09 February 2021
Reflecting on Women in STEM – Part Two: Female STEM Speakers at LIYSF
“The problems that we are facing at the moment globally, are diverse and challenging in nature, so we need diversity to tackle these”
– Professor Clare Elwell, President of LIYSF
Part one of the blog series – Reflecting on Women in STEM, explored how far we have come in having women be represented in the field of science, technology, engineering, and medicine (STEM), but also, how much further we have left to go.
Representation is crucial as it provides young women with role models to look and aspire to. Exposure to successful women and their journey into the field of STEM can provide a sense of belonging and inspiration, as well as showcase the diverse career opportunities that exist within this sector. This has been the reality for several LIYSF alumni, including Amanda who attended in 2018,
“During one of the first lectures with Dr Kathy Niakan, I immediately realised I want to dedicate my life to stem cell research and genetics. Without LIYSF I would still be at a huge question mark.”
This is why representation within STEM is imperative, and why LIYSF strives to offer a diverse panel of plenary speakers every year.
PIONEERING WOMEN IN STEM AT LIYSF
Let us explore some of the previous and upcoming inspirational female speakers, who have not only paved their own way but are continuing to guide other young women into the STEM sector.
Professor Hayat Sindi
First up is Professor Hayat Sindi, who was a keynote speaker during the 59th LIYSF in 2017.
Professor Hayat Sindi is one of the world’s leading biotechnologists and considered hugely influential in the world, ranked by Arabian business as the 19th most influential Arab in the world. Born in Saudi Arabia, she became the first Saudi woman to earn a PhD in biotechnology at the University of Cambridge and is also one of the first female members of the Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia.
These accomplishments highlight how Professor Hayat Sindi’s journey into the STEM sector was nothing short of remarkable. Her story is one of tenacity, hard work and passion. Having grown up in a society where women lacked the same access to education as men (although this has improved over the past few decades), Professor Sindi made a name for herself when she moved to England to pursue study at King’s College London and later obtained her PhD at the University of Cambridge. This, however, was not without its obstacles, as Professor Sindi shared in an interview with the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) how,
“Being the kind of girl that is devoted to her family, I had to adjust to a different way of life in England. Socially, I had difficulties sharing with my new friends. Even when I tried telling anecdotes, it just wasn’t the same: I came from a totally different background.”
In light of her challenges, Professor Hayat Sindi is a passionate advocate for young women and Arab women to pursue a career within STEM. In 2012 she was selected as a Goodwill Ambassador by UNESCO to encourage education among young women of the STEM sector.
She is also the founder and president of the Institute for ‘Imagination and Ingenuity’ (i2insitute) based in Saudi Arabia, as well as the co-founder and director for ‘Diagnostics for All’. Diagnostics for All is a non-profit institution that creates low-cost medical devices to support medical diagnosis in developing countries. Whereas i2insitute is aimed at encouraging innovation and providing scientific education to the younger generation.
PROFESSOR CLARE ELWELL
Professor Clare Elwell presenting the welcoming address at the 61st LIYSF in 2019
Professor Clare Elwell is the current Academic President of LIYSF and Vice Dean for impact and Professor of Medical Physics at University College London (UCL).
Her research is in the area of near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS). Professor Elwell holds many honorary positions for her work in NIRS. Her research has led her to study brain development in infants in the rural Gambia through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation- funded project, which has further resulted in the first functional brain imaging of infants in Africa.
In addition to her academic accolades, Professor Elwell is a leader and educator within the STEM sector and has made significant efforts to encourage women into STEM. She has been recognised for this contribution through several awards, some of which are the Inspirational Teacher Award as part of the UK Inspirational Awards for Women, the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) in 2016, and the UCL Provost’s Prize for Public Engagement in 2012.
What is most special about Professor Clare Elwell (although we may be a little biased!), is that she is a former participant at LIYSF. When asked how LIYSF changed her career choice, she responded with:
“I was really lucky to attend the forum as a student back in 1984, I was a 17 years old student at that point thinking I was going to follow a career in medicine, but I came here and heard for the first time about a topic in medical physics and, so what the forum gave me was my career. I’ve continued in that career ever since.”
Professor Elwell stands as a testament for how exposure to STEM at an early age can open your eyes to the diversity within this field and the multitude of career possibilities it presents.
Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock, upcoming 62nd LIYSF plenary speaker in 2021 (image reference)
Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock is a prominent space scientist, science educator and presenter for the BBC The Sky at Night. She is also the honorary research associate of University College London’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, as well as one of the upcoming principal speakers for the62nd LIYSF, who participants can look forward to hearing in 2021.
Her passion for astronomy sparked at a young age when she started building telescopes. After graduating from the Imperial College of London with a BSc in Physics and a PhD in mechanical engineering, Dr Aderin-Pocock briefly worked for the Ministry of Defence, before continuing with her initial passion for astronomy.
Outside of her academic work, Dr Aderin-Pocock is a passionate advocate for science education and communication. She is the founder and managing director of Science Innovation LTD, which engages with school children and adults and encourages them to learn more about the wonders of space. She has presented to half a million people around the world and makes a conscious effort to ensure science is communicated to a diverse audience, in terms of gender, neurodiversity and ethnicity.
Dr Aderin-Pocock’s journey into STEM is inspiration and selfless. In an interview with The Guardian, she shares,
Dr Dervilla Mitchell speaking at LIYSF 2019
Dr Dervilla Mitchell is a highly revered civil engineer in the United Kingdom (UK) who gave a principal lecture at the 61st LIYSF in 2019 and at LIYSF 2015.
Dr Mitchell completed her studies at the University of Dublin and was one of the only four women to graduate from a class of 200 in 1980. She now works for the world-renowned engineering company, Arup, who are designers and consultants in the built environment. Dr Mitchell is the current chair for Arup in the UK, India, the Middle East and Africa and looks after over 6,000 people who are undertaking a wide range of projects and consults.
Some of the key project’s that have defined Dr Mitchell’s career are, the building and construction of the Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 in the year 2000 for which she held the position of design management lead, and the £2 billion Abu Dhabi Midfield Terminal which she was the project manager for.
Some of her other projects include Portcullis House at Westminster, Action Stations for the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and the London 2012 Olympic Village. Dr Mitchell has been described as Arup’s “most senior female in its business,” and is a role model for women both in engineering and the wider STEM sector.
She is the current chair of the Royal Academy of Engineering Diversity Committee, and the founding member of Arup’s Diversity Steering Group and played an active role in establishing Arup’s women’s network, connect women.
“I think engineering is a fantastic career for both men and women, and women should not be put off by the fact that they think they will be in the minority, because going forward they will not be.”
Dr Mitchell has been recognised for both her contribution to the engineering sector and for advancing equality for women within engineering. Some of these awards include the 2011 Women of Outstanding Achievement Award for Inspiration and Leadership in Business and Industry and the 2014 ESB Outstanding Contribution to Engineering award. She also holds an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science by the University College Dublin and was made an Honorary Commander of the British Empire for her services to engineering in 2014.
Dr Tollulah Oni presenting at the 61st LIYSF in 2019
Dr Tollulah Oni was a plenary speaker during the 61st LIYSF in 2019. She has a diverse academic background. She is both a public health physician and urban epidemiologist at the University of Cambridge, as well as a Clinical Senior Research Fellow with the Units Global Public Health Research Programme and an Honorary Associate Professor at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.
Having studied in several distinguished universities across the United Kingdom, Australia, and South Africa, Dr Oni has been pivotal in conducting transdisciplinary urban health research that supports the development and implementation of healthy public policies in rapidly growing cities, especially in Africa.
Dr Oni has been recognised for her contribution within the STEM sector through the numerous awards she has won, this includes the election to the South African Young Academy of Science, where she currently serves as the co-chair of the Executive Committee. She was also elected to the Young Physicians Leadership Programme by the Inter-Academy Medical Panel, the World Academy of Science, the Next Einstein Forum Fellow and is recognised as a World Economic Forum Young Scientist.
Dame Jocelyn Bell presenting at the 61st LIYSF in 2019
Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell is another incredible female principal speaker who presented during the 61st LIYSF in 2019. She is a pioneering British astrophysicist, who is most well-known for her discovery of pulsars and being awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.
Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell was a radio astronomy graduate student at Cambridge University, where she played a crucial role in the discovery of Pulsars (small spinning stars that are left behind when a normal star dies). This discovery is hugely important as it enabled the first empirical confirmations of the theory of general relativity, as proposed by Albert Einstein. Despite her critical role in the discovery and with much controversy, she did not receive recognition for her discovery at that time, with the Nobel Prize being awarded to her male supervisors. However, she has since been rightfully acknowledged and awarded.
Throughout her career, Dame Jocelyn has been the recipient of several notable awards and titles, made even more special by the fact that she was a trailblazer for women in STEM. Some of these include being made Commander for the British Empire, receiving the 2015 Women of the Year Prudential Award in the Lifetime Achievement, being appointed the first female president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scotland’s national academy of science and being one of the few female scientists to have a portrait on the walls of the Royal Society Carlton House Terrace Headquarters in central London.
Dame Jocelyn is a strong advocate for promoting astrophysics and ensuring equal opportunities are available for all young people within the STEM sector. This was seen when she donated her 2018 Special Breakthrough prize for fundamental physics worth $3 million to help women, refugees and ethnic minority students become physics researchers.
In an interview with BCC, Dame Jocelyn stated:
“that although female representation is growing, women are still a small minority in the Royal Society… I think personally it’s very important that women are represented.”
Professor Fiona Watt, previous keynote speaker at the 56th LIYSF in 2014 (image reference)
Finally, Professor Fiona Watt is a British scientist who is internationally renowned for her contribution in stem cell biology. She was a memorable keynote speaker at the 56th LIYSF in 2015.
Professor Watt played a pivotal role in shaping stem cell research to be where it is today, through detailing the mechanisms that control epidermal stem-cell renewal, differentiation, and tissue aggregation. She pioneered single-cell gene expression profiling through her research and continues to be a leader within this field.
Professor Watt studied at the University of Cambridge and obtained her PhD at the University of Oxford. She is currently the director of the Centre of Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine at King’s College London and is the first woman since 1913 to become the Executive Chair of the Medical Research Council in the UK. Her main research interests are in the role of stem cells in adult tissue maintenance and how differentiated states of adult tissue are maintained.
Professor Watt is a strong and outspoken advocate for women in science. This stems from her own experiences of being one of the only female PhD students in her department at Oxford University for a period of time. Throughout her career, she has mentored over 400 PhD students and over 60 postdoctoral researchers, many of whom are now excelling within this field.
Women are vital in STEM and only with diverse inclusion can we achieve great outcomes in every respect. We have highlighted these incredible women (all speaking at LIYSF), who have done phenomenal STEM work, as they are important role models and encourage the next generation of girls to become scientists and engineers,
LIYSF is delighted to advise that at 62nd London International Youth science form it will have 50% female principal lecturers giving main lectures. These include:
You can see more information about the 2021 programme here.
In the final blog for this series, we will look forward to the successes of our young intersectional women who are paving their way through the STEM sector.
This article was written by LIYSF staff writer, Minushika Punchihewa.
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