A site for women of science

September 30, 2005

An online database is being launched to help raise the profile of thousands of female scientists and engineers in the UK.

The database, which is due to go live before Christmas, will help external organisations find women to comment on scientific issues, provide case studies, speak at conferences and take seats on public boards and committees.

Because women are often wary of self-promotion or lack the confidence to put themselves forward, the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology, which is developing the database, intends to offer mentoring and media training.

Pat Turrell, UKRC strategic information manager and principal lecturer in the built environment at Sheffield Hallam University, said: "The general rule of thumb is that women don't tend to apply for things unless they meet all the criteria, whereas men do if they meet two thirds (of them).

"We've been suggesting that women nominate two or three others (for the database), so that they're not just putting themselves forward."

The UKRC will next week hold a conference, The Expert Link , to bring together female scientists, research funders, public bodies and the media.

There is already a small database of senior women in the subject area, established a few years ago by Witec, the European Association of Women in Science Engineering and Technology.

The UKRC database will be a much larger resource than the Witec initiative because it will publicise women working in science at every level from relatively junior roles up to the top.

"Those using the database may want to contact women at various levels, from a world-leading scientist to a young woman who looks set to be a leader of tomorrow.

"The idea is to make women in science more visible and to raise as much awareness as possible about the varied and important contribution women are making to science," Ms Turrell said.

She added that the database also aimed to relieve pressure on high-profile female academics. "If you're the only one (visible in your field), you get recruited to every panel and board going and never have time to do research."

olga.wojtas@thes.co.uk

Details: www.setwomenresource.co.uk  

'If you don't put yourself out there, there's nothing for people to see'

Crystallographer Alex Slawin is St Andrews University's first female chemistry professor and director of its molecular structure laboratory.

She had mixed feelings about putting her name forward for the database of female experts, but her desire to encourage younger women overcame her diffidence.

"I don't particularly want to present myself as a role model, but if you don't put yourself out there, there's nothing for people to see. Science has a bad record of retaining women in high positions," she said.

Professor Slawin is married to a fellow chemistry professor, Derek Woollins, and she has combined a successful academic career with bringing up three children.

She said: "It's possible to do both, but you need a supportive husband."

She and Professor Woollins have separate specialisms, but she sometimes feels that others see her as attached to his coat-tails.

"But with the research assessment exercise and departments being closed down, there really is no slack in chemistry.

"People can't afford to employ you if you're not any good - and it doesn't matter whose coat-tails you're attached to."

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