Women make up fewer than four in ten maths undergraduates, and fewer than two in ten of those studying computer science – a number that has been in decline since the 1980s. The more senior the research position, the fewer women there are. Suffrage Science, founded by the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre (CSC) at Imperial College London five years ago, aims to address this. This year the initial two sections, one for women in the Life Sciences, and one for those in Engineering and the Physical Sciences, is extended to add Maths and Computing. At the launch, 12 women will receive awards to celebrate their scientific achievements and ability to inspire others.
Many of the awardees have overcome gender-specific barriers to excel in their research. “I did once introduce myself to someone from industry who thought I was a waitress,” says awardee Professor Christl Donnelly, a statistician at Imperial College London. “I don’t think that would have happened to a man if he had approached a male counterpart.”
The twelve winning women plan to make a real difference for the next generation. Professor Ann Blandford, who researches human-computer interaction at University College London, says she is a leading computer scientist who also happens to be a woman, and this embodies her vision of the future. “For me it’s about making it normal for a woman to be in computer science.”
Guest speaker Dr Sue Black, an honorary researcher at UCL Computer Science, advocate for women in computing and pioneer of the “Saving Bletchley Park” campaign, spoke about how she overcame prejudice to ‘make it’ in a male-dominated world. Dr Black also runs the #techmums programme, helping mothers learn more about technology.
The awards themselves are pieces of jewellery, designed by students at the arts college Central Saint Martins-UAL, and inspired by science. One is a golden brooch punctured with holes that encode a secrete message, reminiscent of the punchtape once used to store computer data. The second, a silver bangle, also holds a secret. Engraved on the inside, hidden beneath a layer of silver, is what many mathematicians consider ‘the most beautiful equation in mathematics’, Euler’s equation.
After two years, the 12 winners hand on their jewellery to a recipient of their choice, at an awards ceremony. This scientific “relay” creates an ever-expanding cohort of talented women with a connection. Handing on the Suffrage Science jewellery is a vote of confidence by one woman for another. This resonates with the women’s suffrage movement to get the vote, from which the scheme draws both its name and its inspiration.
Professor Andrew Blake, Director of The Alan Turing Institute, said:
“This is an excellent initiative and we wish the very best for its success. At The Alan Turing Institute we recognize and value diversity as a core principle, and are actively encouraging female researchers and students into data science.”
Profesor Nigel Titchener-Hooker, Dean of UCL Engineering said:
“We congratulate all of the talented researchers recognised in the ceremony. Professor Blandford and Dr Black are a credit to the faculty; their insights and work enrich us as researchers and as a community. We hope that their example will encourage other women earlier in their careers to continue in the fields of maths, computing and science, and we strive to be a welcoming environment where they can realise their full potential.”
1 Prof Christl Donnelly, from Imperial College London
2 Prof Jane Hutton , from the University of Warwick
3 Prof Frances Kirwan, from the University of Oxford
4 Prof Sylvia Richardson of the Medical Research Council, Biostatistics Unit
5 Prof Gwyneth Stallard from the Open University
1 Prof Ann Blandford of UCL (University College London)
2 Prof Muffy Calder OBE from the University of Glasgow
3 Prof Leslie Goldberg from the University of Oxford
4 Prof Wendy Hall DBE of the University of Southampton
5 Prof Carron Shankland from the University of Stirling
Prof Shafrira Goldwasser, of MIT/Weizmann Institute of Science
Prof Dame Celia Hoyles of the UCL Institute of Education,