Birkbeck has been awarded an Athena SWAN Bronze award for promoting and supporting women in the fields of science.
Birkbeck wins a Bronze for gender equality
Birkbeck has been awarded an Athena SWAN Bronze award for promoting and supporting women in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine.
The awards, largely funded by the higher education sector’s Equality Challenge Unit, were set up to help improve the representation and career progression of women in science. Birkbeck is one of 42 universities that have gained bronze status since the scheme began in 2005. An award at this level recognises that the university has a solid foundation for eliminating gender bias and for developing an inclusive culture that values all staff. Universities must achieve a bronze award before individual departments can apply for recognition in their own right.
Professor Nick Keep, Executive Dean of Birkbeck’s School of Science, said: “This is a welcome recognition of what is just the start, rather than the end, of a process, and I look forward to our continued progress in this area.”
Scientist shares her experiences
Astrobiologist Dr Claire Cousins took up her first academic appointment at Birkbeck in June 2010. Now working as a postdoctoral researcher in the UCL/Birkbeck Centre for Planetary Sciences, she is part of a team that recently surveyed subglacial volcanoes in Iceland with the aim of applying this knowledge to the search for life on Mars. She has a PhD in Planetary Science from UCL and a degree in Geology from Cardiff University.
She said: “At this early stage of my career, being a woman in my particular branch of science has not been an issue. The younger generation of academics, and students, in Earth Sciences in particular, tend to be balanced between genders. Women are just as interested as men in science subjects, and in doing a PhD or postdoctoral work. The challenge is perhaps later in a career, when job opportunities coincide with the time when women might be thinking of starting a family.
“However, my work is also very interdisciplinary, involving geology, microbiology and space sciences, so there is a great deal of collaboration across institutions. This means you have lots of opportunities to meet other researchers and to share ideas as you develop your career.
“In addition, the working environment here at Birkbeck is very flexible – I’ve been encouraged to work with new research groups and to meet new people in my field. That’s particularly important at the start of your career.”
Cousins is also working on “ExoMars” - the European Space Agency’s mission to Mars, due to launch in 2018. She added: “I am working on the Panoramic Camera (PanCam) - this instrument will be the ‘eyes’ of the ExoMars rover, providing colour images of the Martian surface and identifying the geological context of the rover’s surroundings. It’s a very exciting project, especially now the NASA rover is sending back information from Mars. This is a great time to be working in my field!”