Women make up less than one-eighth of science academy membership globally, according to a survey reported in the science journal Nature last week
“It’s frustrating that the pace of change is so slow”
says Helen Pankhurst, great-grandaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst
A unique awards ceremony to raise the number of women in senior leadership roles in science will take place today (Tuesday 8th March), International Women’s Day.
The Suffrage Science ceremony, to be held at the Royal Society in London, will recognise ten female scientists and a science communicator, chosen for their scientific achievements and ability to inspire others by current award holders.
The Suffrage Science scheme celebrates women already in science and encourages others to enter scientific subjects, and to stay. Dr Helen Pankhurst, great granddaughter of Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst and long-standing supporter of the scheme, will join a panel discussion on how to make a difference for women today. Science writer and broadcaster Dr Kat Arney will lead the discussion on how to make science inclusive for all, and with help from current award holders, Dr Jennifer Rohn and Professor Irene Tracey, will explore the concrete changes needed to make this vision a reality.
“Women scientists can put their mark on the world in a new way that affects change in a more gendered way,” says Pankhurst. “If we only have scientists who are men it’s a particular eye on the world that gets changed. If we have women scientists involved, then their engagement in that relationship between science and humanity is to the benefit of us all.”
The Suffrage Science scheme was set up five years ago by the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre (CSC) at Imperial College. It has been nurtured by institute director Professor Amanda Fisher, and now includes both a life sciences cohort and a physical sciences cohort, with plans to expand further.
This scientific “relay” creates an ever-expanding cohort of talented women with a connection, to encourage others to enter science and reach senior leadership roles.
The awards themselves are heirloom items of jewellery, similar to those worn by the Suffragettes. The jewellery was created by students of the art and design college Central St Martins-UAL, who worked with scientists to design pieces inspired by research. The students also drew inspiration from the Suffragette movement from which the award scheme takes its name.
According to Pankhurst, the scheme can play a strong role in keeping a flashlight on issues such as gender and activism in science. “If we make a noise and make it visible, we can hope for change that way,” she said.
Award winners 2016
- Dr Lori Passmore, MRC-LMB, Cambridge
studies how the proteins inside our body’s cells can group together to form clumps, or complexes. Passmore explores the roles that these complexes play in controlling the expression of genes, and how faulty gene expression can contribute to diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
- Dr Michelle James, Stanford University, America
develops novel molecules to improve the way we diagnose, treat, and understand brain diseases. These molecules are designed to trace the inflammatory and degenerative components of Alzheimer’s disease using PET scans. Dr. James has developed and patented five such molecules, three of which are currently being tested in humans.
- Dr Airlie McCoy, University of Cambridge
explores the structure of proteins. McCoy is known for her role in developing the computer software PHASER, which helps to determine the structure of large proteins. She also organises and teaches at summer schools and conferences.
“She is a strong advocate for women in science… she balances various demands on her time with aplomb and is an excellent role model,”
Professor Jane Endicott, who nominated Dr Airlie McCoy
- Professor Catherina Becker, University of Edinburgh
studies nerve cells and particularly focuses on zebra fish, which can regrow parts of their central nervous system. Becker uses the fish to explore motor neurone disease and look for molecules that could be targeted by new drugs.
- Dr Deborah Bourc’his, Institut Curie, Paris
is interested in how the DNA inside sperm and egg cells can be modified in a process called epigenetics. These changes can immediately affect the embryo and also affect the adult later in life, and ultimately the next generation.
- Professor Marja Jäätelä, Danish Cancer Society Research Centre
wants to understand how cancer cells can survive anti-cancer treatments. Jäätelä’s group was among the first to identify molecular chains of command, called pathways, that help these cells to survive. Her ultimate goal is to find new ways to kill these treatment-resistant cells.
“Her bold scientific leadership has paved the way for younger generations of women researchers and, for me personally, has been a great inspiration”
Dr Anja Groth, who nominated Professor Marja Jäätelä
- Dr Pippa Goldschmidt, University of Edinburgh
is a visiting fellow at the Science, Technology and Innovation Studies Unit at the University of Edinburgh. A freelance writer with a PhD in astronomy, Goldschmidt’s book ‘The Need for Better Regulation of Outer Space’ was nominated for the Frank O’Connor Short Story Award. She also co-edited an anthology of short stories to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
- Professor Corinne Houart, King’s College London
explores how the front of brain, or forebrain, is ‘built’ during development and before birth. Houart aims to understand the role that particular molecules play in sending information, or signals, across the developing brain. She also studies proteins that may be involved in the degeneration of nerve cells that control our movements.
- Professor Kia Nobre, University of Oxford
is interested in how our brains give rise to our thoughts and feelings. Nobre studies the behaviours and brain activity of volunteers to better understand how activity inside our brains can shape our perception of the world around us and the memories we form. She’s also interested in how this activity can be disrupted in psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders.
- Dr Uraina Clark, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York
studies the effects of HIV and stress on the brain. She aims to identify the ways in which HIV can lead to psychological impairments, and how chronic stress during childhood can have lifelong effects on brain structure and function.
- Dr Sally John, Biogen, Boston
aims to apply our understanding of genetics and analytical methods to support the discovery and development of novel drugs. She also aims to better understand how people with different genes may respond to medicines in different ways.
Each awardee was nominated by an award holder from the 2015 Suffrage Science relay.
Current award holders
- Professor Shannon Au, University of Hong Kong, studies the ways in which proteins are modified inside our bodies cells
- Dr Sarah Bohndiek, University of Cambridge, develops new imaging techniques to explore the role of oxygen in cancer
- Professor Jane Endicott, Newcastle University, explores how proteins interact with each other, and investigates whether blocking these interactions could help to treat cancer
- Professor Lynda Erskine, University of Aberdeen, aims to better understand how our eye sight develops, specifically how the nerve cells in our eyes can reach from the retina into the brain
- Professor Anne Ferguson-Smith, University of Cambridge, explores how the DNA of sperm and egg cells can be modified in a process called epigenetics
- Dr Anja Groth, University of Copenhagen, studies how the cells in our bodies can make copies of their DNA, and how they do this without making many mistakes
- Dr Jennifer Rohn, University College London, studies the bacteria that cause urinary tract infections, and is also a science writer, broadcaster and Chair of the Science is Vital campaign
- Professor Kate Storey, University of Dundee, explores how each nerve cell in a developing embryo knows which of the many possible types of nerve cell it will become
- Professor Irene Tracey, University of Oxford, uses neuroimaging to better understand the experience and perception of chronic pain
- Dr Xiaomeng Xu, Idaho State University, combines health, social and neuropsychology research to explore the factors that influence our cardiovascular health and personal relationships
- Professor Eleftheria Zeggini, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, focuses on how our genes can determine traits such as metabolism, and hunts for genes that may cause osteoarthritis
The Suffrage Science scheme was founded five years ago by the Medical Research Council’s Clinical Sciences Centre at Imperial College London.
L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science scheme
The Royal Society
Head of Communications and Public Engagement
MRC Clinical Sciences Centre