Pictured l-r: Dr Sheng Qi and Dr Laura Lehtovirta-Morley
Leading female academics today welcomed the University’s membership of a national women in science network as a demonstration of its commitment to encourage more diversity in the sector.
WISE – Women in Science and Engineering – aims to increase the participation, contribution and success of girls and women in science subjects across education, business and industry. UEA joins organisations such as the BBC, Bloomberg and Lloyds Banking Group in committing to work with WISE to increase and retain talent in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) to drive gender equality and economic growth.
All UEA staff and students can sign up to the WISE programme to gain access to its national network, blogs, events, learning materials and training. The University will also use the organisation for recruitment, as well as signing up to its ten-point plan to increase opportunities for women in science subjects.
“We have outstanding women working in science and engineering disciplines across UEA,” says Professor Fiona Lettice, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation.
“Women who develop life-changing medicine, carry out research that will benefit our planet, create innovations that will help drive our local and regional economy, and support those in the developing world. We are investing in a new regional hub for engineering, technology and management, Productivity East, where business will work alongside our world-leading researchers and enterprising students. Diversity of thought and experience is key to our success. Our ambition is to nurture and encourage more women to do great things. Our membership of WISE reinforces our commitment to do this.”
There are nearly 2000 women at UEA studying science subjects at Undergraduate, Postgraduate and Postgraduate Research levels, including chemistry, biological sciences, engineering, computing, environmental science, maths, physics and pharmacy.
UEA can also boast that, Professor Sarah Gilbert, the woman behind the celebrated Oxford University coronavirus vaccine, is a former UEA biology student.
The University also has leading research scientists such as Dr Sheng Qi and Dr Laura Lehtovirta-Morley who are involved in life-changing work with global impact. Dr Qi is a Reader in Pharmaceutics. Her research team study pharmaceutical materials and product development. They are currently working on new drug-releasing contact lenses for treating eye diseases, and exploring pharmaceutical applications of 3D printing for personalised medicine manufacturing.
She says the WISE membership will enlighten and inspire more young women to discover their potential. “This year we have pushed limits and broken boundaries in politics, science, and humanities as we have never seen before,” said Dr Qi. “At the forefront of these areas, we see exceptional and inspirational leadership of women. The reason I love and devote my career to STEM is because it allows me to combine creativity and knowledge to innovate new technologies that can improve and enrich people's lives. The WISE membership will support us to work harder to bring greater gender balance to these subjects on campus.”
Dr Lehtovirta-Morley, is a microbiologist and Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow in the School of Biological Sciences. Her research group studies the microbiology of the nitrogen cycle in soils, and the impact these microbes have on agricultural management, global food security and climate change.
“I hope this new partnership is a step towards a future where female science leaders are the norm,” said Dr Lehtovirta-Morley.
“The success of a person as a scientist should be defined by their scientific ability, drive and curiosity, not by their gender. I gladly welcome the news that the UEA is supporting the WISE initiative to further promote gender balance. In Life Sciences, there is a reasonably good gender balance in Undergraduate, Postgraduate and Postdoctoral levels, but when it comes to research leaders, women are in the minority.”
The number of women studying science subjects at UEA represents 45% of the total number of science students overall - 5% above the Higher Education sector average. In Postgraduate Research there is an equal gender split. It’s hoped UEA’s membership of WISE will boost these figures and help recruit and retain more female STEM academic staff. It builds on the University’s existing equality and diversity work with the Athena SWAN global gender charter and the Aurora Women’s Leadership Programme. UEA Students’ Union also run a WISE society.