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.