24th Sep 2009: Retaining female talent

Retaining Female Talent
Thursday, 24th September at 4 pm in the Senior Common Room Bar in the Queen’s Building at Queen Mary, University of London

It is well known that women are under-represented in SET careers, and a contributing factor to this is that appropriately qualified women are not retained in the same proportions to similarly qualified men. Although biosciences has one of the highest proportions of female undergraduate students at around 60 percent, and in chemistry around half of undergraduates are female, at professor level the proportions of women are much lower, 13 percent for biosciences and 6 percent for chemistry.

In 2006, the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) undertook a survey of chemistry PhD students which revealed that although a greater proportion of women than men began their PhDs with the intention of remaining in research, by the end of the PhD this proportion had halved, while the proportion of men had stayed about the same.

Two years later, the RSC collaborated with the Biochemical Society and the UK Resource Centre for Women in SET (UKRC) on two projects to follow up the 2006 research findings to establish whether the findings for chemistry PhD students are reproduced in the molecular biosciences, and to further explore what happens during the chemistry PhD that deters women from pursuing a research career.

Sarah Dickinson and Sean McWhinnie from the RSC will present the findings from these studies as well their work on Good Practice in University Science Departments.

Sarah Dickinson is the Higher Education Good Practice Specialist at the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC). She graduated in 2003 with a degree in Social Science from the University of Brighton, where she developed an interest in women and education; the focus of her dissertation was meritocracy in the British education system. Sarah has worked for the RSC for over 5 years and as well as the work on the PhD experience, she has coordinated projects on the factors affecting A-level and undergraduate subject choice in physics and chemistry by ethnic group, as well as doing the research and co-authoring the RSC’s Planning for Success: Good Practice in University Science Departments report.

Sean McWhinnie has worked in science policy at the Royal Society of Chemistry for almost 12 years and prior to that held a post as a lecturer in the Chemistry Department at Brunel University for 7 and a half years. Sean has significant knowledge of UK academic chemistry from his time as a chemistry lecturer and subsequent work at the RSC.
Whilst at the RSC Sean has led a number of research projects on a range of subjects including the representation of ethnic groups in Chemistry and Physics, and the recruitment and retention of women in academic Chemistry. Sean lead the development of the RSC’s work in diversity, early on through working with Dame Julia Higgins, and more recently by building partnerships with organisations such as the Athena Project, and the Institute of Physics.

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