International Women’s Day with Prof Hilary Lappin-Scott

07-03-2018 vinguyen

Today we celebrate International Women’s Day to celebrate the amazing contribution women are making to scientific research. This year’s theme is Press for Progress. There are many groups and individuals championing women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and medicine (STEM) and to address the gender imbalance in these fields.

One such champion for promoting women in STEM is our very own Vice-President and FEMS Expert from the European Academy of Microbiology (EAM)Prof Hilary Lappin-Scott. She was recently awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2018 New Year’s Honours list for her services to microbiology and the advancement of women in science and engineering. Her continuous efforts to promote women in STEM have also been recognized with the 2016 Women into Science and Engineering (WISE) HERO award and the 2017 Womenspire ‘STEM Pioneer’ Award.

What is the current situation for women in STEM?
“For many countries the situation is now starting to improve, but there is still a long way to go!  I know the data for the United Kingdom best, so I will use this. In UK universities, 25% of Professors are now women and more women are being promoted to the most senior levels in universities.  But there is still a gender pay gap, which is substantial in many organisations.

In terms of attracting more women into STEM, the UK published data to show that the numbers working in STEM careers had increased in the last months, yet the overall percentage of women in such jobs did not increase as the numbers of men had also increased! So, some steps forward but the pace of change is still so very slow.”

As an advocate for promoting women in STEM, what can we do to support more women in STEM?
“There are lots of actions that organisations can do that really make a difference, many of these are very low cost too.  Some of the most effective involve changing the culture to raise the visibility of the women and celebrate their contributions and achievements to make women feel more valued. Examples of what has been done towards this includes:

  • joining in lots of international events – such as International Women’s Day (IWD), International Women in Engineering Days and Ada Lovelace Day – and holding some workshops that highlight the achievements of women or inviting in an external speaker to share some best practices to support women in STEM can be very effective
  • By widely publicizing, for example, that your organisation will be celebrating IWD this year and highlighting the contributions of some of the talented women in your organisation really can make a difference.
  • Starting up a Soapbox Science event in your city or supporting this if there is one already. This takes women’s research to the public and challenges ideas of what scientists, medics, engineers and mathematicians look like and shows these are great careers.
  • Have a look around your organisation to see what any imagery (photos etc) implies about your organisation and whether it is valuing the contributions of women as well as men. This has been remedied in many organisations where they have added a greater diversity of people on their walls and in their halls.
  • Learned societies can also play roles to promote women in STEM, for example by having equality and diversity statements, setting ‘expectations’ for the participation and contribution of women in all Society activities (nominating talented women for prizes, to be invited speakers, to chair sessions etc).

As this year’s theme for IWD is ‘Press for Progress’ I encourage everyone to find ways to ‘reach down’ and help us others to achieve too.  This greatly increases our talent pool and really supports greater success in the workplace.”

How did your science journey bring you to where you are today?
“I had a slow start with science, growing up in the 1960s in the north east of England in times when girls were taught cooking and needlework rather than physics, metalwork or chemistry. Instead my love grew through my interests in my 20s in nature conservation and emerging environmental challenges, including a very seminal book for me, ‘Silent Spring’ by Rachel Carson.

I soon realized the need to have formal science qualifications so I enrolled at Warwick University after evening classes to gain my A levels.  From there I tried to make the most of every opportunity that presented itself along my science journey.  I found relevant scientific conferences to present my research at, sometimes subsidizing these myself so I could attend (I always made sure that my own research students did not need to do this). Generally I attend these on my own so had to ensure that I met others at the conference. Just as well that I did as from one of these I was offered a post-doc at Calgary University whilst I was delayed waiting for a flight to a conference!

I returned to the UK to take up a lectureship at Exeter University and there followed nearly two decades, building up my research group and being promoted to full Professor via a Personal Chair (one of the first ever in women in STEM subjects at Exeter), Head of Department and then Dean, being elected President of the then Society for General Microbiology and the International Society for Microbial Ecology along the way.

I was looking for some fresh challenges so jumped at the chance of joining the senior team at Swansea University, working more on strategic development and research leadership for an entire university rather than only for my own research group.

Throughout my career I had ensured that everyone in my research team and I had taught, had opportunities to maximize their chances of successful careers and I have mentored a lot of men and women in their careers. I particularly encouraged women to step forward and take on leadership roles.  As I gained more senior positions in academia and learned societies I grew to understand the dearth of women in senior roles. I found that, increasingly people were asking me to raise awareness of this, engaging others and taking actions. This has led to a ‘second career’ as an advocate for encouraging girls into sciences and attracting and retaining women in STEM careers.  I am now seeing more women developing their skills to take on senior roles and leadership positions and am working to generate and share best practices globally to keep pushing this key agenda.”

What advice would you give to today’s early career researchers?
“I have quite a lot of suggestions so here are a few from my list, in no particular order:

  • Do join learned societies as it is great to be a part of a research community from an early stage and contribute to your discipline
  • Learn the skills of how to present your research to others and try this out at conferences and to others whenever possible
  • Public outreach is important especially in communicating your research to others outside of your subject area
  • Network at conferences beyond your own group and invite yourself to other labs to learn new techniques
  • Publishing your research is essential to progress in an academic career, so discuss with your advisors when is the right time to consider this
  • Work hard but do get some balance with a social life too (I have always played a lot of sport and it helps give perspective to my research!)
  • Having a supportive life partner is key to progress as a researcher, so I encourage early career researchers to consider ‘don’t let the hand you hold, hold you back’ (quote from a washroom in Swansea University).”

You can discover more about Hilary and other inspirational stories of the women leading the way in microbiology in our Women in STEM special journal collection, as well as in our collaborative International Women’s Day Twitter collection with some of our Member Societies.


March 8th, 2018

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I was thrilled to learn recently that the Welsh organisation Chwarae Teg had shortlisted me for the ‘Womenspire STEM Pioneer’ award for 2017, alongside two other women whom I greatly admire. (There’s more information about the Womenspire awards in the press notice below.) I learned that many of my colleagues from across Swansea University had nominated me and I am delighted to note the goodwill messages via social media too, when the University announced my shortlisting. I recognise that, as one gets later in their career, the opportunities to be recognised for various achievements in turn increase and I am very grateful to my colleagues, thank you all.
I have been pondering on such awards, on the purpose they serve and whether there should there be separate awards for women. Thinking back to both the Womenspire and the WISE 2016 award evenings it was an absolute delight to feel the sense of empowerment of the women in the room and see the very apparent ‘can do’ attitudes of all that attended. I note that there are many other such awards internationally too and I consider that they serve a highly valuable function. It is highly beneficial to raise the profile of women in STEM and in leadership, to increase the visibility of women’s contributions and create a culture of celebrating all of women’s talents and achievements. I have noticed, time and again, that the women in organisations feel that they have a voice, that they make significant and worthwhile contributions and that they are appreciated when there are such awards, in summary it does make a difference.
And now, with my STEM colleagues, we are preparing for Swansea’s Soapbox Science to give a platform/soapbox for women researchers across the STEM subjects to share their passion about their work with the public. In doing so many young girls are able to see that lots of women have very worthwhile work and that they too could have such careers – and maybe out there, there are the future women in STEM!

Professor Hilary Lappin-Scott, Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor at Swansea University has been shortlisted for an Individual Award in the Chwarae Teg Womenspire Awards.

The Womanspire Awards celebrate the amazing achievements made by women across Wales. They include a wide range of categories to ensure that the winners will be reflective of the achievements being made by women from all walks of life.

Professor Lappin-Scott has been shortlisted in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Pioneer category. The nomination and shortlisting recognises her personal and professional work to develop opportunities for women in STEM. Hilary works tirelessly to inspire, support and encourage women in STEM at all levels locally, nationally and internationally.

Hilary, a Professor of Microbiology, has been a scientist for over 30 years and has supervised fifty PhD students to their successful completion and has published 200+ scientific papers. Her work is recognized as internationally excellent e.g. she received the prestigious Schlumberger Stichting Award .

Hilary is the Vice President of the Federation of European Microbiological Societies, steering the development of the discipline on a global scale. She plays numerous leadership (UK wide and international) roles within STEM, shaping the future direction of research, supporting the international networking of scientists and the exchange of scientific ideas for the benefit of the global scientific community.

At Swansea University Hilary leads, directs and supports the progress of STEM through her current role as Senior-Pro-Vice-Chancellor.

Recently Prof Lappin-Scott devised the “Utilising All Our Talent” initiative at Swansea University, which established a senior group of female staff, facilitating both networking and support. For International Women’s Day 2015 she created the “Inspiring Women” campaign, whereby women from all areas and careers stages are showcased and celebrated, with STEM women well represented throughout and devised the Mary Williams Award which recognises staff who supports others to achieve their full potential. Hilary co-authored the Welsh Government paper ‘Talented Women for a Successful Wales’and delivered a TEDXTalk, which discussed the barriers girls face and challenges they need to overcome when entering the STEM arena

In 2014 Hilary brought “Soapbox Science” a public outreach platform promoting female scientists, from London to Swansea to challenge the public’s perception of women as scientists too, and inspiring the next generation of female scientists. She also attracted the very successful British Science Festival to Wales which Swansea University not only hosted last year but also provided the impetus for the Swansea University Science Festival being held in September this year.

Hilary received the 2016 WISE Campaign “Hero” award in recognition of “her passion about change on a global level and without boundaries. The award citation said that Hilary was “ Busy, visible and creative and she brings together science and industry to improve lives.”

Speaking about Hilary’s Womanspire Award shortlisting Professor Richard B Davies Vice Chancellor, Swansea University said: “As a highly respected scientist and a Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor at Swansea University, Hilary has a demanding and hectic schedule. But her infectious enthusiasm for science never falters and it is hugely to her credit that she always manages to find the time to encourage and support other women to have successful careers in science. She also makes important strategic contributions, nationally and internationally, to addressing the under-representation and retention of women in STEM. This includes policy development, conference contributions, and membership of advisory and review panels.

“ I thank Chwarae Teg for giving Hilary the opportunity, through her shortlisting for their Womenspire Awards, to champion here in Wales the opportunities for women in STEM.”

Chwarae Teg received over 300 nominations across the 12 categories recognising the extraordinary achievements many individuals and organisations have made in leading equality in their industry such as business, arts, sports, STEM, rural and education.

Chief Executive, Cerys Furlong said, “Following the success of last year’s event we knew that there were more incredible individuals achieving and championing equality here in Wales. We’ve been overwhelmed with the stories and have seen some empowering and compelling nominations that we can’t wait to share with you on 21 June at the Wales Millennium Centre.”

More information about Professor Lappin-Scott and her work can be found at the following links:

Linkedin,  Swansea TedXTalk,  STEM ‘Pioneer’ Award 2017,  WISE Award 2016,  Womenspire Award 2017, Soapbox Science

Chwarae Teg, Womenspire, STEM, diversity, women, STEM pioneer, Swansea University, Hilary Lappin-Scott, empowerment, Richard B Davies, inspiring women, soapbox science.


June 14th, 2017

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