Freshers’ Fears

Freshers are pouring in to their new universities, finding their way around strange cities, unfamiliar halls of residence, learning the vocabulary of their new alma mater, drinking endless amounts of coffee/tea/beer/wine/shots as they attempt to work out who will be their new best mates and who their rivals. Challenging, scary and exhilarating times. It is a very long time since I was in that position but, cycling early one morning to the railway station recently in mellow, misty sunshine I was taken back to those heady days. Taken back because, for once, being so earlyTrinity Street was almost empty of cars and pedestrians alike. It was easier to remember my younger self, her hopes and fears of Freshers’ Week, when not dodging tourists walking backwards in the street to take selfies or white van drivers trying to beat the 10am curfew on traffic in town.

The feeling I most strongly associate with that former bike ride along Trinity Street was the sense that out there were all those brilliant people – by which I suppose I meant ‘dons’ although I doubt I articulated who I was talking about and maybe it was my fellow students I had in mind – and the people who were going to be my soul mates for life. I didn’t know how I was going to find them but, compared with feeling like an oddball at school, I felt sure that suddenly I would fit in. Needless to say this was a vain hope. The cross-section of students I encountered probably weren’t that different from those at my girls’ grammar school, even if their A level grades were on average a notch or two higher. Of course, all those Nobel Prize winners I imagined walking along the Cambridge streets may have been there. How would I have known – they don’t wear labels identifying them as such?

Then there are the fears, to go along with the hopes. The fear I remember most clearly, or perhaps I mean the social gaffe I most wished to avoid, was the weighty question of whether one was allowed to wear trousers for formal hall (this was a long time ago when dress codes were better defined). In retrospect this seems such a stupid question. But, just like the social anxiety induced by attending a formal dinner and being uncertain about the mass of cutlery and glasses in front of one’s place, this question felt deeply serious. I did not want to behave inappropriately or stand out from the masses because of my ineptitude. The reality was I never got an answer from anyone but in practice no one – at Girton in my day at least – cared a jot. Nightwear under a gown might have been frowned upon but, beyond that, I think people really were indifferent to attire on a typical night.

A third issue I remember, which stood out because I was excited about it, was my room. My own room to personalise as I wished. With little sense of the aesthetics of internal décor and less money, there wasn’t a great deal I could do, but I hawked around the Cambridge market finding plates and mugs, and I also acquired fabric remnants to cover surfaces, notably the ubiquitous trunk of those days. The trunk was an important object in many a student’s room: one could pay to have it brought up by road when the family – like mine – had no car and it felt impossible to lug all that seemed necessary to survive a term on the train. The trunk served as table, sofa – plus the place to stash everything over the Vacation when the College required the room to be emptied. Finally, the pièce de resistance was the poster collection. This was the heady days of peak Athena posters, but I acquired something more remarkable during the year, a copy of an Audrey Beardsley drawing inked personally by a friend over the Christmas vacation. I still own this, rolled up (I believe) in that very same trunk which sits uncared for in my attic.

Like just about every other Fresher I went up to Cambridge full of optimism and fear. The social optimism I soon decided was overegged – though I made good friends I didn’t sit up discussing God, Physics or Tolkien all night as I had fondly imagined – and the Physics, particularly the practicals, left me in a perpetual fog. Perhaps in those first few weeks the worst disappointment was failing my audition for the CUMS (Cambridge University Music Society) choir, which left my musical aspirations devastated. Of course Cambridge music is second to none and I was spoilt for choice amongst college choirs: with no mixed colleges (one year too soon) every men’s college wanted to entice women along to sing. I could choose amongst what was being performed and migrate from one college to another each term. That first term I had good fun singing the Monteverdi Vespers in Christs. But it wasn’t what I’d set my heart on and I felt the failure at least as acutely as I felt the fog of the States of Matter lectures in Physics, or trying to get my head round stereographic projections in triclinic crystals, as demanded by my ‘Crystalline State’ lectures.

As is obvious, I survived. But for me the first year was infinitely the toughest of my three years as an undergraduate. Now I am at the other end of the spectrum. As I welcome freshers to Churchill College over the next 10 days or so (graduate students are already arriving, the undergraduates very soon), my job is to ally their fears (or, more strictly, to support those who do the real work on that front). My matriculation dinner speech needs writing – I try not simply to recycle previous years’ speeches as it bores the Fellowship – and needs to combine exhortations to work hard along with encouragement not to feel a failure when the first thing goes wrong. Impostor syndrome will make a brief appearance as will a mention of the support systems the College proudly offers. We are very cognizant of the stresses university imposes on our students and the consequent rise in mental health problems identified across the sector, so we fund a part-time counsellor to assist students in college and to complement the University Counselling Service, as well as have a committed team of tutors and Directors of Studies – not to mention the less official pastoral care of porters and other staff –  who typically can spot struggling students early on.

The first few weeks are critical in building confidence, friendship groups and good habits, such as attending lectures! Every year the new intake arrives with fear and trepidation. Every year our graduating students leave with stellar results and, one hopes, more confidence, good habits – and friends for life. These are the friendships we will be celebrating this weekend as Alumni return from all round the world to see how the College has transformed and how grey/bald their friends have become after all these years.

Posted in Education | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Parliamentary Debacle?

This past week I have learned some things about our Parliamentary democracy I have never previously known I needed to know. I also got decidedly cross. It started with a tweet, a tweet from the Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee proudly proclaiming its new membership: all male.

STC all male line up

Not good enough said Twitter in response as it erupted in fury, myself included. Some thought to contact the Chair, Norman Lamb. In fact he didn’t have the authority to do anything, as he made clear in the letter he wrote to the party whips, where he also made absolutely clear that he felt this was unacceptable. Myself, I wrote to Jo Johnson as Science Minister who responded that he felt this meant the committee lacked basic legitimacy, with which I could agree. But he couldn’t do anything either. If you want to read more about the initial mess, I wrote in both the Guardian and the THE, emphasising different aspects. I won’t repeat the arguments I’ve already given there. I want to write about what I’ve learned since, helped by completely coincidental conversations with two relevant and involved (female) MPs.

It is the case that the committee was correctly selected according to the rules. I think this makes it clear just how inappropriate these rules are for today. They are only a few years old, but this farce makes clear how distortions can occur through nobody’s ‘fault’. What is interesting is the complete lack of oversight of the process. It is just like conference platforms with all male panels, or a list of invited speakers where the gender balance is way off kilter. In both these more academic situations the imbalance can be easily rectified if someone – the conference chair or perhaps the organisation committee – just takes the time to step back and look at the representational balance. And then do something about it. But, in Parliament, who might be in a position to do that?

It isn’t Norman Lamb and it isn’t Jo Johnson. Or, more generically, it isn’t the Committee Chair or the Minister. Furthermore this isn’t a problem only about the S+T Select Committee: the Welsh one is also all male. (I don’t know if a similar uproar was occasioned there.) This problem is about an unsustainable process. Just think if you ended up with a committee made up entirely of MPs from London, or with degrees in PPE; the only kind of balance required by the process is in terms of party.

As it happens I bumped into Chi Onwurah (Shadow Minister for Industrial Strategy) this week at the leaving bash* for Mark Walport on Thursday as he transitions from GCSA to CEO of UKRI (apologies for all those abbreviations: from Government Chief Scientific Advisor to Chief Executive Officer of United Kingdom Research and Innovation, the new super Research Council). Chi had apparently spent most of Wednesday rushing around the House trying to discover who was responsible. She was told that ultimately it was the Leader of the House, Andrea Leadsom, although this fact doesn’t seem to have got out into the wider world. I am not aware Leadsom has said anything on the subject so far, because I believe she should – if it is indeed her responsibility – be requiring an investigation into the process and coming up with new guidelines.

However in the wake of the original tweet, it was pointed out that the all-male nature of the committee could be rapidly remedied as there were three outstanding vacancies. I have not been able to establish why the eight names were announced before the full slate was complete. However, it is clear that in the wake of Lamb’s letter to the whips the Conservatives sprang into action seeking further names for their two remaining slots; Labour has one slot still to fill (I have not heard that anything has happened on that front so far). Within Conservative ranks, it seems that all the process consists of is for people to put forward their names; there is an election if too many stand. I have no idea if, for the original eight, there was an election or if eight was the sum total of people (all right, men) prepared to stand. But two more names came forward from the Tory benches on Wednesday evening: Vicky Ford and ANO and duly elected on Thursday (I’m sorry, I can’t find out the second name is, who although I’m sure I saw the name on Twitter at some point; he was male).

I met Vicky Ford on Friday night, again totally coincidentally (this time at the dinner celebrating the enormous amount my VC, Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, always known as ‘Borys’, has done for the university as he steps down). Her credentials are impeccable for the S+T committee: a degree from Cambridge consisting of a Part I in maths and a Part II in economics, followed up by working in finance and then as an MEP. leading the European Parliament Internal Market and Consumer Affairs Committee before becoming an MP at the last election. She is clearly delighted to be joining the committee and was wanting to hear from all of us about the key issues science faces. She was talking to the President of the Royal Society (Venki Ramakrishnan) about mobility and the issues for postdocs when I joined them. I am sure she will be an excellent addition to the committee, but I would not personally want to be joining it under these circumstances. As I wrote earlier in the week, it seems to me – lacking basic legitimacy, as Jo Johnson put it – the committee should be torn up and new nominations sought.

There is an additional wrinkle in all this. What are the credentials to join this committee? Absolutely none (other than to be elected). I do not believe a degree in a science subject should necessarily be a pre-requisite. Indeed it is deeply troubling that Graham Stringer, with a bonafide Chemistry degree, is the one who is a climate-change-denier, working as a Trustee for Nigel Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation. However, again I would like to see some attempt at balance so that there was credibility in its determinations. As it stands, without any scrutiny of its composition, that may end up not being the case. Some readers may remember David Tredinnick was a member of this committee from 2013-15; yet he is a believer in the curative power of homeopathy (beyond a placebo effect presumably) and that astrology has a role to play in medicine, according to his Wikipedia page. Those views are not a good recommendation for someone to sit on this committee, but if someone with those sorts of views wants to stand and no one else opposes them, they get elected.

Now I know more about these processes, I do not feel optimistic about their decision-making ability, however hard they work. I do not feel that balance on any front is ever necessarily going to be attained under the current process and there seems no oversight and a general lack of clarity as to whose responsibility these problems might be. What a strange thing our democracy is.

* I am requested, by someone in the room, to report on how the person introducing Mark offended a significant number of women present, something he realised he had done as soon as he’d opened his mouth. He welcomed us as Lords, Knights, Ladies and Gentlemen, thereby omitting the Ladies (as in Baronesses) and Dames. Nancy Rothwell, Mary Archer and I jointly accosted him afterwards and he was certainly apologetic. I can’t spill the beans as to who it was, because I never found out: he didn’t introduce himself which was surely another error of judgement amongst the motley gathered crowd of scientists, civil servants, and ‘leaders from industry’ and NGOs – as well as MPs.

Posted in Science Funding, Women in Science | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Marital High Jinks and Academia

I am quite sure I have never previously had occasion to write the name Wayne Rooney in any situation, but he does seem relevant to the topic of gendered sentences. Hadley Freeman wrote a withering piece last week about how this footballer’s conjugal incontinence is described – and his wife Colleen’s presumed state of mind in the face of it – versus the language used regarding a footballer’s wife (Louise Redknapp) who has walked away from her husband Jamie.  As Freeman puts it, the media want to spin this story as

‘Coleen is humiliated, Jamie carries on. Louise is having a midlife crisis, Wayne is just being Wayne’.

One doesn’t have to care one iota about who is behaving well or badly to spot the difference in the way the media choose to describe marital hiccoughs as acted out by the male and female partners, in these footballer’s marriages and much more generally. Always women need to be fitted into some box where they can only be seen in relation to their partner (yes, I know, I’m sticking with heterosexuals here for simplicity); or, as Freeman put it ‘men do, women feel’.

The context may be different. Few academics are judged on their marital high jinks when it comes to progression these days, but presuming the academic world is male by default and actions are defined within a male framework is still all but ubiquitous.  If we are to see equality finally be achieved, all of us need to clear out these stale frameworks for thinking about individuals’ abilities and start afresh. Let me give you some examples of ‘male by default’ thinking I have observed in recent years in different situations. Every reader is likely to be able to come up with their own variants without expending too much time or effort.

  1. Until recently, members of Cambridge University committees were listed as Professors/Drs A, B, C…but where there was a woman a discreet (f) was added after her name to ram home the fact that the establishment had sought long and hard before finding a rare female to stick on the committee; a woman who was so unusual she had to be labelled as such. I had a quiet word with the then head of HR, who responded with exactly the phrase I use above ‘oh you mean we’re assuming male-by-default  by doing this’, and the habit was (to the best of my knowledge) amended to (m) and (f) appropriately. No doubt, now we should amend that binary split again, but that’s a different fight for a different person to take on.
  2. Letters of reference have formed the basis of a recent blogpost of mine, so I won’t repeat that story at length, but letters are so disappointingly often full of ‘men do, women feel’ type phrases. Or, if women dare to do, they are tarred with negative connotations: feisty or in-your-face. Here is a sentence I came across just recently in a reference ‘This was a bit brash, but I couldn’t help but be captivated by her ambitions and confidence’. Could I imagine that being written about a man? Would he admit to being ‘captivated’ by a man, brash or not? It would be hard, I think, to imagine it could have been written about another male. Another writer about the same person came up with ‘She is not afraid to ruffle feathers…’ Doesn’t that just smack of as a gentle woman she has no business ruffling feathers, that isn’t what women should do? When do I read about men in the same terms? The nearest equivalent would be said with some approbation, as in ‘a hot-blooded and dynamic scientist with an incredible amount of energy’. The phrase perhaps amounts to the same thing but with a positive spin (it of course describes a man in the same competition).
  3.  But it doesn’t have to be in formal letters of reference that we see this polarisation of phraseology. It occurs around the committee table too, or rather describing how people perform there. If Professor John Smith gets cross, he is all too often allowed to go red in the face, interrupt others or simply never, never stop talking. He may even thump the table in his irritation. Professor Joanna Smith will usually be afforded far less slack: any sign of irritation and she is ‘feisty’ or ‘not a shrinking violet’. And any sign of tearing up and, oh dear she’s emotional. Unforgiveable! That men can shout and women can’t show their own stereotypical form of emotion without it being held against them is one of the dualities I find particularly galling and damaging. The very word ‘emotional’ always implies a negative response, as in ‘Athene, I can hear you’re getting emotional’ as a way to shut down an argument that my interlocutor was losing, said to me only a few years ago. Despite failing to respond swiftly to that challenge (‘Bloggs, I can hear you’re getting angry’ should have been my reply, but I thought of it far too late) he did not, I’m pleased to say, win the argument.
  4. Finally, it seems that too often men are given the benefit of the doubt and judged on potential rather than hard outcomes, in order to succeed. If we are moving into a world of ‘responsible metrics’ is there any way we can ensure a more uniform way of scoring actual outcomes versus potential when it comes to appointments to fellowships or lectureships? To give a specific example I observed for an engineering field where a man and a woman, both with patents to their name, were being compared.  The woman was scrutinised to see if her patents had translated into commercial cash or at least a spin-out company; for a moment it looked like the man was simply going to be credited with the patents without any further inspection. On that occasion a man around the table spoke up to point out this inconsistency and the rest of the committee shuffled their feet and looked embarrassed that they hadn’t spotted this too. (I should point out, on this occasion I was a silent observer in the room, not an active participant.)

That final sketch illustrates what is needed. People – whatever their gender – have to be alert to the different parsing of men and women’s abilities and the use of different language to describe a woman with exactly the same strengths admired in a man but derided because it isn’t expected in a woman. If everyone around a table were more awake to what can happen – innocently but far from innocuously – then we might move faster towards a truly level playing field. But, we are so steeped in a culture operating within that framework which amounts to ‘men do, women feel’ that for each and every one of us it is difficult to escape its clutches, to spot what is going on and to progress to genuine objectivity.

Posted in Equality, Science Culture | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The Summer is Over

I have recently returned (so yes, I feel the summer is over) from a few days holiday in places far less flat than Cambridge which provided enough time to sink into the unusual bliss of uninterrupted reading. So, rather than do an end-of-year summary of books as seems common, let me share my late summer trio of ‘good reads’. Each very different, each providing food for thought of contrasting kinds.

I will start with Henrietta Heald’s biography of William Armstrong, The Magician of the North. I am ashamed to say how little I knew about this key Victorian engineer from Newcastle before I started. Or indeed about hydraulics, in which he was so influential. I did of course know his name through the companies (such as Armstrong-Siddeley) with which his name was associated, but I had no appreciation of the breadth of his interests (from guns to cranes, from lighting to ships) nor an awareness of the significant role he played in the north of England in the latter half of the nineteenth century. When Armstrong wanted to escape the hurly-burly of his Tyneside factory or scrabbling around with the great and good in London, he retreated to a rural venue in Northumberland, where he built a mansion which evolved from a modest hunting lodge to something huge, incoherent and obviously delightful. This house, known as Cragside, was (and is) at Rothbury. It was therefore a fairly bizarre coincidence that, taking the wrong road out of Alnwick on our travels, we headed off in the direction of Rothbury and saw signs to Cragside itself. I guess if I’d passed the turning a week earlier it would not have impinged on my mind in the same way. This was a book I enjoyed for its content rather than its writing, but it certainly taught me a lot about stuff I feel I should have known about already.

The second book I turned to was very different. A recently released book by Robert McCrum entitled Every Third Thought: on Life, Death, and the Endgame. It is a thoughtful reflective book, focussing particularly on what the author terms ‘brain attacks’, covering various kinds of ailments of the brain from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Diseases to stroke. He himself is a stroke survivor, albeit significantly physically weakened, and he shares his fears and challenges in a moving way. The Guardian review – which was what had prompted me to get the book – talked about it as an ‘assemblage of great quotes’, full of thoughts of death and degeneration. It was not, I should stress, just a gloomy book though! It was movingly written and positive about facing uncertain futures.

I came to it having just come out of a spate of migraines. Reading about brain dysfunction having been through a period of my own malfunctions was interesting. It is so hard to describe to an outsider what it is like to feel one’s brain crumble. The three migraines I’d had in quick succession this past month were mild (at least after taking my Sumatriptan medication), little more than the visual aura (which is admittedly very disturbing) and an inability to think straight: I could sense the usual connections simply not firing up properly. During one of them my speech was noticeably messed up – rather like a severe form of Malapropism. It is extraordinarily disconcerting to know what one wants to say but the words come out totally differently. The worst occasion I had of this was as a child when for about half an hour, whatever I wanted to say came out as a single phrase involving the word ‘dressing gown’ for no apparent reason. I know it will pass, but it is disturbing.

In the spring I’d had a migraine of a different sort, in which I felt as if my brain had split in two (‘heterocrania’ indeed), with the two halves out of sync. I had apparently two trains of thought, only one of which was ‘real’ and I spent several hours chasing imaginary thoughts which didn’t really have any concreteness. In words it looks really strange. In fact, it felt like that too. How can one cope with two different simultaneous strands of ideas which don’t fit together? Not even Google gave me much comfort with anything matching my description (nor indeed did my GP have much to say beyond migraines turn up in many strange guises) so if any reader recognizes what I’m describing I’d be glad to know that I’m not alone. I read McCrum’s account of brain malfunctions with great interest, although there were no precise similarities. I have always felt that a migraine should provide a good insight into the workings of the brain because it is so obvious, from inside, what isn’t working. But it doesn’t seem to be like that and as far as I know the medical grasp of what happens physiologically during an attack (i.e. beyond the phenomenology) is weak.

The third book was very different again, food for thought of a more professional kind. Plastic Fantastic was written by Eugenie Samuel Reich. Subtitled How the Biggest Fraud in Physics Shook the Scientific World it describes the case of Jan Henrik Schön, a young apparent superstar at Bell Labs around the turn of the century who published fraudulent paper after fraudulent paper based on non-existent nanodevices. His extraordinary productivity had everyone raving, until someone spotted that two figures from different papers, purportedly showing very different data, were actually identical. Once that had been spotted the whole sorry episode rapidly unravelled, tainting some senior scientists en route, although all were ultimately exonerated of any wrongdoing.

What I found so terrifying was just how easy it had seemed to be for him to pull the wool over his colleagues’ eyes. I kept thinking about my own students and postdocs. Could I ever be fooled by the production of data that wasn’t real? Could I ever fail to spot someone inventing a sample (or in his case a device) that couldn’t actually be manufactured? I would like to think it couldn’t happen. Yet the reality is, science is to a large extent built on trust and I can’t say ‘fraud’ is ever my first thought when a student turns up with an interesting set of results. Artefact is much more likely to be my reaction, or the perennial microscopist’s problem of just how ‘typical’ is the area that has been imaged. If you know what you want to find, confirmation bias can sneak its way into the microscopist’s eyes. But I have never made a habit of breathing over my student’s experiments or vetting their lab book day by day. Is that all it would take for a student to create some imaginary data? I sincerely hope not.

I read the book with a fascination of horror, but I didn’t come away with any understanding of why Schön had done what he did. The writing made it look almost as if he never understood why what he had done caused such a furore, or that it pushed him beyond the pale of ever being employed as a scientist again. I was frustrated by reading a meticulously described account of what he did and yet be left so uncertain of the why.

So, a curious, diverse trio to read together in quick succession, but a satisfactory diversity that provided plenty of food for thought during a week’s very pleasant escape up north.



Posted in biography, Book Review, Science Culture | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Admissions in Balance

Last October when I sat at the undergraduate Matriculation Dinner and looked across Churchill College’s large Hall, I was dismayed to see that the proportion of Freshers was very far from a 50:50 mix of men and women. I am sure I was not alone amongst the Fellowship in recognizing that the College that had been pioneering when it voted to admit female undergraduates from 1972 had inadvertently taken its eye off the ball. Of course, being uniquely a College that is required by its statutes to admit 70% of its students in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects raises challenges. Typically the percentage of girls taking A level Physics nationally sits around 20% so, as a College with a large number of engineers and physical scientists we should not necessarily expect to have an equal number of men and women – however much this would be desirable in an ideal world. Nevertheless, last year’s undergraduate intake of only 28% women seems to have been something of a low point, literally and metaphorically.

The Tutorial team immediately identified that the root of the problem is that only around a quarte of our undergraduate applicants were female, and then worked hard to identify where and how we might make progress. I am deeply grateful to all of them and in particular the Senior Tutor because some refocusing of some of our processes has led already to some significant improvements. This year, having seen the A level results come in and being able to confirm admissions, we have reached a somewhat more respectable percentage of 36% women. We have more to do, and some of the changes we have made will take time to make their mark. In particular, we need to ensure that female students in the schools do not look at Churchill and simply think ‘this is not for me’. If they don’t apply it makes it hard for us to admit them. Getting smart students applying is a crucial part of admitting them!

So what have we done over the past year? We ran focus groups amongst our undergraduates to find out how they perceived the college, what they liked and what they thought we could do better. Words that kept coming up were things like ‘open, ‘inclusive’, ‘forward-looking’ and ‘friendly’ as well as a vocabulary more obviously associated with academic progression. We wanted to capture this perception of the college in a way that schools and prospective applicants could appreciate. To that end we commissioned alumna and Emmy-award winning producer Sally Angel to produce some short films. ‘Churchill College in three words’ can be found on Youtube as well as on the College website. It is a quick indicator of some of those factors we are proud of within the College, beyond academic prowess.

However, we are an educational establishment and the strength of our academic record is hugely important to us. We are proud of the fact we usually lead the Cambridge Colleges in respect of state-sector undergraduate entrants; this year more than three-quarters of our UK undergraduate entrants are from state schools and colleges. We manage that success while still sustaining an outstanding academic performance: this year we came fifth out of 29 colleges in the Tompkins Table, the unofficial Cambridge ‘league’ table, and have averaged fourth over the last ten years. No mean feat for a college a mere 50 odd years old.

To illustrate a bit more about what the college is like to prospective students Sally produced two further videos, one about life in College for Arts and Humanities students and one for Science students. I often find it surprising that, given the wonderful resource we have in the Churchill Archives students wishing to study modern history or politics don’t immediately recognize that the College’s treasures would be of immense benefit to them, but clearly the Archives does not yet feature in the attractions sixth-formers see. This factor is something else we are working to change. A new permanent display about Churchill, the man, and the association with Churchill, the College, has been mounted outside our main lecture theatre for students and visitors alike to look over. The display utilises material from the Archives, and showcases some of the other collections (e.g. Rosalind Franklin’s papers) that we possess as well.

What else can the College do to raise its profile with the female half of the population? Through my association with Edwina Dunn’s project The Female Lead we have ensured that a copy of the wonderful book and resources produced by her team in association with the award-winning Lacombe sisters has been sent to around 600 schools with which the College works. The project aims to encourage girls to aim high and to aspire to leadership positions. The video about my own life can be found here, but there are 59 other films on the website about women from all kinds of spheres to inspire the next generation. Since my arrival in the College I have also set up a series of public Conversations with senior women from academia and beyond to showcase their lives and to enable us to discuss the pitfalls and delights of their careers. Podcasts of these are all gathered together here, where videos of the last two events (with Professor Alice Roberts and Dame Sally Davies) can also be seen.

As the first female Master of this pioneering College I am determined we will see a more balanced-intake of students in the future and in the Senior Tutor Richard Partington and the entire Fellowship I have a determined community behind me. We will continue to work hard to attract bright minds, wherever they are found, and to ensure that those who join the College will be supported and challenged. All the material about ‘Women at Churchill’ can be found on the College website. By the time I step down as Master I am confident that the temporary downturn in the numbers of female students I observed last year will be permanently turned around and our community will continue to thrive.

Posted in Education, Equality | Tagged , , | 2 Comments