International Women’s Day with Prof Hilary Lappin-Scott
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:
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:
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.
hilary.lappin-scott March 8th, 2018
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Post-Doc in North America
As someone in their ‘more senior years’ as an academic, I get asked to tell ‘my story’ about how I got from being a girl growing up in Middlesbrough to a Professor of Microbiology and Senior Pro-Vice Chancellor. This post covers how and why I moved to North America for a Post Doc and how this opened up opportunities for me and enabled me to get a faculty position at Exeter University three years later.
After my PhD at Warwick University I had a first post-Doctoral position at the Institute for Biotechnological Studies in London. The funding was running out for that three year post and I needed to secure a job fast. I had attended my first international conference near Copenhagen a few months earlier and had given my first talk at an international conference – but more about that experience in a later blog posting! I started to understand the benefits of networking at conferences in developing research and career opportunities so I submitted an abstract for the forthcoming ISME4 meeting in Ljubljana in August 1986. As for my first international meeting I went alone and had to raise the funding to go myself.
The flight to the ISME 4 meeting was delayed for many hours so all passengers were ushered into a room to wait (yes this was a different era in flying!) It was crowded so I had to share a table and sat next to a seemingly nice couple from North America. I quickly learned they were Bill and Vivian Costerton, and were Canadians. Bill was a leading figure in microbial ecology (whom I had never hear of before) how his research covered many, many diverse areas including petroleum microbiology and within 30 minutes he had offered me a post-doc working on microbes in petroleum reservoirs!
He took out a small card and drew out a schematic of the subsurface environment (I later learned that this is how he always worked in research discussions). He sketched out how this seemingly hostile environment was merely a combination of challenges for bacteria but some survived this high temperature, lack of oxygen, salty, high pressure, low nutrient combination, could grow within rocks (I found that concept utterly fascinating) and that some of their growth byproducts were a nuisance and spoiled the quality of the oil. This meant that many international oil and gas companies were interested in bacteria and sometimes funding such work – and so I started working in petroleum microbiology, bacterial growth on surfaces (biofilms) and the much broader field of microbial ecology.
I really didn’t follow a lot of what Bill was saying but I needed my next research job so I listened and agreed to meet him once the conference was underway. Eventually the flight landed in Ljubljana in the early hours of the morning, then the bus taking us to our hotels broke down in the country lanes but as we were all going to the same conference I had chance to meet and get to know some of them.
The next day I set off to the conference centre but inadvertently stood on the wrong side of the road and, as I couldn’t understand the language, caught the wrong bus and ended up in the outskirts of the city with just me and the bus driver looking at each other. He stopped there for a few minutes, then luckily for me, drove back into the city and I found the conference centre.
I attended the opening ceremony and watched the ISME President cross the stage and open the conference, little knowing that I would become the President of the Society and play that same role in Cairns 22 years later. I met Bill Costerton and he commenced the paperwork to formally offer me a post Doctoral research fellowship in his huge laboratory group at Calgary University.
I moved there a few months later and took on running part of his research group, broadening my skills and learning how to work with businesses too. Some aspects were very challenging, such as when you have to walk into a room full of engineers, geologists, chemists, mathematical modellers etc and put across our latest research ideas and progress to such an interdisciplinary audience. I learned that it’s about keeping calm when, for example, Darcys, turbulent flow, catholic protection, metal corrosion or oil souring were being discussed and read up on it fast later. We took some new concepts of how bacteria might aid oil recovery and scaled this up from small rock cores into large 3-D reservoir models, pulling in bacteria survival mechanisms and biofilm studies too. All of this helped me to prepare my first faculty applications and led to a job interview at Exeter University. I was the only female shortlisted but was thrilled to be offered and then accept this in 1989, joining Exeter in 1990, ready for my next adventure!
hilary.lappin-scott December 11th, 2017
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Tags: Conference, Disruptive STEMinist, empowerment, Equality and diversity, Hilary Lappin-Scott, inspiring women, Microbiology, Research, Scientific, Soap Box Science, STEM, Swansea University, visible women, Women in Stem
Swansea hosted its 4th annual Soapbox Science event this summer. With this week featuring Ada Lovelace Day it is time to reflect on and celebrate our achievements as female researchers in these four years. Guest blogging for Disruptive Steminist Prof Hilary Lappin-Scott (Senior PVC at Swansea University) is the perfect platform!
We are Swansea academics Dr Geertje Van Keulen (Associate Professor in Biochemistry) and Professor Michelle Lee (Chair in Psychology) and we had never met before Hilary brought us together! Enthused and excited by Hilary’s Soapbox Science speaking debut in London in 2013, she immediately saw the benefits of expansion to Swansea and other cities.
The vision of Soapbox Science, the brainchild of Drs Nathalie Pettorelli and Seirian Sumner is brilliantly simple. Take science out to the public – literally on the street corner – and at the same time give women visibility as successful researchers across all science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) subjects. This novel format has been amazingly effective on both counts and this is our experience:
Q: Why did we get involved in Soapbox Science?
Geertje: When Hilary first suggested at the start of 2014 to become involved in organising Soapbox Science in Swansea I was not sure what to think as it was a difficult time in work for me. I knew I needed to be in a feel good community and Soapbox Science sounded amazing. I decided to take the plunge, throw myself in the deep end to explore horizons new. Looking back now it may have been the best decision I made, as Soapbox Science has been the most rewarding personal experience, giving me exactly those values and experiences I craved for in academia.
Michelle: At the time there was a loose collective of STEMM women around campus but we were lacking visibility. Soapbox Science Swansea (SBS) seemed to be the ideal opportunity to re-energise the group and provide a professional platform for STEMM women. I didn’t realise at the time just how successful we would in getting women involved with public engagement.
Q: What have we experienced so far with organising Soapbox Science?
Michelle: SBS is one of the most rewarding times of the year for me. The benefits of belong to a network are many but so often when women’s groups get together the focus is about the challenges of being a woman in the work place and how to balance caring and professional roles. This is of course an important topic and a valuable source of support and mentoring, but what I appreciate with SBS is the sharing of science and hearing about the fantastic work going on across the University. There is so much to know whether it’s the latest in solar cell research, invasive species, nanotechnology, microbiology or glaciology. On the day of the event I always get an attack of discipline envy and wonder what life would have been like if I’d been a chemist or an engineer!
Geertje: At first, it was a relief and great pleasure to work in a women-only team that worked well together, giving each other opportunities to develop and try out new roles and activities without demanding privilege and power in return. The team who got together and its new members are true collaborators, sharing the joy and jobs of running and organising an event. It is not only the organisation of the events that is joyful, the expanding networks and connections between women in STEMM across Swansea campuses, Wales and beyond has almost grown exponentially.
Michelle: I can’t deny that being an organiser takes effort but unlike some other roles that I have it is really good fun. Our all-women team work together really well and it is surprisingly easy to get things done when you don’t have to worry about male egos or hierarchies – we are from all levels from early career research to professor – none of that is important – only that we get things done on time. After four events it does feel like a well-oiled machine and we can roll up in the van, load up the soapboxes and hit the streets of Swansea with amazing science. On event day, it really is avengers assemble!
Q: Which achievements of Soapbox Science Swansea makes you proud?
Geertje: While the effect of organising such events has enabled women in STEMM to become more visible to the general public, it has also led to building up of confidence in speaking up, not only in public but also within disciplines, departments and higher education in general. The enthousiasm of sharing our female passion for STEMM with the general public has generated powerful voices:
Michelle: For me our proudest achievement is our diversity, we are not just women, but women of colour and of different faiths and nationalities. A highlight moment must be Professor Farah Bhatti, a Consultant Cardiac Surgeon, surrounded by an enormous crowd, demonstrating open-heart surgery (on pig hearts from the butcher’s I should add) in the middle of a busy shopping street! The public have given us an amazing reception especially considering many weren’t expecting to encounter women on soapboxes en route between Swansea Market and M&S.
Geertje: SBS has enabled networking of women across disciplines (e.g. regionally Cardiff and Swansea SBS now share a training session on speaking in public) and across career stages, from PhD student to national scientific advisors to the government (e.g. access to Chief Scientific Advisor for Wales Professor Julie Williams led to further opportunities for SBS speakers and organisers). It has resulted in interdisciplinary and international collaborations and visits: SBS has gone global!
We deliver events and networking effectively through team work in a safe and reliable environment, with clear roles, value and impact of our efforts for ourselves and others. Interestingly, these kinds of attributes were recently reported as five key traits of effective and successful Google teams.
Michelle and Geertje: In summary, working with the many female scientists and engineers in Soapbox Science has truly strengthened our beliefs that women have a natural place at the forefront of STEMM, and should be more readily recognised for their amazing achievements.
If you have become interested in going to a Soapbox Science event near you, please check our current locations in the UK, RoI, Europe, Australia and North America at the main website. If you like to become a Local Organiser for our 2018 events, please email [email protected].
If you have become interested in speaking at a Soapbox Science event near you, the next call for speakers will open around January time. Please follow the local and main twitter accounts for up-to-date info. For Swansea this is @soapboxsciSWAN or else email [email protected].
If you want to experience an event, why not sign up as volunteer by contacting a local event?!
Written by Dr Geertje van Keulen & Prof Michelle Lee
For October 10th 2017 Ada Lovelace Day 2017
See more about Soap Box Science in our video
hilary.lappin-scott October 10th, 2017
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I was honoured to be contacted, about 4-5 years ago now, by a group of microbiologists. They asked if they could prepare a Wikipedia page about me, specifically about my research and leadership roles across various microbiology societies. I hadn’t been involved with anyone generating Wikipedia content or editing before, and I was impressed by how thorough the checking of information sources and photos etc. was.
Earlier this year, I and several colleagues were looking at various web links for notable women from our University but also more broadly from the region. Once again it was disappointing to see how very few women had their achievements covered within Wikipedia pages. I am blessed with the support of a lot of women and men who support such an agenda amongst our staff and students, so I asked for interest in volunteering to commence a campaign to change this, via holding a wikipedia edit-athon campaign. I was heartened that many came forward to get this started, across the arts, humanities, social sciences as well as STEM subjects. Several people had some experiences of smaller such campaigns in their own subject areas, bringing much needed experience. All the volunteers had ideas of women across these diverse subject areas that they felt were worthy of such inclusion and that they could seek out the sources required to provide the evidence of these achievements. I was grateful that Dr Jenny Baker, a talented researcher within the College of Engineering, agreed to lead the project and she and I have had several productive meetings to progress this.
Fast forward to the summer and we were looking for a suitable platform to launch the wiki edit-thon campaign. Swansea University was joining the International Day for Women in Engineering for the first time and thankfully La-Chun Lindsay agreed to be our keynote speaker. As this attracted a good crowd we used this to launch the campaign, having set the date for the training session and editing for September 28th. I am thrilled to have support from two Wikimedians in Residence from both the National Library of Wales and the Wellcome Trust. These, and other notable supporters, will give training on how to find and develop content on some inspiring women from our region and how to edit Wikipedia pages too.You can find mor information at our university Wikipediaedit-athon page.
Jenny and I also decided to prepare a short podcast on why we felt we needed to set up a Wikipedia edit-athon campaign, I hope you like it and look forward to seeing the first results from our campaign!
hilary.lappin-scott August 7th, 2017
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This week, Swansea University is celebrating one of the happiest events in the calendar and indeed the highlight of the academic year– our degree congregations! Here we pride ourselves on doing this with a mixture of tradition and informality, for example, including poetry and song as part of each ceremony. Graduation is a great opportunity for me and the University staff to acknowledge and celebrate success and wish our new graduates well on the next stage of their journey. I always enjoy speaking to new graduates to hear about their time with us and also keeping in touch with our alumni and the wonderful things they go on to achieve.
Participating in degree ceremonies, meeting new graduates and their families/friends and helping them enjoy the occasion is all a great part of the job to me. It’s a personal time too when one has taught and worked with students over many years. Without doubt most of the proudest moments of my working life have been watching my students cross the stage and be admitted to their degrees. The ones we get to know best are frequently our personal tutees, those undergraduate students who undertake research projects with us and our Masters and PhD students. Each academic knows only too well all of the issues that many of our students have had to cope with with in order to succeed. I was thinking of one in particular today. Together, she and a sibling were supporting each other to ‘work their way’ through university to increase their skills and life chances. As her sibling had a young child, they shared the childcare, arranging their studies and paid employment around this all too. She sometimes found exams very stressful and I recall more than once that she came to see me for some support just prior to an exam, and we talked together to work up some coping strategies. Fast forward 15+ years, she is now a highly respected scientist and her sibling a medic. Others will know of many similar instances of how lives were changed through education and the experiences of university life.
I was reflecting too on the various roles that I played at many different ceremonies during my career, at the University of Exeter carrying the ‘wand’ for my subject area to reading out all of the postgraduate names, a tricky task that took me much of a week to prepare, to giving speeches and orations for honorary graduands at Swansea University. In 2015 I was thrilled to be the first woman ever at Swansea University to officiate at a degree ceremony whilst the Vice Chancellor was away. This week too, I am officiating and once again admitting some graduands to their degrees. For me this is a great honour and I feel that it is very important to see women playing such roles!
So, it’s back to preparing my speeches for the next ceremonies. I hope that all our graduates will look back with great affection to their time with us, what we refer to in one poem as ‘these graduation day smiles’ and will keep in touch with us via the alumni association.
More information about Professor Lappin-Scott and her work can be found at the following links:
hilary.lappin-scott July 25th, 2017
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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:
Chwarae Teg, Womenspire, STEM, diversity, women, STEM pioneer, Swansea University, Hilary Lappin-Scott, empowerment, Richard B Davies, inspiring women, soapbox science.
hilary.lappin-scott June 14th, 2017
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Diversity in the workplace
One of my roles at Swansea University is to champion change and support increasing diversity in all we do to ‘utilise all our talent’ and support achieving a culture where everyone feels they can be themselves and in turn produce their best work. Toward this there is some related photos of recent activities with the LGBT+ community (LGBTQ month at Swansea University).
As part of this I recently gave a presentation at an Inside Government event in London on supporting and promoting women in STEM subjects and careers. My topic was to present Swansea University as a case study and describe what we had done to achieve this aim in practical terms. Interestingly, I noticed the audience was comprised of many people who had roles that had been created relatively recently, or were very new to these roles themselves. These included advisors or support for Athena SWAN initiatives and Equality and Diversity officers. All were keen to hear and share further ideas that would aid in bringing about more inclusivity in the workplace. Because of this largely new group of people, there was a great deal of learning and forging of new ideas to apply across a large number of institutions, so hopefully the conversations will continue to support increased diversity. There were wonderful sessions for example, by Professor Uta Frith and Helen Wollaston of the WISE campaign; these made for very lively discussion and networking sessions. There were practical ways presented to take positive actions to encourage more talented women to apply for senior roles and to increase the diversity within leadership positions. The tweets can be found under #IGSTEM17.
Regarding the issue of few women in senior positions, a few years ago I wrote an article entitled ‘Marjorie Stephenson and Me’ for the Society for General Microbiology (now the Microbiology Society), emphasising the need and benefits for greater inclusion and participation of women in learned societies too, as well as in the workplace. There are still few women in such leadership roles and actively participating at senior levels in learned societies. The Microbiology Society recently reposted my article, causing me to consider what has changed since 2012. Since the article I have been pleased to be the Society’s Diversity Champion and worked with an excellent group of volunteers and Society staff to draw up and set expectations for an Equality and Diversity plan for the Society. Through this Group and embedding diversity in many areas of the learned society significant changes have been achieved. In May I will be presenting this work at a Royal Society of Biology event and so am reviewing much of the work and progress since then. I am hopeful that when the data are ready that the year on year improvements in diversity will be apparent!
More information about Professor Lappin-Scott and her work can be found at the following links:
hilary.lappin-scott April 11th, 2017
Posted In: Diversity
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