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 –
MOVE OVER BOYS: Why we need more girls/women in STEM Careers | Hilary Lappin-Scott | TEDxSwansea
I hope that it is useful and I look forward to preparing further blogs to share other ways to support women in STEM.
hilary.lappin-scott July 28th, 2016
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