University celebrates women in STEM

Last week the University held Sulis Minerva Day which played host to some of the most remarkable female minds in science, engineering, technology and maths.

The day, held as part of the 50th Anniversary celebrations, consisted of keynote lectures and panel discussions aimed at not only celebrating women in these fields but also highlighting the need for more women to enter STEM.

Sulis Minerva Day began with an introductory talk from University Vice-Chancellor Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell. The Vice-Chancellor took the opportunity to mention a number of female scientists and engineers who she felt did not receive the plaudits they deserve. She concluded that society not only needs to focus on giving women more opportunity in STEM but also needs to recognise women’s impact in their chosen fields.

Next, the Chief Executive of the Energy Institute and winner of the 2006 Global Women in Energy Award, Louise Kingham OBE FEI, delivered a keynote lecture titled ‘Rising to our global challenges’. During the talk, which focused on future energy demands and the transition to a global low carbon economy, Kingham asserted that seeking solutions without women is like having one hand tied behind your back. She also highlighted the excellent work of a number of female orientated organisations within the energy industry including POWERful WOMEN, which “showcases women in the energy sector”, Solar Sister, which “eradicates energy poverty by empowering women with economic opportunity”, and the Women Barefoot Solar Engineers, who supply their communities with clean, low-cost household lighting from solar energy.

The first of three keynote lectures was followed by a series of breakout sessions led by academics from across the University. They were based on a variety of topics from food security to astrophysics.

A second keynote lecture from the Director of the Institute of Healthy Ageing Professor Dame Linda Partridge DBE FMedSci followed the breakout sessions. It focused on ageing healthily and outlined how women often outlive men as well as how ever increasing life expectancy has unmasked a myriad of problems for human health. How to make eating less and exercising more a societal norm was also a challenge that Dame Linda discussed.

The final keynote lecture, Do I look like a Physicist?, came from Professor Dame Athene Donald DBE FRS. Before she started the lecture the professor was awarded an honorary degree in recognition of her distinguished academic career and commitment to promoting women in STEM. During the lecture Dame Athene spoke about her recent work and how she considered science to be inherently creative.

The day’s academic discussion concluded with the Pioneers and Pathways: Shaping the future in STEM panel discussion chaired by Professor Carole Mundell of the University’s Department of Physics. It featured Dawn Bonfield MBE (Director, Towards Vision), Simon Cooper (Managing Director, Global Technology Head of Engineering and Architecture & EMEA CIO, J.P. Morgan), Dr Patrick Goymer (Chief Editor, Nature Ecology & Evolution), Dr Emily Grossman (Science broadcaster, writer & educator) and Professor Melanie Welham (Chief Executive, BBSRC). The discussion hit upon a wide range of topics but the overall focus was on the theme of the day: how to inspire women into STEM.

In attendance was the management information system assistant director Kiran Oza. Of the event he said “From the Vice-Chancellor’s welcome and introduction, keynote lectures from inspiring leaders, lively panel discussion and insightful and challenging questions from the audience, I’m left with my head reeling from a myriad of thoughts and ideas on the challenges – and what can I do to play my (small) part in effecting the change.”