The Fresher’s Balancing Act – Athene Donald

Once again I am returning to Athene Donald’s blog to highlight a post about being new, and the start of the academic year.  While this clearly applies to Undergraduates, being new is also relevant to Masters and PhD students, as well as staff at any point in their career.  I think we can all relate to being new and feeling a bit overwhelmed:

‘Just remembering that you are not alone in being uncertain, nervous and probably totally confused is a good place to start. It is so easy to be fooled into thinking that you are the only one operating in a fog when the reality is that if you don’t feel like that you are probably missing an awful lot that is going on around you. Admitting to being befogged in that first week is not an admission of failure it is an admission of reality. However, remaining struggling in the mists of confusion most certainly means that you aren’t taking control by asking enough questions. Ask your peers but, probably even more importantly, ask all those who are ahead of you in the game……………’


Can We Get Beyond Quotas?

Once again I am returning to Athene Donald’s blog to highlight an interesting post about quotas:

‘Some women get asked to do many different things, to serve on a wide variety of committees some of which may wield genuine power and influence. These individuals are what one might term the ‘usual suspects’……………….What matters, though, is the next tier of individuals. As yet less visible, without quite the same blend of confidence and experience, these are the ones whom Vice Chancellors and head hunters should be thinking about, those who are ready for that tap on the shoulder which may nevertheless never come………………..’

Are you waiting for that chance to be noticed?  Or are you experiencing committee fatigue?



Why so Few (Still)?

On 18th September Athene Donald (Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Cambridge) published a blog post about the number of female scientists, and also perceptions about science.

‘If you ask a kid to draw a scientist, very often they will draw a ‘mad’ scientist with sticking up hair in a white lab coat, probably holding a test tube containing some evil-looking smoking liquid: an amalgam of Einstein and Frankenstein. Oh yes, and they’ll be male. Perceptions about this really don’t seem to be changing very fast……….’

What more could or should we be doing?



Life outside work

On her Twitter page Athene Donald (Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Cambridge) has highlighted the BBC Radio 3 Programme Private Passions, and in particular the episode with Mark Miodownik a Professor of Materials and Society at University College London – ‘Great to get scientists talking about other parts of their life’




A little bit about Mark:

From concrete to chocolate and teacups to tennis racquets, it’s the everyday stuff of life that fascinates Mark Miodownik. He’s Professor of Materials and Society at University College London where he is also Director of the Institute of Making, a research hub for scientists, designers, engineers, artists, architects – and musicians. A passionate communicator about the vital role of science in society, he’s written a bestselling book Stuff Matters; he’s the scientist in residence on Dara O’Briain’s Science Club on BBC2; and he’s listed by The Times as one of the 100 most influential scientists in the UK’

What do you think? When you go for coffee or lunch are you still discussing work?  Should we take a proper break from work and discuss other things? Should we share more?  If you want to, there is no pressure!

New challenge –  when you next bump into someone in the corridor or meet for coffee don’t just talk about work, try discussing other topics too.  It could be interesting and you never know what you will learn!

For me, outside work I love gardening and this year I finally have some space to grow more plants.  A few of my successes (even if I say so myself!) are pictured below.  I could talk about my plans/ideas for next year all day (if I didn’t have to work!)…………..  What could you share about your life?

Clematis 1

FlowerRose 1


Why Such Tepid Government Aspirations?

On 16th July Athene Donald published a blog post about the gender pay gap, and how equality needs to be on everyone’s agenda.

‘………. changing a workplace culture doesn’t happen overnight. It is hard and many women will still suffer setbacks and possibly victimisation for speaking out. Everyone has to play their part and, unfortunately, not everyone wants to. People have axes to grind, egos to fuel or just intrinsic blindness to the lack of equality surrounding them. Management has to take a clear lead so that they are responsive to the issues every time they are raised.’

gender pay









What needs to be done at the University of Reading?  What more can we as individuals do?

Public Speaking Challenges

You may have experienced or witnessed a presentation beset with technical difficulties (I did a couple of weeks ago).  It is a horrible experience to be on the stage when this happens, but it is always good to know that you are not alone.  It happens to everyone!  In her latest blog post Athene Donald (Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Cambridge) discusses her latest experience –

‘Technical glitches during talks are all too common, but never easy to cope with. Recently I had a simple talk to give, one which could safely be brought along on a memory stick to the event: I was giving a brief talk to a CUSPE meeting on ‘Effective Policy to Bridge the STEM Skills Gap’ in which I had only a handful of slides with some relevant data on, plus a few striking images of the sorts of things that deter girls from sticking with subjects like physics at schools. I couldn’t imagine a problem.  How wrong can one be? I have never seen a computer manage to mangle ten simple Powerpoint slides so comprehensively! Even had I checked beforehand I’m not sure what could have been done. It began with……………..’


Female scientists put in the picture

Athene Donald (Professor of Physics at Cambridge University) is championing a plan to introduce more portraits and busts of female scientists at the London headquarters of the Royal Society.  This is in an attempt to reverse its male dominated image. The Royal Society is planning to install busts of Mary Somerville (a 19th century astronomer, and first female member of the Royal Astronomical Society), and Lucie Green (television astronomer), as well as a portrait of Dorothy Hodgkin (received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1964).

This story was covered in the Sunday Times (the full article is only accessible if you are registered with the Times), and The Herald.

What do you think?

Athene Donald (Physics Professor Cambridge University)

Athene Donald (Physics Professor Cambridge University)

After Tim Hunt What Next?

On her blog Athene Donald (Professor of Experimental Physics and Gender Equality Champion at the University of Cambridge) makes some suggestions about what we can all do as a result of the news stories surrounding Tim Hunt’s comments:

■Call out bad behaviour whenever and wherever you see it – in committees or in the street. Don’t leave women to be victimised;
■Encourage women to dare, to take risks;
■Act as a sponsor or mentor (if you are just setting out there will still always be people younger than you, including school children, for whom you can act);
■Don’t let team members get away with demeaning behaviour, objectifying women or acting to exclude anyone;
■Refuse to serve on single sex panels or at conferences without an appropriate level of female invited speakers;
■Consider the imagery in your department and ensure it represents a diverse group of individuals;
■Consider the daily working environment to see if anything inappropriate is lurking. If so, do something about it.
■Demand/require mandatory unconscious bias training, in particular for appointment and promotion panels; Unconscious bias training is taking place for 20 SAGES staff this month!
■Don’t let the bold (male or female) monopolise the conversation in the classroom or the apparatus in the laboratory, at the expense of the timid (female or male);
■Nominate women for prizes, fellowships etc;
■Tap women on the shoulder to encourage them to apply for opportunities they otherwise would be unaware of or feel they were not qualified for;
■Move the dialogue on from part-time working equates to ‘isn’t serious’ to part-time working means balancing different demands;
■Recognize the importance of family (and even love) for men and women;
■Be prepared to be a visible role model;
■Gather evidence, data and anecdote, to provide ammunition for management to change;
■Listen and act if a woman starts hinting there are problems, don’t be dismissive because it makes you uncomfortable;
■Think broadly when asked to make suggestions of names for any position or role.








What will you do? What can we all do………..?

Faking it

On 7th June Athene Donald (Professor of Experimental Physics at Cambridge) wrote a blog post about ‘Faking It’ – how to fake a lack of experience to appear confident.

”It is bound to feel a bit unnerving to do anything for the first time and, as a result, there is the danger that you will ‘freeze’ or, at the very least, perform less well than you feel you’re capable of. How to beat that? In my view, the only way to do it is to ‘pretend’ that you know what you’re doing and slowly you’ll find that perhaps you really do. Of course, there are some things you may never be very good at; that is also true for everyone and in time you can work out what your own weaknesses are and avoid the wrong kind of situations and tasks. But, if you avoid everything just in case….you’ll never find out your strengths………….”










Have you put this into practice?  Does this work for you?  Do you have any hints and tips?

Why a level playing field needs good leadership

Published today (30th March) on the physicsfocus blog, Athene Donald argues that – ‘in the context of improving our working environment – as opposed to structuring our research – leadership is not only important: it is vital. The lot of women in particular, will not be changed radically without decisions being taken at the top.’

‘If we move up the ladder of seniority, since women in physics departments tend to be in such a minority, there is the danger of well-intentioned managers asking them to serve on far more committees than their male colleagues (and not necessarily the ones with real power either) in an attempt to approach gender balance on each one. Unless this is monitored, unless workload models are constructed and the data evaluated to check for this overload, women may all too often find themselves burdened in ways that may not be advantageous to their careers. Management/leadership needs to ensure fair workloads are apportioned transparently.’

What do you think? 

The full post can be seen here –