What a March that was, and what a year

Féaron Cassidy – outgoing Co-Chair of WISE@QMUL

March was a busy month for WISE@QMUL, which was fantastically fitting considering March is Women’s History Month and the 8th of March is International Women’s Day. On top of holding our biggest ever event: WISE International Women’s Day Celebration, we also got short-listed for a national prize and were featured in a fantastic initiative run by QMUL’s School of Medicine and Dentistry.

I was blown away by what a big deal International Women’s Day was this year, every year it gets bigger and bigger and I hope that that’s because more and more people are getting on board with the idea that feminism still has a large role to play in 2017, be that seeking equal pay in the UK or fighting for rights in countries where women are still second-class citizens. As a community whose purpose is to support women in STEMM, we decided to embark on a project to bring together groups from nationwide who do just the same thing. Why not create a forum of communication for Athena Swan, National WISE Campaign, smaller wise groups and individuals who promote WISE through acting as role models or getting involved in outreach. It was a huge task that involved sourcing funding from three different internal bodies; The Annual Fund, The Doctoral College Initiative Fund and The Life Sciences Initiative. We were so grateful to have been successful in all of those applications and having that funding is what made the day possible.

venueThe stunning venue for our WISE International Women’s Day Celebration – The Barts Pathology Museum

From beginning to end, the event was interactive. The speakers encouraged discussion and became aware of each other’s initiatives. After a morning hearing about policy from representatives of the National WISE Campaign and Athena Swan, as well as internal speakers on QMUL’s initiatives and funding to support flexible working, we had a panel discussion with members from diverse areas of STEMM and from lecturer to associate professor. These four women, Dr. Sara Goodacre, Dr. Eugenie Hunsicker, Dr. Michelle Collins and Dr. Natalie Cooper were fantastic. They spoke openly about their career progression and how that had entwined in often unexpected ways with their personal life. The beauty of a panel discussion is in the elaboration of a staple, instead of “don’t be shy” we heard about how sending an email to a professor you would like to work with can be fruitful, instead of “networking is a must-do” we heard stories of friendships that developed from meeting at conferences and turned into collaborations and support, instead of “role models are important” we heard about how no matter what rung you are on on the ladder, there is always someone above you and always someone below you – it is important to look both ways. Michelle and Natalie spoke about rejection and why not to give up, inspiring a question from one of the morning’s speakers – Eleanor Groves – on whether resilience is a key quality to being an academic. Certainly it was agreed by all that you need to be able to bounce back from rejection, in fact Natalie went as far as to say that amongst her friends and colleagues they say that “Rejection is the rule”, acceptance is the exception! She said she thinks that we should publicise our rejections as well as our successes to create greater transparency. Whether they like to Netflix and Chill in their down time or are juggling children between experiments, all of these scientists agree that there is no conventional route to success, they all went their own way, and so can you!

panelOur panellists, from left to right: Dr. Sara Goodacre (The Spider Lab, University of Nottingham), Dr. Eugenie Hunsicker (Mathematical Sciences, Loughborough University), Amy Danson (panel chair), Dr. Michelle Collins (Galactic Archaeologist, University of Surrey) and Dr. Natalie Cooper (Natural History Museum, London)

After lunch, Brenna Hassett brought us on a whirlwind field work adventure stopping off to describe the most interesting female archaeologists throughout history. Brenna and her colleagues have been putting together a gallery and record of these women in a project called Trowel Blazers, which you should check out if you want to know why Indiana Jones should have been a woman!! –  http://trowelblazers.com/

Following in her footprints (which I’m sure will be discovered by future archaeologists), were inspiring representatives from LSE and KCL. This session showed how much is being done nationally and also how much more there is to do. Fantastic systems for reporting bullying and harassment have been put in place in a number of Universities, including LSE, but trying to make something like this a national programme would be a huge endeavour and likely to be something each institute would tailor to the needs of their student population. Additionally, we discussed how within our WISE remit, we need to ensure support for women of colour and for those who are transgender. KCL’s WiSTEM are a model to work towards when it comes to intersectionality and definitely an inspiration to us and others. WISE@QMUL have the benefit of being based at QMUL, a fantastically ethnically diverse university. Because of this we are lucky to have members from different countries, backgrounds and religions, something that enriches our group. However, we are enthusiastic for students and staff at QMUL to be aware that we are a support network that works toward gender equality in STEM and supporting the transgender community is an important part of this. We encourage individuals of all genders to sign up to WISE@QMUL, including men.

WISTEMatKCLWiSTEM at KCL had WISE words about how we can improve on intersectionality

Our talks concluded with our keynote speaker, Professor Clare Elwell from UCL. The title of her talk was from “PhD to Professor Part-time”, which in a nutshell is what she did! To anyone who shies away from a passion in academia because they don’t believe they can get the flexible hours necessary to care for family members or to have children, just look to Clare as your role model! As a physicist, she has developed imaging techniques that have taken her around the world from India to Gambia studying everything from sports injuries to autism to malnutrition. Clare found out she was pregnant the same day she was awarded an MRC fellowship grant, she prioritised work-life balance because she wasn’t willing to sacrifice either and became the first female professor in her department. Her words of wisdom: “Don’t try to do the impossible, do what you can manage”. WISE words.

ElwellProfessor Clare Elwell gave the keynote talk which was inspiring both because of her research and because of the way she has achieved so much whilst still maintaining flexible working.

It’s funny how all the buses come at once, but for the month that was in it, it was great timing. Just as we were in the thick of organising the final details of our IWD celebration, we decided to submit our LetSTEMGrow video series to the Bristol Science Film Festival. This series of six videos was inspired by a conversation over a committee dinner where I discovered that all of us scientists had a story from our youth of how the world around us fascinated us and drew us to ask questions. As adults, we now work to answer very similar questions to the ones inspired by our childhood wonder. Along with two trustworthy crew members and funding from the QMUL Centre for Public Engagement, we captured these stories, which can be found on our website here – https://wiseqml.wordpress.com/resources/videos/. We submitted an extended cut of these to the Bristol Science Film Festival and were shortlisted for the Best National Film Category. Maudrian Burton (committee member and video star) and I attended. We didn’t take home the prize but it was a fantastic evening and certainly we were honoured to be shortlisted against such talent.

FearonAndMaudrian

Maudrian Burton (right) and I attended the Bristol Science Film Festival award ceremony on the 19th March after our film series was short-listed for Best National Film.

The cherry on top of this month-long celebration of women has been being part of a beautiful project created by the School of Medicine Athena Swan committee. A gallery of women in the School has been put together as a celebration of International Women’s Day. This is an easy and open way to showcase role models and something that could easily be taken on by the other schools in QMUL next year, and something I hope we will do again at SMD. Find the gallery here –  http://www.smd.qmul.ac.uk/about/athenaswan/profiles/index.html.

It’s been a fantastic month, and the final one for me as Co-chair of WISE@QMUL. Being involved with WISE@QMUL has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have had at QMUL (where I am now in final year of my PhD). Thank you so much to all of the committee members, past and present who have helped WISE@QMUL go from strength to strength, especially to my Co-chair Kathrin Preuss and to Amy Danson, the incoming chair!

Get involved with WISE@QMUL by signing up to our mailing list at –https://wiseqml.wordpress.com/sign-up/

You can also follow us on Twitter @WISEQMUL

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