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Posts from the ‘Role models’ Category

Homeward Bound to Antarctica: Dr Deborah Pardo – by Raheela Rehman

Setting sail from Argentina, 76 women from 16 countries capped off 2016 with a 20-day voyage to Antarctica. This made the BBC news front page story; “Largest all-women expedition heads to Antarctica”. Homeward Bound, an Australian programme, is the brainchild of Dr Jessica Melbourne-Thomas and Ms Fabian Dattner. It aims to place women, with a science background, firmly on the global map to influence “policy and decision making as it shapes our planet”. The Homeward Bound voyage in parallel with lectures and leadership workshops, took its very first women to observe the effect of climate change close up.


I thought I knew what Dr Deborah Pardo was about to present at Lucy Cavendish College. I expected a presentation about; her participation in Homeward Bound, her climate observations at Antarctica, how her research slotted into the programme’s objectives and to inspire the audience to push their boundaries. Yes, Deborah hit all four, but her unexpected “contagious optimism” set the room alight. She took our hands, pulled us into her world and we took our personal journey through her experience.


Deborah’s professional roles took her from France (her home) to Sweden and most recently to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in Cambridge, UK. Her research focus at BAS was on the demography and understanding the drop in the populations of three Albatross species (Wandering, Grey-headed, and Black-browed). She monitored the birds by tagging them with tracking devices and processed the extracted data using extensive computer modelling. During this time Deborah trained two PhD students and she also took maternity leave to have her son. A guilt-ridden 10 months followed as she was unable to provide full focus on both her research and family life. As a driven scientist she found it difficult being away from her work, but with no family support in the UK, the time away led to personal reflection on her work-life balance.


She questioned the reach of her research papers. In the bigger picture, what impact would they have globally to help the Albatross species? The next step came naturally; intrinsic goals would lead to satisfaction and play as a catalyst for happiness. These goals included improving the environment and reducing consumption. The common denominator to create this global wave required half the population to engage, and that was to empower women to take a lead.


In developing countries, women are the carers for their families, their children and the old. They hold a “quiet knowledge”, which glues the family together. Along with this central role, at times of crisis women are also the most affected – Deborah cited the Bangladesh floods of 1991, where 90% of those killed were women.

But it was also this “quiet knowledge” that women used in Western Africa, where Water Hyacinth had polluted the waterways. This removed the oxygen from the water, suffocating the fish and impeding the movement of boats. This halted trade and fishing for the local fishermen. The women removed the weed, using them to make ropes that they entrepreneurially traded, whilst freeing the waterways. Deborah explained that women work close to the ground and they are more aware and proactive to combating climate change.


She also pointed out the stark figures of women globally in positions of leadership:

  • Research | 28%
  • Politics | 27%
  • Business | 20%
  • Medical doctors| 16%

Leadership takes many forms and not just being the CEO. The knowledge within the person is the formative contributor to leadership and success. As a scientist, Dr Deborah Pardo followed her professional path, with rigorous evidence-based decision-making. As a female scientist, Dr Pardo believes that leadership decisions are taken collectively as a team, which is a key leadership capability. The economic case shows that when senior leadership is composed of greater diversity, the skills that women bring to the table strengthen the organisational performance.


Prior to the journey, a year-long preparation involving; online training and psychological tests measuring the participants’ lifestyle were taken. She was also required to raise $16k (US dollars). Deborah rose to the challenge. One of the sponsors was the parent of a school child. Deborah was required to provide an educational video for the school in return for the sponsorship. She will also work with the school for three months.

Why Antarctica? Antarctica is an iconic symbol of the human impact on the world and grabs the attention of the media. The participants travelled by ship overnight to different locations, in the mornings after breakfast they went on land and returned for training in the afternoon.


One of the lessons learnt from her Homeward Bound journey, was to question; “What can I really achieve?” Within a network, Deborah is in a stronger position to instigate, maintain and follow through for change. She will now act as a mentor to the next set of bright women who take up the challenge, including Catherine Sorbara, new Chair of CamAWISE.

By Raheela Rehman

‘Moving into management’ by Harriet Truscott

20150908--239It was another informative and entertaining session from Cambridge AWISE in April, when management trainer Kate Atkin joined us for a session on ‘Moving into management’.

From her attention-grabbing opening story about her first management role, the only woman manager in a well-known bank, to the team activity where she had most of us tangled up in string, Kate kept her audience engaged – and there was always a learning point to be grasped.

Several of us in the room had asked her to share her guidance on meetings, and particularly how to present a case effectively. Stepping back to ancient Greece, Kate called in Aristotle to aid us. Making a case, she argued, whether in an ancient Athenian law court or a modern boardroom, is a matter of three steps: ethos, pathos, and logos. ‘Ethos’, in these terms, is your own credibility. Are you a well known expert in the field? Have you held the job for a number of years? Have you carried out a relevant study? ‘Pathos’ is your ability to shape the audience’s emotions. As Kate pointed out, she’d used this very tactic at the start of the workshop: her story of life in the bank rapidly got her audience onside. And finally, ‘logos’, the logical argument. Put all three together – your own expertise, the rational argument, and an appeal to the audience’s emotions – and you’re primed for a successful meeting.

Other topics we covered included successful delegation, giving meaningful feedback, and turning difficult situations around through constructive conversations.

The biggest take away of the night, and one that those of us who never figured out the ‘string trick’ will find particularly memorable – if someone asks you to do a task, never shy away from asking them all the questions you need to do it!

Kate’s book, The Confident Manager, is available from her website,

Meet the Steering Group – Aldara B. Dios


What is your current profession/background?

I am a vocational product design engineer. Right now I’m working as a freelancer although I would love to work in a design company as part of a team. I’ve also worked as a web and graphic designer and have taught design during summer courses at the University..

What point in your life led you to pursue a STEM career?

In primary school, I had a wonderful maths teacher. He encouraged me and supported me. Maths was my favourite subject so I always knew I would follow a STEM career. For many years, I dreamed of being an astrophysicist. That changed but what never changed was that I wanted to study a STEM-related career.

What is one of your biggest aspirations?

As a product designer, I see myself as an inventor, a problem-solver and a designer. So my aspiration is to change people’s lives with a product I’ve worked on. I would also love to invent a product to wipe housework from women’s lives.

What advice would you give to aspiring female scientists and engineers?

Believealdarabdios.jpg in yourself, no matter what others may say. If you want to be an engineer… you work hard to be an engineer (it’s what I did when I was told that I couldn’t be an engineer because I was a woman).

Don’t let anyone treat you differently because you are a woman. Neither for good nor for bad (I never let my male colleagues do more work just because they felt they could or should). No surprise, you will be more respected.

Learn to program. Now! And… enjoy! Science and technology are so much fun! They answer questions, allow you to be creative, solve problems. You will never be bored.

How have you benefited from being a part of CAMAWiSE?

Being a woman in a STEM career is not always easy. Personally, being part of a group of talented women who have the same problems or share a similar path makes me feel better and helps me better understand the problems I had found in the way. It is very rewarding, as well, to know that you are working to help other women and girls. It’s also been very useful professionally, as I’ve met other women who have helped me in different areas from networking to CV tailoring.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Since I’m living in Cambridge I love riding my trike from the Fitzwilliam to the Round Church on a cold winter afternoon and enjoying the view of all the colleges. I also like to draw buildings, to read science fiction and to knit socks.

Ask me about…..
CAD, design, computers and my tricycle.

Meet the Steering Group – Nikita Hari

Nikita Hari Women in Science conference 2What is your current profession/background? 

I am currently pursuing my doctoral studies in Electrical Engineering at the University of Cambridge. I’m researching making systems called ‘Power Electronic Converters’ with novel devices called ‘GaN’ which can efficiently convert and conserve power and thereby help create a more sustainable future. I also tutor for first year Engineering undergraduates of Churchill College.

What point in your life led you to pursue a career in STEM?

Being in love with Physics and Mathematics being a good friend of mine, Engineering came as an obvious choice to me after my A levels. The intrigue, fascination and excitement to fathom the unexplained ‘electric shock’ I received as a kid motivated me to take up electrical engineering as my specialisation; starting off with an undergraduate degree, then moving on to do a masters and now pursuing a PhD in the same area.

What is one of your biggest aspirations?

My biggest aspiration and vision is to educate, inspire and help socially disadvantaged children around the globe, especially young girls to take up scientific studies and research thereby igniting their lives. Thus I’m passionate about making a positive contribution to society through technology and education.

What advice would you give to aspiring female scientists and engineers?

Your destiny is your decision! Do not allow the societal stereotypes to stop you from pursuing your passion. Let nothing stop you from doing what you love most. Let your wings of dreams fly high…!

How have you benefited from being a part of CAMAWiSE?

I joined CamAWiSE when I first met a friend Raheela who invited me to join and there was no looking back since then. Met some lovely people… learnt a lot… and at the end of the day it’s a space where I know, I’m not alone in this ‘women in engineering and science ‘journey……!

What do you like to do in your free time?

I love day dreaming, spending time with near and dear ones, watching movies, documentaries, reading novels and music is my soul mate…! I enjoy giving talks at the Cambridge Science Festival, Girl conferences and STEM events to increase visibility of women in STEM and make our voices heard to inspire the future generation. I do consulting for an online tutoring initiative for Syrian kids founded by my friend and I also do social enterprise work as the conference director of Beyond Profit Cambridge.

Ask me about …

Power Electronics, Electrical Engineering, GaN, Women in STEM, Social Entrepreneurship, Music and Movies.





Meet the Steering Group – Cathy Sorbara

What is your current profession/background? 

I am currently a Publishing Editor at the Royal Society of Chemistry. I also work part-time as a Consultant/General Manager for the Cheeky Scientist Association, a company which helps academics find jobs in industry. I did my Masters in Biochemistry at the University of Ottawa in Canada and my PhD in Medical Life Science and Technology at the Technical University of Munich, Germany.

What point in your life led you to pursue a career in STEM?

My father and brother were my role models for pursuing a STEM education. My father taught math and computer programming in high school and my brother was always passionate about math and computers. Growing up, when I had trouble with my math homework, my father and brother would be so excited to help me. I remember them rushing to get out a pen and paper and talk me through the problem. They are the two most brilliant people I know and their excitement for learning was infectious.

What is one of your biggest aspirations?

I am still fascinated with all aspects of science and would love to expand on this on a more ethical and political dimension by engaging more in policy and communication.

What advice would you give to aspiring female scientists and engineers?

Do not worry about titles or specific career paths. Rarely does someone’s career follow a straight path. Allow yourself to discover what is of interest to you and do not feel there is a time limit in which you need to have it all sorted out. Remember it’s the journey that’s important, not the end goal.

How have you benefited from being a part of CAMAWiSE?

I first joined CAMAWiSE when I moved to Cambridge one year ago from Germany and was unemployed. I was immediately struck by the way I was welcomed with open arms and how everyone offered to help with my job search. I went from not knowing anyone, to having a supportive network that encouraged me to thrive.

What do you like to do in your free time?

In the mornings before work you will find me at the gym at ungodly hours or running along the river. I love to cook and travel and have a long bucket list of places I would love to see. I take Italian language courses and periodically volunteer at the Cambridge Science Centre.

Ask me about …

Neuroscience, scientific editing, career transitioning and how to make home-made pasta.


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