Today I attended the very enjoyable WinSET conference at the University of Nottingham, which celebrates women working in science, technology, engineering mathematics and medicine. WinSET is a group that was set up at the university in 2005 to take forward the principles of the Athena Swan charter, encouraging gender equality for all and aiming to inspire, enable, support, develop, encourage and celebrate women working in these traditionally ‘male’ sectors.
Sexism within science has been a major talking point recently, with Nobel prize winner Tim Hunt causing massive controversy with his comments regarding the ‘problem with girls’ in the lab. Although reactions to Sir Hunt’s specific words have been mixed, the scientific community have jumped on this as a way of highlighting sexism that many scientists experience every day, and the gender divide which still exists across several areas of science and technology.
The WinSET conference addressed this somewhat, with keynote speaker, Dr Heather Williams (pictured), Senior Medical Physicist at Central Manchester University Hospital and Director of ScienceGrrl, giving a truly inspirational talk on the portrayal and treatment of women in science. Heather focused on the problem of getting girls into science in the first place, and then keeping them there, as it is well-recorded that the career ladder through science and academia sees fewer and fewer women present as you climb it. It was a very engaging and energising presentation, leaving many of us feeling inspired to go out and be role models for women working in science. Heather was no way encouraging discrimination against men, but instead wanted to explore why girls don’t have the confidence or drive to continue with science, when they often outperform their male colleagues academically.
The conference overall focused on a theme of ‘elevating voices’, and discussions focused around how women and men alike can be heard and recognised in their career and through the media and social media. It was interesting to hear how research can be taken from the lab into the wider public domain, and we heard the terrific story of Dr Christina Lee, who you’ve no doubt read about, as her Viking remedy for MRSA has been splashed across many newspapers and websites this year. It was fascinating to hear how research makes it into the news articles we browse through every day, and what the scientists in question experience as this is happening. Here at Nottingham, we have a media relations team who are able to help researchers with this entire process, so if you have research you’re keen to get into the public eye, I recommend you speak to your institution to see if they offer anything similar.
We finished up the day with a round table discussion on social media, and talked about how we can get our own profile raised through various platforms. It was interesting to hear how many researchers and their groups use such as Twitter and Facebook to get their work recognised all over the world, and science is really reaching more people than ever before through social media.
All in all, it was a fascinating and enjoyable conference, stimulating much discussion and encouraging us all to think about the portrayal of women in science and the media, and indeed how to put ourselves out there for the world to see.
Do you have any thoughts or experiences on similar activities taking place where you are? I’d love to hear your comments.