International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality. The day has been marked for well over a century, with the first IWD gathering in 1911.

2021 #ChoosetoChallenge

This year’s theme is to challenge bias and bring about change.

We asked some of our many inspirational women about:

  • their experiences
  • what they’re proud of
  • what they would like to change.

Demie Kepaptsoglou

Demie Kepaptsoglou

Demie Kepaptsoglou

Staff Scientist and Deputy Director at SuperSTEM. Research Fellow and Lecturer at University of York, Department of Physics.

My name is Dr Demie Kepaptsoglou. I hold a joint position of a Staff Scientist and Deputy Director at SuperSTEM, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s (EPSRC) National Research Facility for Advanced Electron Microscopy located at the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Daresbury Campus, and Research Fellow and Lecturer at the Department of Physics at the University of York.

I work in materials research for renewable energy and spintronics applications. At SuperSTEM, we use some of the most powerful microscopes in the world to look at materials at the atomic level, or ‘one atom at a time’; the arrangement of atoms in materials and the bonding between them gives us powerful information about how they work and how to make them better for future applications.

What has been your proudest achievement?

I recently got funding for a project on a really competitive call, the EPSRC New Horizons 2020 grant supporting high-risk, adventurous mathematical and physical science projects. It is also my first funded project as a principle investigator so I am extremely happy.

Who are the women who have inspired you the most?

I find this question rather difficult to answer, as I tend not to think in terms of specific role models. I have taken most inspiration from strong women in my life growing up. Women who persevered, despite their worth coming into question due to their gender, taught me that there is nothing I can’t do because I am a woman.

What is the one thing you wish would change about the system to make it a fairer one for women?

Childcare and family responsibilities fall disproportionally in the hands of women in all walks of life, a disparity that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. So if I was to start somewhere, it would be perhaps better social and childcare systems. Also, some true consideration of individual circumstances in women’s career progressions.

Hannah Thompson

Hannah Thompson

Hannah Thompson

Professor of French and Critical Disability Studies at Royal Holloway. Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Engagement Fellow.

My name is Hannah Thompson and I am a partially blind academic at Royal Holloway where I am Professor of French and Critical Disability Studies. I am also an AHRC Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Fellow for my project Inclusive Description for Equality and Access (IDEA).

I’m working with audio description charity VocalEyes and a range of theatre companies to create audio descriptions that describe physical characteristics (such as body shape, disability and ethnicity) in ethical and inclusive ways.

What has been your proudest achievement and who are the women who have inspired you the most?

In 2015 I organised an international conference and micro-arts festival ‘Blind Creations’ with my colleague and friend Vanessa Warne from the University of Manitoba in Canada. I am proud of how we brought together 120 blind and non-blind academics, artists, advocates, and allies from around the world to celebrate the creative potential of blindness.

It felt amazing to have my two role-models Georgina Kleege and Zina Weygand as keynote speakers at the conference. Georgina is a blind creative writer and professor at Berkeley. Her book on blindness, Sight Unseen completely changed my appreciation of my own blindness when I read it in 2011. She helped me ‘come out’ as a disabled person and taught me to live happily with blindness.

French academic Zina is the leading historian of blindness. She showed me the value of academic work in blindness studies and introduced me to a wonderful network of like-minded academics, including Vanessa and Georgina.

Without Georgina and Zina, I would not have started my Blind Spot blog or written my third book Reviewing Blindness in French Fiction, published by Palgrave in 2017.

What is the one thing you wish would change about the system to make it a fairer one for women?

To make the system fairer to everyone – not just women – I would introduce anonymous job shortlisting and grant peer-review. It is crucial that panels can consider an applicant’s achievements without forming unconscious judgements based on gender, race, or age.

Anna Fox

Professor of Photography at University for the Creative Arts (UCA), Photographer, and Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Engagement Fellow.

As one of AHRC’s recently announced Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Engagement Fellows, Professor Fox will be hosting a series of innovative workshops and mentorship activities to drive awareness of women’s unheard stories using photography and storytelling practices.

I’m Anna Fox, Professor of Photography at UCA, and I’m also a photographer.

What has been your proudest achievement?

Oh goodness so many. I was very proud when I was shortlisted for the Deutsche Borse Prize for Photography. I was incredibly proud of the work I did in collaboration with National Institute of Design (NID) in India, supported by UK-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI) and Prime Minister’s Initiative (PMI2) funds, where students from the UK (UCA) and India (NID) had the opportunity to travel and study for one month in each other’s countries.

As well I am very proud of the Fast Forward Women in Photography project and the funding we have been awarded from Leverhulme Trust and from AHRC (UKRI) – and then there are my two children!

Who are the women who have inspired you the most?

Karen Knorr, Val Williams, Helen Sear, Anne McNeill, Susan Lipper, Susan Collins – photographers and curators that have been thoroughly inspiring and hugely supportive.

What is the one thing you wish would change about the system to make it a fairer one for women?

Bring down the patriarchy! Women’s lives are neither understood nor appreciated within a patriarchal society.

Kelly Nguyen

Kelly Nguyen

Kelly Nguyen

Scientist at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Laboratory of Molecular Biology.

I am Kelly Nguyen, a scientist working at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK. I lead a research group focusing on telomere biology.

What has been your proudest achievement?

Starting my lab just before the pandemic hit, there have been many challenges involved, not only for me but also for my team. Despite the constant changing rules with regard to both work and life, everyone in my lab has been doing a marvellous job of accommodating the changes, supporting one another and keeping exciting science going. The work the lab has done together through the pandemic has proved fruitful and I am particularly proud of this team effort.

Who are the women who have inspired you the most?

Having grown up in Vietnam, IWD has always been a special occasion there, where we show our appreciation to the women in our family, at school, at work and so on. I have been inspired by many women throughout my life and career, some of whom have been involved directly in my life and career and many I admire from afar. As a child, I was inspired by my own mother, who is a well-regarded high school maths teacher in my hometown.

As a postdoc, I was co-mentored by two amazing women, Professor Eva Nogales and Professor Kathy Collins, who inspire me in every way and have been supporting me unconditionally. I have been fortunate to have such mentors and role models and been given the opportunity to pursue a career path I am passionate about.

I hope in the future there will be more support, opportunities and flexibility for women to pursue the career they love, whatever it may be.

What is the one thing you wish would change about the system to make it a fairer one for women?

All three, Carol Robinson, Eva Nogales and Cristina Hernandez-Gomez, have carried out their inspirational work whilst raising a family. In my view, to realise one’s potential it is essential that room is made to attain some kind of work/family balance.

Besides the obvious efforts improving flexible working practices and childcare facilities, focusing on outputs rather than inputs is very important. It is also important that we can understand the potential in each person, so we can facilitate a person-focused tailor-made approach that allows managers to underpin individual efforts to best deliver everyone’s career.

Emma Meehan

Emma Meehan

Emma Meehan

Emma Meehan, Senior Science Technician at Science and Technology Facilities Council.

My name is Emma Meehan and I am a Senior Science Technician at STFC. My role at STFC’s Boulby Underground Laboratory is quite varied. I manage a part of the laboratory called the Boulby UnderGround Screening facility which is an amazing lab that screens materials for super sensitive rare event physics detectors. I also manage our public engagement and social media as well as being a mental health and suicide first aider.

What has been your proudest moment?

In 2019 I won the very first Institute of Physics Technician Award. It was an amazing experience and I am still super proud of that.

Who are the women who have inspired you the most?

There are so many amazing women in STFC. Catherine Ewart, who is the Head of Stakeholder and International Relations, has had a huge influence on me. Her dedication to her work and passion for Boulby is very inspiring and she taught me that hard work will get you far in STFC.

I am also hugely inspired by the STFC public engagement team. Sophy Palmer and Lauren Mowberry in particular. They are both amazing women who have such an awesome attitude to life and work. They are so inclusive and welcoming to anyone who is interested in science communication and they have made it possible for me to really embrace the public engagement part of my job at Boulby.

What is the one thing you wish would change about the system to make it a fairer one for women?

In my personal experience, being a woman hasn’t held me back in any way at STFC. I do wish that the Executive Board was a bit more diverse in general, but certainly having more female representation at the very top of STFC would be a good thing. My only other wish would be that the PPE at Boulby came in women’s sizes.

Tahmina Ajmal

Tahmina Ajmal

Tahmina Ajmal

Tahmina Ajmal, Senior Lecturer in Engineering, University of Bedfordshire.

I am Tahmina Ajmal, Senior Lecturer in Engineering at University of Bedfordshire. My job includes teaching and research in electronic engineering applied to improve environment and society.

I completed my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electronic engineering in India, before coming to UK (University of Essex) for my PhD in 2003 in optical cryptography. After this, I joined the University of Bristol as a research fellow for developing a low-cost water testing device.

This was the turning point in my academic journey as I transitioned into the environmental sphere. From there, I joined my current position in University of Bedfordshire in 2010 and continued my journey through working with local agencies and attracting some excellent research funding as principal investigator.

One of my BBSRC-NERC funded research projects is to develop a precision aquaculture infrastructure to increase the productivity and reduce the impact on the environment.

What has been your proudest achievement?

Looking back, I feel that each step in my academic journey has been an achievement on its own: completing my PhD, getting a job, securing research funding, supervising PhDs to completion and so on. However, I feel privileged now to be in a position to apply my skills for bringing about a change in the environment, society and economy.

Who are the women who have inspired you the most?

During my career, there have not been a lot of female colleagues because engineering is one of the areas known for its gender imbalance. However, my mother has always been a source of inspiration for me. She completed her master’s in organic chemistry (in first class) and went to start her PhD. However, she couldn’t pursue her career any further because of her dedication to her children (three daughters – both of my sisters are doctors in paediatrics). And she always encouraged us to achieve all that she couldn’t, and more.

What is the one thing you wish would change about the system to make it a fairer one for women?

To make the world a fairer playing ground, I would like more work and research opportunities that focus on the emotional skills inherent to women. Women bring to any discipline an empathy and a high emotional quotient, together with an immense attention to tiny details. However, that does mean delivering less results. Appreciating this aspect will give women a much-needed confidence in their capabilities, bring about a much-needed women engagement and make the world a better place to live in.

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