of networking at conferences in developing research and career opportunities so I submitted an abstract for the forthcoming ISME4 meeting in Ljubljana in August 1986.  As for my first international meeting I went alone and had to raise the funding to go myself.

The flight to the ISME 4 meeting was delayed for many hours so all passengers were ushered into a room to wait (yes this was a different era in flying!)  It was crowded so I had to share a table and sat next to a seemingly nice couple from North America.  I quickly learned they were Bill and Vivian Costerton, and were Canadians.  Bill was a leading figure in microbial ecology (whom I had never hear of before) how his research covered many, many diverse areas including petroleum microbiology and within 30 minutes he had offered me a post-doc working on microbes in petroleum reservoirs!

He took out a small card and drew out a schematic of the subsurface environment (I later learned that this is how he always worked in research discussions). He sketched out how this seemingly hostile environment was merely a combination of challenges for bacteria but some survived this high temperature, lack of oxygen, salty, high pressure, low nutrient combination, could grow within rocks (I found that concept utterly fascinating) and that some of their growth byproducts were a nuisance and spoiled the quality of the oil.  This meant that many international oil and gas companies were interested in bacteria and sometimes funding such work – and so I started working in petroleum microbiology, bacterial growth on surfaces (biofilms) and the much broader field of microbial ecology.

I really didn’t follow a lot of what Bill was saying but I needed my next research job so I listened and agreed to meet him once the conference was underway. Eventually the flight landed in Ljubljana in the early hours of the morning, then the bus taking us to our hotels broke down in the country lanes but as we were all going to the same conference I had chance to meet and get to know some of them.

The next day I set off to the conference centre but inadvertently stood on the wrong side of the road and, as I couldn’t understand the language, caught the wrong bus and ended up in the outskirts of the city with just me and the bus driver looking at each other.  He stopped there for a few minutes, then luckily for me, drove back into the city and I found the conference centre.

I attended the opening ceremony and watched the ISME President cross the stage and open the conference, little knowing that I would become the President of the Society and play that same role in Cairns 22 years later. I met Bill Costerton and he commenced the paperwork to formally offer me a post Doctoral research fellowship in his huge laboratory group at Calgary University.

I moved there a few months later and took on running part of his research group, broadening my skills and learning how to work with businesses too. Some aspects were very challenging, such as when you have to walk into a room full of engineers, geologists, chemists, mathematical modellers etc and put across our latest research ideas and progress to such an interdisciplinary audience. I learned that it’s about keeping calm when, for example, Darcys, turbulent flow, catholic protection, metal corrosion or oil souring were being discussed and read up on it fast later. We took some new concepts of how bacteria might aid oil recovery and scaled this up from small rock cores into large 3-D reservoir models, pulling in bacteria survival mechanisms and biofilm studies too. All of this helped me to prepare my first faculty applications and led to a job interview at Exeter University.  I was the only female shortlisted but was thrilled to be offered and then accept this in 1989, joining Exeter in 1990, ready for my next adventure!

 

 

December 11th, 2017

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Swansea hosted its 4th annual Soapbox Science event this summer. With this week featuring Ada Lovelace Day it is time to reflect on and celebrate our achievements as female researchers in these four years. Guest blogging for Disruptive Steminist Prof Hilary Lappin-Scott (Senior PVC at Swansea University) is the perfect platform!

 

We are Swansea academics Dr Geertje Van Keulen (Associate Professor in Biochemistry) and Professor Michelle Lee (Chair in Psychology) and we had never met before Hilary brought us together! Enthused and excited by Hilary’s Soapbox Science speaking debut in London in 2013, she immediately saw the benefits of expansion to Swansea and other cities.

 

The vision of Soapbox Science, the brainchild of Drs Nathalie Pettorelli and Seirian Sumner is brilliantly simple. Take science out to the public – literally on the street corner – and at the same time give women visibility as successful researchers across all science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) subjects. This novel format has been amazingly effective on both counts and this is our experience:

Q: Why did we get involved in Soapbox Science?

Geertje: When Hilary first suggested at the start of 2014 to become involved in organising Soapbox Science in Swansea I was not sure what to think as it was a difficult time in work for me. I knew I needed to be in a feel good community and Soapbox Science sounded amazing. I decided to take the plunge, throw myself in the deep end to explore horizons new. Looking back now it may have been the best decision I made, as Soapbox Science has been the most rewarding personal experience, giving me exactly those values and experiences I craved for in academia.

Michelle: At the time there was a loose collective of STEMM women around campus but we were lacking visibility. Soapbox Science Swansea (SBS) seemed to be the ideal opportunity to re-energise the group and provide a professional platform for STEMM women. I didn’t realise at the time just how successful we would in getting women involved with public engagement.

Q: What have we experienced so far with organising Soapbox Science?

Michelle: SBS is one of the most rewarding times of the year for me. The benefits of belong to a network are many but so often when women’s groups get together the focus is about the challenges of being a woman in the work place and how to balance caring and professional roles. This is of course an important topic and a valuable source of support and mentoring, but what I appreciate with SBS is the sharing of science and hearing about the fantastic work going on across the University. There is so much to know whether it’s the latest in solar cell research, invasive species, nanotechnology, microbiology or glaciology. On the day of the event I always get an attack of discipline envy and wonder what life would have been like if I’d been a chemist or an engineer!

Geertje: At first, it was a relief and great pleasure to work in a women-only team that worked well together, giving each other opportunities to develop and try out new roles and activities without demanding privilege and power in return. The team who got together and its new members are true collaborators, sharing the joy and jobs of running and organising an event. It is not only the organisation of the events that is joyful, the expanding networks and connections between women in STEMM across Swansea campuses, Wales and beyond has almost grown exponentially.

Michelle: I can’t deny that being an organiser takes effort but unlike some other roles that I have it is really good fun. Our all-women team work together really well and it is surprisingly easy to get things done when you don’t have to worry about male egos or hierarchies – we are from all levels from early career research to professor – none of that is important – only that we get things done on time. After four events it does feel like a well-oiled machine and we can roll up in the van, load up the soapboxes and hit the streets of Swansea with amazing science. On event day, it really is avengers assemble!

Q: Which achievements of Soapbox Science Swansea makes you proud?

Geertje: While the effect of organising such events has enabled women in STEMM to become more visible to the general public, it has also led to building up of confidence in speaking up, not only in public but also within disciplines, departments and higher education in general. The enthousiasm of sharing our female passion for STEMM with the general public has generated powerful voices:

SBS has been invited to radio shows such as the BBC Wales Science Café and has featured in politics and policy at national, devolved and EU level on gender equality.

Michelle: For me our proudest achievement is our diversity, we are not just women, but women of colour and of different faiths and nationalities. A highlight moment must be Professor Farah Bhatti, a Consultant Cardiac Surgeon, surrounded by an enormous crowd, demonstrating open-heart surgery (on pig hearts from the butcher’s I should add) in the middle of a busy shopping street! The public have given us an amazing reception especially considering many weren’t expecting to encounter women on soapboxes en route between Swansea Market and M&S.

Geertje: SBS has enabled networking of women across disciplines (e.g. regionally Cardiff and Swansea SBS now share a training session on speaking in public) and across career stages, from PhD student to national scientific advisors to the government (e.g. access to Chief Scientific Advisor for Wales Professor Julie Williams led to further opportunities for SBS speakers and organisers). It has resulted in interdisciplinary and international collaborations and visits: SBS has gone global!

We deliver events and networking effectively through team work in a safe and reliable environment, with clear roles, value and impact of our efforts for ourselves and others. Interestingly, these kinds of attributes were recently reported as five key traits of effective and successful Google teams.

 Michelle and Geertje: In summary, working with the many female scientists and engineers in Soapbox Science has truly strengthened our beliefs that women have a natural place at the forefront of STEMM, and should be more readily recognised for their amazing achievements.

Further notes

If you have become interested in going to a Soapbox Science event near you, please check our current locations in the UK, RoI, Europe, Australia and North America at the main website. If you like to become a Local Organiser for our 2018 events, please email soapboxscience@gmail.com.

If you have become interested in speaking at a Soapbox Science event near you, the next call for speakers will open around January time. Please follow the local and main twitter accounts for up-to-date info. For Swansea this is @soapboxsciSWAN or else email soapboxscienceswansea@gmail.com.

If you want to experience an event, why not sign up as volunteer by contacting a local event?!

Written by Dr Geertje van Keulen & Prof Michelle Lee

Swansea University

For October 10th 2017 Ada Lovelace Day 2017

See more about Soap Box Science in our video

 

October 10th, 2017

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Guest blog by Dr Jenny Baker, Research Office, School of Engineering, Swansea University

I had the fantastic opportunity to attend a Newton RSC Workshop  in India on Sustainable Energy in Rural India organised between Professor Neil Robertson and Dr. Sara Shinton (Edinburgh University, UK)  and Professor Satish Ogale (IISER Pune, India).  What attracted me to apply was the fact that this workshop was not just scientists and engineers (or physical scientists as we were labelled) but social scientists working on policy, cultural and societal problems.

The workshop was challenging, starting with a visit to rural villages in India before a formal programme of talks from experts who had worked in the area for many years.  On the final three days we split into self-selected teams and chose areas to work on that focussed on the energy needs of the people of rural India. I thought I had no preconceived ideas of how the workshop would be before I left the UK but as the week progressed I realised I was wrong.  I had thought that the social scientists would do their part and the physical scientists would do ours and the roles would be split accordingly.

However it soon became apparent that the teams had split along physical and social science boundaries and I realised I was far more comfortable working in a team comprised entirely of Indian male physical scientists than I was in a mixed sex group of British and Indian social scientists.  I tried to move into the social scientist group but was frustrated that I didn’t understand where they were trying to take the project and I could not see how I could contribute.  This was not a personal thing, the people in the team I respected professionally and enjoyed their company.

Eventually I moved back to my original team but realised we needed to attract some social scientists. Could they not understand that we had a really good project?  Why did they not want to join the team?  Was it because of personalities? From my point of view they did not see the project in the same way we (the physical scientists) could visualise the project.  With that in mind I tried describing the project to the social scientists in a different way.  The first two times didn’t work, however on the third time things appeared to change. I’m not saying everyone suddenly went ‘wow great project’ just that they finally recognised where we were coming from even if they still didn’t want to join the project!

I went into this workshop thinking it would enable me to design appropriate technology whilst factoring in cultural and societal factors.  But I found out it was much more than that, key lessons that I will take away from this week are:

  • Ensuring that technology meets the ‘real’ rather than perceived needs of the people you are trying to help is vital for success.
  • Local ownership of any solutions is needed from the very beginning of the project at the ‘need’ stage not just after installation.
  • Don’t equate illiteracy with lack of skills or old age with inability to learn. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the barefoot college program in rural India: https://www.ted.com/talks/bunker_roy
  • Consider your argument and examine how you can present it in as many different ways as possible. A ‘hook’ that gets one audience excited may leave a different audience cold.
  • If the ideas from people from other disciplines don’t immediately grab you take some more time to understand their point of view, this not only helps you understand others but can be used to improve your communication to different audiences.

September 28th, 2017

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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

Tags
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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