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Updates from 175 Faces of Chemistry. Showcasing diversity within the chemical sciences.

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A report from 2012 reveals that only 12% of third year female PhD students want a career in academia. So why do over a third of women change their mind over just three years?

Although we can’t completely answer that question, 175 Faces of Chemistry brings together women who are succeeding in academia to share their experiences.
There are a number of initiatives that support women in education and research of which the Athena SWAN Charter is one committed to advancing women’s careers in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine. As one of only six female established academics at the University of Cambridge, Jane Clarke heads up the Athena SWAN initiative within the Chemistry department. 

When Jane’s children were young, she became flexible around the hours she worked in the lab by arranging childcare for early mornings. She tells us that there is no reason why women can’t achieve highly but they may need to go about things in a different way. One way she’s done it is by cutting down the size of her research group to focus on quality work.
At her university, Jane has set up a leadership program for young academics to develop their skills in management by which she hopes to encourage the future generation of academics to challenge the way we measure success.

Mentors can also play a huge role in women’s confidence. Rachel O'Reilly struggled to find a permanent position after a succession of fellowships. She feels that unlike the majority of her male colleagues, her instinct was to avoid opportunities which lead to job uncertainty. Fortunately, Rachel had mentors who encouraged her to embrace risky opportunities and since, she has worked up to become professor at age 34. 
Rachel advises others to take all opportunities that present themselves even if you don’t feel ready. “I think finding and developing a supportive network is really important.”
If you want to find other stories similar to Jane and Rachel’s, why not visit 175 Faces of Chemistry.
Jane Clarke’s image by Nathan Pitt & Caroline Hancox, © University of Cambridge.
Rachel O’Reilly’s image © Stephen Lake/ Royal Society of Chemistry
Posted by Jenny Lovell on Feb 9, 2015 9:55 AM GMT

With the number of young people in the UK going to university reaching 50%, what part do apprenticeships still have to play?

Cogent, the Sector Skills Council estimates that chemistry-using industries in the UK will need 33,000 apprentices by 2020, yet projected supply is only 21,000. So the answer is, they’ve got a huge role to play!

Young people are making decisions at a school leaving age to specialise in an area they’ve previously had very limited experience of. I take my hat off to them. They’re taking a leap of faith!

175 Faces of Chemistry recognises some of the achievements of both Jessica Sales and Joe Turton have done just that. They both made the decision to embark on their career in chemistry after taking their GCSEs and A-levels.

Joe works as an Assistant Scientist at the Food and Environment Research Agency where he started learning the basics of working in a lab to developing technical skills including extractions, culturing organisms and using a HPLC.

Joe says, “I recommend an Apprenticeship to anyone, I believe the benefits of doing an Apprenticeship are that you gain practical experience and knowledge of real life situations that are directly relevant to your career that may not be gained in a classroom environment.”

Jessica, having realised that she couldn’t afford to go to university, secured an Apprenticeship at SI-Group Ltd making chemical intermediate products. Working in the analytical department, she studies Chemical Science at Manchester Metropolitan where she completes work based projects for her units.

Jessica Says, “I was questioned if I was doing the right thing for my career, but after talking to people and showing them the work I have completed, their minds have been changed.”

Joe Turton’s image courtesy of Royal Society of Chemistry and Jessica Sales’ image courtesy of Jessica Sales


Posted by Jenny Lovell on Dec 23, 2014 11:11 AM GMT
Why am I talking about outreach when I should be talking about diversity and 175 Faces of Chemistry, do I hear you say?
Well, if we are celebrating positive role models and promoting chemistry to the future generation, then outreach is something we need to recognise.  
Firstly, what is ‘outreach’? According to the dictionary, outreach is an activity that provides services to populations who might not otherwise have access to them. But surely it goes beyond that? Encompassing so many activities from promoting chemistry to communicating it, outreach is an important way to shape our future without relying on limited funding and investment.

So where did it all begin? The earliest form of outreach in the UK I can think of is in 1825, when Michael Faraday started the first Christmas Lectures for children at the Royal Institution on the “Chemical History of a Candle.” Since then, a string of scientists have since sustained the tradition of these lectures. Typically, they have an underlying theme of education through live demonstrations. Peter Wothers, creator of “The Modern Alchemist” series in 2012, sees its importance not just with children but to address the problems that adults have with understanding chemistry.

From live demonstrations to children doing the experiments. In response to our 1990 initiative to encourage interest in science among 10-12 year olds, Bill Williams and Jim Ballantine produced a demonstration lecture where the children performed all the experiments. ‘Science and Energy’ reached 80,000 pupils and was given over 800 times. Having met Bill myself, I found his extraordinary dedication and enthusiasm for his resource astounding.

What about outreach in the rest of the world? In Malaysia, Zana Abdullah often takes 2 hour boat rides to reach children in the jungle to show them simple science. Jean Johnson teaches young African teachers how to do experiments to support the theory and Steve Acquah heads up GEOSET in the US which provides online videos for students around the world.

As you can see, outreach is happening everywhere. Without these dedicated chemists literally ‘pushing the boat out,’ many of our future generation would miss out on opportunities aimed to excite them about chemistry. 175 Faces of Chemistry highlights the achievements of some of these remarkable and selfless chemists. Hopefully we’ll inspire others to take the leap into outreach and beyond!

Image of Michael Faraday © RSC Library / Royal Society of Chemistry, Image of Bill Williams © Jenny Lovell / Royal Society of Chemistry, Image of Zana Abdullah courtesy of Zana Abdullah
Posted by Jenny Lovell on Dec 2, 2014 1:36 PM GMT
A look back at how far women have come within the chemical sciences over the past 100 years.
I’m always astounded that once upon a time, women were part of a societal group that faced unimaginable hurdles in the sciences. So much so, that very few ever achieved a career equal to that of men. It was only 100 years ago that women were forbidden to be awarded degrees and were barred from university libraries and laboratories. Although statistics say we are still a little way off gender equality within the chemical sciences, it just shows you how far society has come to become inclusive.

Marjory Stephenson is a fine example of a determined young woman who followed her passions and studied chemistry at Cambridge University, despite restrictive conditions. She described her research into bacterial metabolism as ‘catching sight of the machinery of life’ in a book entitled Bacterial Metabolism; it became a standard text for generations of biochemists. Despite the success of her research, Marjory was forced to sign all papers ‘M.S’ so her gender was undisclosed. 

It is only sometimes when we compare the success of women both past and present that we can appreciate the shifts in societal attitudes. Mary Garson started her career similarly to Marjory; at Cambridge University. Now very successful in the field of chemical ecology of bioactive metabolites in Australia, her achievements have been recognised by a flatworm named after her; Maritigrella marygarsona. With three women receiving Nobel prizes in 2009, Mary sees that the landscape is very different but not yet equal. Perhaps, although outspoken attitudes have changed, it is the hidden issues that bare the reason preventing us from reaching equality. She highlights the need for family-friendly policies within universities and institutions for any improvement to be had.                                                                                             
So all in all, although we’ve come a huge way since the 1900s, we’ve got some way to go! Positive female role models are an invaluable way to encourage equality within the next generation, something I hope 175 Faces of Chemistry is contributing to!

If you have a role model important in your life, why not nominate them to be one of our 175 Faces of Chemistry here.

Marjory Stephenson's Image © Newnham College Cambridge, Mary Garson's Image courtesy of Mary Garson
Posted by Jenny Lovell on Nov 21, 2014 1:10 PM GMT
If you're not already aware, we are just over half way through 175 Faces of Chemistry, and what a fantastic group of chemists we have so far!
175 Faces of Chemistry, launched by Professor Lesley Yellowlees 15 October 2012 aims to celebrate diversity within the chemical sciences and provide role models to the future generation. Leading to our 175th anniversary on 23 February 2016, we are profiling 175 different scientists who represent diversity in its broadest sense.

So far we've profiled academics, students, teachers, those working in industry to those using the chemical sciences as a foundation to a new career path. We rely on nominations from both our members and non-members to build a truly diverse group of historic and present day inspirational chemists. Do you have a role model or someone you want to see as a 'face' of chemistry that represents diversity? We want to here from you! You are able to nominate someone here. 

Since being on the project for just over two months, I've come to realise the importance of role models in our lives. For me, Tina Feng is someone I personally look up to. Originally from China and hard of hearing, Tina struggled to learn English as a child growing up in Canada. Tina grasped English from copying chemistry mechanisms and chemical structures from her brother's chemistry textbook and developed a profound interest in the chemical sciences. Tina is now carrying out research into biomedical sciences at the National Institute for the Deaf at the Rochester Institute of Technology where she uses the chemistry knowledge she gained throughout her degree. Although she had a difficult time at school, Tina has thrived at university surrounded by other deaf students together with access to ASL interpretors and academic support. Tina is an example of how extraordinary dedication can really take you places!

With so many inspirational chemists out there, keep updated on the website for the next installment!
Image courtesy of Tina Feng and Adan A. Ortiz
Posted by Jenny Lovell on Nov 14, 2014 3:29 PM GMT

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