Lent Formal and talk by Dr Helen Mason OBE

CiW members got together for our Lent Formal at Queens' where they had a range of discussions about their projects and what it means to be a woman in physics over dinner. It was particularly interesting to hear from our senior members as to how the status quo was in the past, offering a comparison to the progress we have made in present times.

The dinner was followed by a talk from Dr Helen Mason, OBE who has recently retired as a Reader from the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics. She still continues to be actively involved in science outreach as a STFC Public Engagement Fellow. The evening's talk was interspersed with personal anecdotes from her career while touching upon the research she had done on solar physics over the years.

It was inspiring to hear how she had traversed through a male-dominated field while not allowing the fact she was in the minority to affect her career. She spoke about the men who had supported her through her career, particularly her doctoral advisors and a previous Head of the Department, Prof. David Crighton. She also encouraged women in the audience to speak up when they thought something was not right; a situation she highlighted was when a previous Vice Chancellor had referred her to as 'Mrs. Mason' in an email. She pointed out that she should be addressed as 'Dr. Mason' and as Cambridge did not recognise doctoral degrees from London in those times, she also mentioned that recognition should be granted. Dr Mason also spoke about how she balanced her career with her family life by taking upon research assignments in the US while she had young children. Finally, she highlighted the outreach work she had been undertaking in schools and also how she encountered gender stereotypes with regard to careers amongst children.

The audience was engaged and asked questions along the lines of her talk and the final message of the day was that although great progress has been made in terms of gender equality in the sciences, there is still work to be done.

Inferior: How Science got Women Wrong - Angela Saini in conversation with Dr. Whitaker


The event started off with Angela giving us a brief overview of her recent book 'Inferior: How Science got Women Wrong'. She spoke about great scientists such as Charles Darwin held the view that women were intellectually inferior to men, and the fact that this belief was pervasive across cultures. She pointed to current popular literature that highlighted men and women are meant to occupy different spheres. In order to counter such theories, she brought forth the example of anthropologists who had observed women hunting, an activity traditionally associated with men, and the existence of matrilineal societies in Northwestern China/Tibet. She encouraged the audience to broaden their perspectives by pointing that we are incredibly versatile beings and that 'there is no reason biology should hold us back'.

This was followed by a Q&A session with Dr. Kirstie Whitaker. Questions ranged from what led Ms Saini to research this topic to what her views were to enforce equal representation. She went back to Darwin's theory of sexual selection and talked about how there had been no rigorous research to support his statement in contrary to the other theories he had proposed. She also touched upon the 'Theory of Parental Investment' which said that women tended to be monogamous as their investment was high in raising offspring, while men were more promiscuous due to low investment; she went on to say that there were many instances in history such as FGM where female sexual behaviour was controlled. With regard to enforcement of a quota in science to ensure equal representation of women, she eloquently put that heavy-handed methods would not work in skilled fields and instead, we would need to look at measures such as providing better childcare options. Dr. Whitaker also asked Ms Saini about her next book on race in science and what prompted her to write it. Angela said that this was a subject she always wanted to write about, and she hopes to understand where the idea of race came from and why we hold on to it so much, even in present times.

Following this, there was a lively engagement between the audience and Ms Saini. One response of note was about how chimps and bonobos have female-dominated societies not by virtue of physical strength, but because of the strong networks females form amongst themselves. The session ended with a few key messages from Ms Saini on how we should start with breaking gender stereotypes at home and how we should not take women's rights for granted. 

Join us!

Welcome to all new (and returning) students joining us this term! We hope you're excited to get involved with CiW!

Join our mailing lists here: undergraduate or graduate

Our first graduate social of the term is Thursday 19th Oct at the Cambridge Brewhouse. We'll have a table from 6pm onwards - drop by when you can. Undergraduate social to be announced!

We are also recruiting more committee members. These positions are open to any female/non binary members of the Cavendish. Get in touch if you're interested!

Outreach team - a group to do outreach within and around Cambridge to a wide range of audiences. 

Welfare - raising awareness of sexual harassment policies of the department, being a member of the dignity@phys team, attending SAT meetings.

Mentoring coordinator - in charge of our mentoring scheme, pairing up mentors with mentees.

BME rep - inviting BME speakers, opening conversations about decolonising science, part of a wider network of BME women in science in London.

Study session coordinator - booking study session rooms in college, 

Website/Tech/Social Media content - keep our social media platforms up to date, write articles for the website on events and speakers.

Podcaster - interview women in science around cambridge for our podcast series.

Treasurer - keep track of finances. 

CiW Formal Dinner: tickets on sale!

We'll be having a CiW Formal dinner for women and non-binary physicists on Thursday, May 4th at Queens’ College. It's a great way to bring the community together so please come along to meet other physicists and get involved!

Tickets, £11.60 available here. Deadline is Friday 28th April! 

We invite you to a three-course dinner:

Goats Cheese Soufflé, Pear & Walnut Salad
Grilled fillet of haddock topped with Welsh rarebit
Veg: Courgette, Sunblushed Tomato Pesto Parmesan Tart
Herb Mash
Wilted Spinach
Chocolate Torte

Wine is not included, but you are welcome to bring a bottle.

More diversity = better science!

Thanks to everyone who came along to celebrate International Women's Day! We had a great turn out, with a large number of people arriving in purple to support the event. Photos from the day here.


This year’s International Women’s Day was themed “be bold”. At CiW, we felt this was a good occasion to start conversations about diversity in our department, in a meaningful and hopefully long-lasting way. We had a fantastic turn out on the day- with everyone dressed in purple (the official IWD colour). We heard from Andy Parker (Head of Dept.) and Rachael Padman (Athena Swan coordinator) about the values they think are important for the Cavendish to become a more welcoming and supportive place. With these values in mind, we gathered below our banner that proclaims “more diversity=better science”.

In the evening, Prof. Meena Upadhyaya gave an inspiring account of her career as a scientist and as an Indian woman and mother in Wales. Dr. Thekla Morgenroth talked about her fascinating research on affirmative action: what it means, the different way it can be enacted and which ones of those ways are more useful in changing the status quo.

Cambridge-based entrepreneur, Clémentine Vignault Rao, explains her new social venture being rolled out in India.

A former masters student in Cambridge, Clémentine Vignault Rao, is now the co-founder and CEO of a Cambridge-based start-up, Slate2Learn. Incubated at the Cambridge Social Ventures at the Judge Business School, Slate2Learn is a micro-franchise of tablet-based tutoring centres. They opened their first three centres in January and February this year in Delhi.

Building on her earlier business experience in India and France, Slate2learn data analytics capabilities are largely a result of Clementine’s self-taught coding skills. We asked Clementine about what led to her starting her own company, how she learnt the necessary technical skills and what lessons and advice she would pass onto other young entrepreneurs. Go here for the full interview.

Want to learn how to be a better science communicator?

We have teamed up with the university’s science outreach coordinator Dr. Lucinda Spokes, and communications expert Sarah Cruise, to provide a training workshop that will equip you to inspire young people - by sharing your science, and your story!

The workshop is open to all, and is a fantastic training opportunity for anyone interested in science outreach.

Sign up: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/communicate-inspire-tickets-25785052787

Success: is it all in the mind?

What do we mean by success? Is it all just in the mind? How do our own feelings and the biases of others affect us in the workplace? And how do these factors affect women working in science in particular?

This three-part special podcast features a live recording from a recent event held in Cambridge titled 'Success: Is it all in the mind?'. It was moderated and recorded by Stuart Higgins, producer of 'Scientists not the Science'.

Note: Links below do not necessarily represent an endorsement by either CiW or the speakers, but are included for reference and further reading.

Click here to listen to the podcast

It was a success!

Thanks to all who came along to our panel discussion 'Success: is it all in the mind?' on tuesday evening. The panel included Jessica Wade, Professor Michelle Ryan, Dame Athene Donald and Dr Tom Stafford, moderated by Dr Stuart Higgins. They discussed, with input from the audience, the effect unconscious biases have on achieving diversity in science, what is being done about it and how we can all try and address our own biases. 

Stay tuned for our next panel discussion!

Formal at St Johns and inspiration from Dr Silvia Vignolini

Fifty postdocs, PhD students, administrative staff and group leaders met to dine at St Johns and listen to Dr Silvia Vignolini talk about her research in photonics. Dr Vignolini also shared her humorous experiences of moving from physics to chemistry, being the sole female visitor to a physics lab, her thoughts on life in academia vs industry and advice on how to remain positive. Follow the link to all the photos from the evening.


Interview with Elsa Couderc, editor at Nature Communications

Full interview go here

From the optics lab at the Cavendish to an editor at Nature: Elsa Couderc tells us her thoughts on publishing, postdoc-ing, and what a normal day as an editor involves.

Originally from Paris, Elsa is now an editor at Nature Communications in London. Previous to starting here in early 2015, she was a postdoctoral fellow in the Physics Department at Cambridge University and before that at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. She completed her PhD in Grenoble, France in 2011. 

Elsa, tell us about your job at Nat. Comm. What does a typical day involve?

 A lot of reading about new science ventures! We read new manuscripts and assess them against previous work in the field, we read referees reports and make decisions based on editorial and technical criteria. We interact with editors, on tricky cases and editorial policies, and we are in constant contact with authors and referees.

We have to keep up to date with most recent developments in a variety of fields, by reading some more, attending meetings, either conferences or press meetings. Finally, we participate to larger projects, with editors from other journals for example.

for the full interview go here