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  • By: Graphene Flagship
  • Graphene Flagship
  • Publishing date: 04 February 2020
  • By: Graphene Flagship
  • Graphene Flagship
  • Publishing date: 04 February 2020

Viewpoints: Women in Graphene

Travel grant winners share their impressions of the career event.

Timed to coincide with the International Day of Women and Girls in Science in February 2019, the Graphene Flagship held the Women in Graphene Career Development Day at the National Graphene Institute in Manchester, UK. This two-day event was designed to provide women working in graphene with networking opportunities, female role models and career development training. The Graphene Flagship award a number of travel grants to early career researchers, enabling six women to attend. Here they share their impressions of the event. 

"One of the highlights of Women in Graphene events each year is the diversity of the speakers. In 2017 there was a brilliant talk by the polar explorer Felicity Aston, in 2018 it was the hilarious Elaine Eksvärd giving excellent advice on combatting suppression techniques, and this year it was the infectiously enthusiastic Jess Wade telling us about her mission to add female scientists to Wikipedia. Each one is refreshing and entertaining, with brilliant and unusual stories to share.

I am very grateful that I received the travel grant and could attend this year’s event. It was great to see some familiar faces, but also exciting to see how the event is growing. I left the meeting feeling inspired and motivated, and happy that I am part of such a supportive and nurturing community." 

HANNAH WATSON, PhD Student, University of Cambridge

"Laura Norton from the Royal Society of Chemistry presented an updated version of the leaky pipeline in her ‘Breaking the barriers’ report, which showed that nothing had changed regarding gender balance in chemistry for many years: at the undergraduate level 44% of students studying chemistry are women but this number drops to 39% at the PhD student level and down to 29% at the non-professorial staff. What is even more shocking is that this number then decreases to 9% at the professor level. Sadly these numbers do not only apply to chemistry but are very similar for other STEM subjects, such as physics, computer science, engineering... The percentage of female scientists in leading roles is terrifyingly small.

For me the most important take-home message was the answer to my question to Sarah Haigh after her talk. I asked her how she knew that she was ready for the transition from being a postdoc to being a lecturer and starting her own research group. Her answer was quite simple: She did not know she was ready but said that by the time you know you are ready it is already too late. Just go for it and be confident in yourself and your research."

ANNA OTT, Research Associate, Cambridge Graphene Center, University of Cambridge 

"The meeting was closed with an insightful talk by Jess Wade (research scientist at Imperial College London), who has been the subject of media attention due to her contributions to female scientist’s visibility through the creation of Wikipedia pages outlining their careers and research topics.

Jess touched on some of the barriers faced by women in science and added some additional topics for consideration, such as imposter syndrome (in which the sufferer unjustifiably doubts their accomplishments and feels somewhat like a “fraud”), unconscious bias and lack of recognition. It was highlighted that, in studies which scientists were tasked with reviewing applications on scientific content alone (not the CV of the primary investigator) any gender bias was eliminated. Therefore, with the ‘breaking’ of such gender bias barriers, it can clearly be seen that women have much more to contribute to the sciences." 

SOFIA MARCHESINI, Higher Research Scientist, National Physical Laboratory

"The career development session from Springboard Consultancy was incredibly helpful in helping us to think about how other people see us as individuals and how we would like to portray ourselves.

The importance of first impressions and our brand were emphasised and some- thing I feel we will all be working on in future. When a question arose about knowing the right time to apply for a job, the response was that we should be applying before we feel we are ready. This is known to be a key difference with how men and women look at the skills needed for a job."

ELIZABETH LEGGE, PhD student, National Physical Laboratory and University of Surrey

"The training on building up networking skills was super useful! I talked to a lot people and received several nice contacts, which will be very helpful to my current project. Most importantly, I was inspired by learning how important personal visibility is in career development. After the event, I will try to be more active in my professional network. Hopefully I can achieve the small target I set in the career development workshop: to be known by everyone working in my work package in the Graphene Flagship by the end of this year."

QIANYE HUANG, Project Engineer, University of Warwick

Beyond the feelings of loneliness or inadequacy, what I think is difficult for women (and minorities) in science is the lack of role models. It is difficult to project yourself into the future and dare to dream of a career path when you cannot identify with any of the people you see holding these positions. The Women in Graphene meeting was for me an opportunity to meet successful women in the field. It was really uplifting and gave me more motivation to continue on the path I have chosen. What I also enjoyed was the relaxed atmosphere. We had the chance to share our experi- ences and be ourselves without fear of being judged or misunderstood.

ILHAME KIHAL, PhD Student, University of Cambridge 

Author bio

Graphene Flagship
Graphene Flagship

Bringing together 118 academic and industrial partners in 12 research and innovation projects and 1 coordination and support project, the Graphene Flagship initiative will continue to advance Europe’s strategic autonomy in technologies that rely on graphene and other 2D materials. The initiative, which builds on the previous 10-years of the Graphene Flagship, is funded by the European Commission’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme. The 2D-Experimental Pilot Line, addressing the challenges of upscaling 2D material production processes for the semiconductor industry, is another key component of the Graphene Flagship eco-system.