Over one hundred years after the first women in Britain got the vote, women still make up only 24% of those working in core science, technology, engineering and mathematics occupations in the UK (1).
The 'leaky pipeline' is a recurring metaphor about the gender imbalance in STEM and about the concerning fact that many of those who start in the field do not stay in the field long term. The UKRC statistics guide shows that at GCSE level, the split of boys and girls is nearly 50:50 as you would expect as science is all but compulsory at this stage. But as you move up the ladder into A-Levels, higher education and to senior career positions, the proportion of women participating in STEM decreases more and more with only nine per cent of STEM professors being female (2). While women made up 45.7 per cent of the total science professional workforce, there are still clear differences between chemical, biological and physical sciences (1).
In particular, the 'leaky pipeline' issue is a long-term challenge for maths and computing. Recent data has revealed that women make up just 13% of students studying computer science or related university courses in the UK. When you compare that figure to other STEM related courses, the stark contrast becomes evident. Women studying biology total 61% and of students studying chemistry, 44% are women. There is a similar lack of females studying mathematics courses - a total of 36% of students (3).
On Friday 6 November 2020, 11 life scientists and science communicators, and 11 mathematicians and computer scientists, from across the world, will be recognised for their scientific achievements and the work they do to promote STEM for the next generation. The Suffrage Science awards scheme, curated by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences, celebrates women in STEM subjects, and encourage others to enter scientific fields and reach senior leadership roles.
The 22 awardees are chosen by the previous award holders for their scientific achievements and ability to inspire others. This scientific "relay" takes place every two years, and creates an inspiring network of women connected by their link to the scheme.
The awards themselves are hand-crafted items of jewellery created by art students from Central Saint Martins-UAL, who worked with scientists to design pieces inspired by research and by the Suffragette movement, from which the award scheme takes its name.
At this special "virtual" handover event, award-winning science writer, author and broadcaster, Dr Kat Arney, will lead a discussion on central themes of 2020, in particular the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. A panel of three will discuss the implications of both for women STEM.
The panellists are:
- Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon (Maths and Computing Awardee 2020)
- Lakechia Jeanne (Girls in Science)
- Dr Jennifer Rohn (Life Sciences Awardee 2014)
The Suffrage Science scheme was initiated by Professor Dame Amanda Fisher, Director of the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences, in 2011.
Professor Fisher said: "With the awards scheme now in its ninth year, these 'heirloom' items of inspiring jewellery have helped to create a self-perpetuating network of talent and contacts to help others to succeed in science and engineering. This year's awardees join a community of over 130 women scientists. Since 2011, the awards have travelled from the UK, across Europe to the USA, Hong Kong and to Uganda, illustrating the international nature of science and engineering, and the global effort to improve the representation of women in STEM."
The 2020 Life Sciences award winners are:
- Dr Kelly Nguyen, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, UK
- Professor Naomi Matsuura, University of Toronto, Canada
- Professor Elspeth Garman, University of Oxford, UK
- Dr Veronique Miron, University of Edinburgh, UK
- Dr Cécile Martinat, I-STEM, France
- Professor Zena Werb, University of California, San Francisco, USA
- Professor Samantha Joye, University of Georgia, USA
- Professor Gisou van der Goot, EPFL Lausanne, Switzerland
- Professor Karalyn Patterson, University of Cambridge, UK
- Professor Laura Colgin, University of Texas Austin, USA
- Professor Claudia Mazzà, University of Sheffield, UK
The 2020 Maths and Computing award winners are:
- Dr Rhian Daniel, Cardiff University, UK
- Dr Juhyun Park, Lancaster University, UK
- Professor Apala Majumdar, University of Strathclyde, UK
- Professor Bianca de Stavola, University College London, UK
- Professor Sara Lombardo, Loughborough University, UK
- Professor Wendy Mackay, Inria, Paris-Saclay, France
- Professor Yvonne Rogers, University College London, UK
- Professor Alexandra Silva, University College London, UK
- Professor Nobuko Yoshida, Imperial College London, UK
- Dr Sue Sentance, King's College London/Raspberry Pi Foundation, UK
- Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon, STEMettes, UK
Each previous holder chooses to whom they want to pass their 'heirloom' piece of jewellery. Below are reasons behind two of the nominations:
Professor Jenny Martin, University of Wollongong, on her nomination of Professor Elspeth Garman, University of Oxford: "Elspeth has always been a wonderful role model for me and many others in the field of structural biology. She is an inspirational leader, who has made huge impact in her research, developing and applying new methods to tackle difficult problems. Elspeth has won numerous awards including the 2019 Max Perutz prize of the European Crystallography Association. On a personal note, in a very typical act of generosity, Elspeth very kindly offered her home to me for 5 weeks during my recovery when I suffered a medical emergency a few years ago while traveling in the UK."
Dr Nina Snaith, University of Bristol, on her nomination of Professor Apala Majumdar, University of Strathclyde: "Apala does outstanding research in liquid crystals and partially ordered materials. She stands out because of the vast array of collaborations she maintains, from pure mathematicians to projects with industry. Her absolute dedication to mathematics has led to a brilliant and prolific output of interdisciplinary work."
The current Life Sciences award holders (2018) are:
- Professor Rebecca Voorhees, Caltech, USA
- Professor Anna Wu, City of Hope, USA
- Professor Jenny Martin, University of Wollongong, Australia
- Professor Elizabeth Bradbury, King's College London, UK
- Professor Claire Rougeulle, Paris Diderot University, France
- Professor Mikala Egeblad, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories, USA
- Susan M. Gaines Bremen University, Germany
- Professor Irene Miguel-Aliaga MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences, UK
- Professor Cathy Price, University College London, UK
- Professor Denise Head, Washington University in St Louis, USA
- Professor Anat Mirelman, Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Centre, Israel
The current Maths and Computing award holders (2018) are:
If you would like further information about the awards please contact Dr Sophie Arthur, Science Communications Officer at the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences.
Name: Sophie Arthur
Mobile: 07725 159772
Notes for editors:
3. Data from HESA data and analysis of all students by subject area and sex, data referred to is percentage of female students who enrolled in the first year of their full-time first degree in the UK
The Suffrage Science scheme was founded nine years ago by the Medical Research Council's London Institute of Medical Sciences (then Clinical Sciences Centre). It celebrates and inspires women in science, creating a self-perpetuating cohort of talent that will encourage others to enter science and reach senior leadership roles. The awards themselves are 'heirloom' items of jewellery commissioned from students of the art and design college, Central St Martins-UAL, who worked with scientists to create pieces inspired by research. The pieces also draw inspiration from the jewellery of the Suffragette movement from which the award scheme takes its name.
MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences is an Institute of the Medical Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation. It is a vibrant research environment in which scientists and clinicians collaborate to advance the understanding of biology and its application to medicine. LMS research programmes are focused in three sections: Epigenetics, Genes and Metabolism, and Quantitative Biology.
About the jewellery
Life Sciences Brooch by Anya Malhorta
"The women who have contributed to science are like the nucleus, surrounded by negativity but they still break through these barriers. The design evolved from a spherical atom-like structure into a brooch with domed magnifying glass engraved with the words 'invention', 'discovery', 'innovation', 'creativity' and 'power.'"
Life Sciences Pendant by Benita Gikaite
"I have taken this Masonic charm as a symbol of men's power and I have given it to women. Engraved inside the pendant are the dates 1897, 1903 and 1918. These correspond to when the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies was founded; the first Nobel prize was awarded to a woman, Marie Curie; and when British women first obtained the right to vote."
Maths and Computing Brooch (Pattern of Thought) by Veronika Fabian
"Made from gold punched tape, the brooch reflects the fields of maths and computing. Punctured tape was used by computer scientists to send text-based messages, and later for storing data. The brooch is an elegant piece with a powerful message, decoding the series of holes on the brooch reveals sentences from three Suffragette banners; 'Deeds not words', 'Courage Constancy Success' and 'Through thick & thin we n'er give in.'"
Maths and Computing Bangel (Mathematical Beauty) by Emine Gulsal
"Engraved on the inside curve is what many mathematicians consider to be the most beautiful of all mathematical equations, eiπ+1= 0. The bracelet symbolises the infinite, symmetrical qualities of circles. Encapsulated inside the outer curve is a single, isolated pearl, which can move in a continuous circular motion. I feel that my piece conveys a sense of power and strength within women."