Skip to content

BLOG – Women in STEM – Feminist Society, Robinson College

By Dr Stephanie Höhn and Raheela Rehman.

On Saturday (23 February) Clara Bayley and Anna Davies from the Robinson College Feminist Society chaired a most interesting panel discussion on Women in STEM.  

The panel speakers for the evening were*: Dr Claire Barlow (Deputy Head, Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge); Dr Sally Anderson (Chief Technologist, Sharp Life Science); Professor Rachel Oliver (Department of Material Science and Metallurgy, University of Cambridge) and Dr Stephanie Höhn (Reserach Associate, Faculty of Maths, University of Cambridge, CamAWiSE Deputy-Chair).

The discussion opened with each speaker introducing the current figures of women in their respective departments and workplaces. The speakers also provided a comparison of their experiences and approaches to enhance opportunities for groups in different environments. Sharp Life Science, Sally Anderson indicated, has been working on gender balanced recruitment for over a year, which has resulted in a broad workforce which has balanced gender representation.


Rachel Oliver

Professor Rachel Oliver highlighted that the Materials Science and Metallurgy Department of the University of Cambridge retains its percentage of women in the department, with 30% registered female undergraduates and 30% in research and senior posts. The Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge, has 26% registered undergraduate female students, 20% postgraduates and 12 % research staff. Dr Claire Barlow has worked to increase the number of women across the board in the department, and it has especially seen a significant rise in the number of women in senior management roles at 75%.


Delving into the often explored question of when is it most important or effective to encourage women to participate in STEMM, the panel agreed that involvement from both early stage (toddler) to much later is critical. Citing the research carried out by the Institute of Physics, Rachel Oliver pointed out that influencers play a pivotal role. Two of the greatest influences in encouraging individuals into Physics are parents and teachers. Stephanie added that in addition, staff training in unconscious bias, BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) & LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) should be compulsory. Sally Anderson’s father had played an important role, with his encouragement, in her choice in selecting to pursue her studies and career in STEMM. In reference to the ubiquitous gendered children’s toys, the panel agreed the early age influence created a mental split between parents’, girls and boys choices on what may be acceptable for later on in life.


Claire Barlow

Dr Claire Barlow has been working with Lego to promote gender-neutral toys and packaging.  

The discussion moved on to external influences, which the speakers felt had been particularly important in reaching their current roles, especially as women.  Claire Barlow advised, “Surround yourself with people who believe in you, have faith in your own ability and seek out supportive networks and maintain those networks.”


Stephanie Höhn

Stephanie Höhn encouraged take up of maths and physics, as they open many doors. The overarching message was to nurture one’s own interests and curiosity in the world around you.

With regards to time away from work for maternity leave, Sally Anderson had taken leave on two occasions for both her children, at six months each time. She had been in a position whereby her partner had some flexibility in his working hours to help for her return, and shared parental leave was not available at the time. Paternity leave is now available, and Sally pressed the need for senior staff to be seen taking paternity leave to encourage others to do so too.  And that a pause in one’s career for maternity or childcare requirements should not be presumed as a matter only for the mother.

With the importance of increasing and retaining Women in STEMM, the discussion led to the inclusion of other protected groups in the same sectors. The clear note was that, “In order to achieve, you need a broad membership at the table,“ Stephanie Höhn. Rachel Oliver said that there were two options for women, the first was to act and think the same as a man. The second was the need for the meeting of differences. “It’s through varied backgrounds where valuable creativity happens. Different experiences bring new perspectives in problem solving, and it is here the largest and efficient impact can be created,” Rachel Oliver.

The highlights deemed as helpful or necessary included: networks of allies; a policy of visibility and respect; more detailed information on the specific obstacles that people in marginalised groups encounter and a transparent communication to overcome these obstacles. The discussion involved challenges for women and other marginalised groups at all stages of their education and career.

The evening was an excellent example how personal interaction between students and faculty members can constructively influence education structures. The same applies to the exchange of experiences between departments, universities and industry concerning different strategies to overcome the specific challenges of women in STEMM.

The panellists were

* Dr Claire Barlow has been a senior member of Newnham College for over 40 years, and is currently the Deputy Head of the Engineering Department. She has also organised the International Women in Engineering Day in Cambridge last year.

*Dr Sally Anderson spent her career in R&D in the electronics industry. Currently she is Chief Technologist at Sharp Life Science, which commercialised a “lab-on-a-chip” technology for automating workflows in the life science, chemical and medical sectors.

*Professor Rachel Oliver teaches and researches Materials Science at the University of Cambridge. Her main interests are in light emitting materials for applications ranging from energy efficient lighting to quantum communications. She is the founder of the Robinson College Women in STEM Festival. She recently spoke to the Science and Technology Select Committee of the House of Commons concerning the impact of funding policy on equality, diversity, inclusion and accessibility in STEM.

*Dr Stephanie Höhn is a Reserache Associate in the Biological Physics and Mechanics group at the Cambridge Maths Faculty. She did a PhD in Biology and is now combining experiments and simulations to explore the physical parameters of tissue development. For this she is developing dedicated microscopy hardware. She is on the faculty’s Equality and Diversity committee and a member of the local LGBT+ group.


BLOG – ‘Cutting through the fog: Crafting and presenting a clear magnetic story’ – Dr Ghina Halabi

by Dr Stephanie Höhn

Everybody has a story to tell. What is your personal story? How can you use it in your work and everyday life to get your message across? These are the questions we discussed during a thought provoking evening with Dr Ghina Halabi, astrophysicist, gender advocate and storyteller.

The power of stories is demonstrated by the 1001 tales that Scheherazade tells the Sultan, ending each session with a cliff hanger in order to be spared another day. Fascinated by Scheherazade’s stories the Sultan eventually gives up his plan to behead her. Inspired by this Middle Eastern tale Ghina founded the social enterprise “Scheherazade Speaks Science” , a platform to make science accessible and promote female scientist.

1On Tuesday (12 February 2019), Ghina introduced the essential ingredients that capture the attention of an audience and make sure they will remember you and whatever it is you have to say. In a lively discussion we explored the phenomenon of “storyphobia” in science, which on one hand relies on cold hard facts and on the other hand needs to appeal to the deeper needs of society in order to obtain its support. Revealing the ups and downs that inevitably mark the path to any project worth noting makes it so much more interesting to listen and renders the narrator more human and relatable. Ghina stressed that, like any other skill, storytelling 4needs to be exercised. Several brave attendees shared anecdotes of events that contributed to shaping the person they are today. Nurturing this skill can be helpful during presentations, outreach work and even job interviews. For the latter a compelling example of a challenging situation well mastered can be invaluable. The team at Scheherazade Speaks Science gives regular workshops including narration, body language and dealing with stage fright.

So, what is your story?

We would like to thank Ghina for sharing her evening and inspiring us all for our own stories.

Perfecting your interview skills – Megan Glazebrook

Just over a month to go until the third workshop in our 4-part career series! On the 12th of March Megan Glazebrook, Talent Acquisition Partner at Johnson Matthey, will coach you to nail those Interview Techniques for a definitive yes in step-three. For a description of the workshop and for bookings click here.

Job Adverts

Cambridge Science Centre are seeking a dynamic, resilient, confident and experienced Head of Development to lead their fundraising and to help them achieve the next stage of their growth.

As Head of Development you will have responsibility for maximizing the charity’s income by growing and managing major donor relationships, moving forward on current opportunities, identifying and developing new funding opportunities, and setting up and running fundraising events.

Read more if this sounds like you and you want to bring your excitement and passion for STEMM to an organisation where it will make a real difference.

Join our Steering Group – AGM 2019 nomination forms

Do you like what Cambridge AWiSE stands for? Why not join our Steering Group? A great way to develop transferable skills in a supportive environment.

The 2019 Annual General Meeting will take place on Tuesday 12th February ~9.20 pm in the Reception Rooms at Lucy Cavendish College, following a talk by Dr Ghina Halabi, which will start at 8 pm.

Please find descriptions of the roles and nomination forms for the post we will be holding elections for here.

Any questions? Contact Marloes at

%d bloggers like this: