One of the first things I did as a PhD student was to attend Brunel’s annual PhD research conference. I had only been here a few weeks so I didn’t have a poster to present but it was a good opportunity for me to learn about my new colleagues’ research. The conference was held in the university’s Council Chamber which is lined with portraits of former vice chancellors. Without exception, they are male. On the day of the conference, almost every presentation was given by a female scientist; the contrast was quite stark. Making the assumption that the PhD students of today are potential vice chancellors of tomorrow, it would seem that a change is afoot.
In June of this year, the European Commission launched a campaign aimed at encouraging 13-18 year old girls into a career in science. The accompanying video, “Science: It’s a girl thing!” showed images of high heels, lipstick and just about every other gender stereotype you could think of. The video was subsequently taken down following outrage from the general scientific community (the EC’s defence of the video and information on the whole campaign can be found here: http://science-girl-thing.eu/). The video was a dichotomy, a step backwards disguised as a step forwards; perpetuating female stereotypes whilst trying to show girls that they can break them. I’m lucky enough to belong to a generation that is coming out of the other side of sexism but females are still under represented in science and I don’t believe that our teenage girls need luring into scientific careers with images of ‘girly things’.
In October 2012, Professor Julia Buckingham will take up her post as Brunel’s first female vice chancellor. She is one of only 17 in the UK.
Next week will see Brunel’s 8th annual PhD research conference take place and this time I do have a poster to present! Wish me luck!