Over the last few days I have attended two research conferences for our PhD students that are designed to increase students’ skills in communicating their research to others, whilst improving their networking skills and meeting researchers from other disciplines too. My role tends to be to make introductory speeches and occasionally hand out prizes too, happy occasions!
The two conferences included the PGR Showcase which is a series of events over one day, open to all PhD students, from the early morning ‘Porridge with the Professor’ (a great event to encourage PhD students to meet and chat with some of our Profs on any topics they chose) to a poster competition and finally the three minute thesis (3MT) competition. The second was the Medical School’s PGR conference, organised and run this year entirely by the PhD students themselves. Both were very enjoyable and I really supported the concept of the latter as the students learned so much too. Being able to support our early career researchers to advance their work and demonstrate their skills and expertise to a wide audience is something that I am passionate about. It is a testament to our research students, too, that they actively engage with opportunities to share and promote their excellent research and their research findings to wider audiences.
Undertaking postgraduate research is truly challenging; yet at the same time it is also immensely rewarding. It requires a unique combination of commitment, inquisitiveness, a thirst for knowledge and dedication in order to become an independent researcher.
Both of these events showed the diversity of cutting-edge research taking place. For example the topics for the final of the 3MT competition ranged from ‘The Artistry of J.K. Rowling’s work’, the ‘China-UK free trade agreement’ and ‘Stress whitening in pre-coated steels’; and the posters encompassed ‘Tackling Teenage Inactivity…’, blood tests for the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and the causes and origins of corruption in Europe to name but a few!
Events like this of course do mean that we reflect back on our own experiences as postgraduates, for my part at Warwick University where our Microbiology research laboratory was actually a converted toilet! I did try to make the most of every opportunity that presented itself to me – like learning new skills, presenting my research to others including my industrial sponsors, publishing my research and networking at conferences – in order to be able to contribute to my discipline, try out new experiences and learn new techniques.
Below I’ve included much of the speech I made at the opening of the PGR research conference for the Medical School, in case this is of interest:-
“Thank you for inviting me to open today’s Swansea University Medical School PGR Conference.
This has been a week of celebrating outstanding research and achievement amongst our PGR student community; yesterday I hosted the award ceremony of the University’s first annual PGR Showcase, where the winners of the University’s poster competition and 3MT were announced. These opportunities, as with your conference today and tomorrow, to promote your research, the passion you have for your discipline and develop your skills to communicate and engage diverse audiences with your findings, are paramount as you strive forward in your careers.
When I was growing up girls were taught cooking and needlework at school rather than physics, metalwork or chemistry. In my early 20’s I was particularly interested in nature conservation and emerging environmental challenges. I was a vociferous reader and when I read the seminal book ‘Silent Spring’, by Rachel Carson, I became aware of a number of opportunities that I thought I’d like to pursue. I took A-levels at evening class and then enrolled at Warwick University. I sought out every opportunity I could to promote my research and develop my skills as a researcher and communicator; and that’s the approach I’ve taken throughout my career – to make the most of every opportunity that’s presented itself along my science journey.
I say this because it’s at conferences just such as yours today that you can take your own steps as part of your career journey. Taking part in delivering a poster or paper is important but don’t forget to make the most of meeting new people, sharing new ideas, discussing new opportunities. All of these aspects help you to build your contacts and your network.
As many of you will know I am a prolific user of Twitter, which is just one way I choose to reach many different people with the breadth and variety of things (not all scientific), which interest me (and which I hope will interest them). As someof you may also know I have a blog –The Disruptive STEMinist! I am passionate about the involvement and promotion of women, in particular in STEM and in taking an open and inclusive approach. I was interviewed not so long ago by the Federation of European Microbiology Societies, of which I am currently the Vice-President, for International Women’s Day, and was asked for advice I’d want to pass to today’s postgraduate and early career researchers. This is how I’d respond for you today:
- Do join learned and other academic societies as it is great to be a part of a research community from an early stage and contribute to your discipline
- Take every opportunity to learn the skills of how to present your research to others and try this out at conferences and to others whenever possible
- Public outreach is important, especially in communicating your research to others outside of your subject area
- Network, network, network – be that at informal College and research group gatherings or conferences beyond your own group; and invite yourself to other labs to learn new techniques
- Publishing your research is essential to progress in an academic career, so discuss with your advisors when is the right time to consider this
- Work hard but do get some balance with a social life too – I have always played a lot of sport, which I find helps give perspective to my research!
If any of these tips are as helpful to you as they have been to me in my career, then we’ll be on the right track. Thank you again for asking me to open your PGR Conference. For all those participating, I wish you all the best of luck!
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We have invited our 2017 Womenspire Award Winners to reflect on their success. Professor Hilary Lappin-Scott (OBE) won our “STEM Pioneer” Award, here is her story…
Professor Hilary Lappin-Scott (OBE)
What did it feel like to win?
It was an honour and a privilege to receive the Chwarae Teg award, I was thrilled! It was so inspirational for me to get the STEM Pioneer award, reflecting the work being carried out that recognises, encourages and celebrates women in STEM careers. These awards, by way of celebration, encourage women who are often marginalised or isolated in the scientific arena and as women in science we need to inspire young girls and women to challenge the stereotypes around scientists and our lives.
What has happened since the awards?
Since the award, which was only a few months ago, many other challenges and opportunities have presented themselves, but challenge is good and is what spurs us on to fly the ‘women in STEM’ flag! In December 2017 I was appointed as Chair of the REF2021 sub-panel for my academic discipline, a very exciting and challenging role given the huge importance that assessing research excellence plays across the UK. A further significant event for me was to be recognised in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list 2018 by being awarded an OBE for my services to Microbiology and for the advancement of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. I am going to the Palace with my family in May for the award, such a career highlight for me!
What did you think of the Womenspire Awards event?
Last year I was the very proud winner of the Women in STEM Pioneer award for my work supporting women in STEM. It was actually really nerve wracking to be sitting in the audience waiting for the winner to be announced. When my name was called my colleagues made rather a lot of noise, clapping and cheering! Above all it was amazing to be standing on stage and to look out to see an auditorium full of women supporters and fellow award winners. There was such a buzz a in the air, lots of cheering and very happy, supportive people, all celebrating the achievements of the winners.
What would you say to someone who is thinking of nominating a woman they know?
Let me see…what would I say to someone thinking of nominating a woman they know? I would say, with hand on heart, JUST DO IT! The more women we can recognise for their work and their contributions, the better. In these ever changing times it is becoming more important for women to have a voice and to feel their voice is being heard and their achievements recognised.
See why Professor Hilary Lappin-Scott (OBE) won the 2017 STEM Pioneer Award >>> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ncpCYIjhuic
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I was honoured to be contacted, about 4-5 years ago now, by a group of microbiologists. They asked if they could prepare a Wikipedia page about me, specifically about my research and leadership roles across various microbiology societies. I hadn’t been involved with anyone generating Wikipedia content or editing before, and I was impressed by how thorough the checking of information sources and photos etc. was.
Earlier this year, I and several colleagues were looking at various web links for notable women from our University but also more broadly from the region. Once again it was disappointing to see how very few women had their achievements covered within Wikipedia pages. I am blessed with the support of a lot of women and men who support such an agenda amongst our staff and students, so I asked for interest in volunteering to commence a campaign to change this, via holding a wikipedia edit-athon campaign. I was heartened that many came forward to get this started, across the arts, humanities, social sciences as well as STEM subjects. Several people had some experiences of smaller such campaigns in their own subject areas, bringing much needed experience. All the volunteers had ideas of women across these diverse subject areas that they felt were worthy of such inclusion and that they could seek out the sources required to provide the evidence of these achievements. I was grateful that Dr Jenny Baker, a talented researcher within the College of Engineering, agreed to lead the project and she and I have had several productive meetings to progress this.
Fast forward to the summer and we were looking for a suitable platform to launch the wiki edit-thon campaign. Swansea University was joining the International Day for Women in Engineering for the first time and thankfully La-Chun Lindsay agreed to be our keynote speaker. As this attracted a good crowd we used this to launch the campaign, having set the date for the training session and editing for September 28th. I am thrilled to have support from two Wikimedians in Residence from both the National Library of Wales and the Wellcome Trust. These, and other notable supporters, will give training on how to find and develop content on some inspiring women from our region and how to edit Wikipedia pages too.You can find mor information at our university Wikipediaedit-athon page.
Jenny and I also decided to prepare a short podcast on why we felt we needed to set up a Wikipedia edit-athon campaign, I hope you like it and look forward to seeing the first results from our campaign!
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Welcome to my blog!
I’m Hilary Lappin-Scott, Professor of Microbiology. I’ve been working as a research scientist for decades, running my own research group and training lots of women and men as the next generation of scientists, industrialists and entrepreneurs. My postings cover my world of higher education, all STEM subjects, global conferences and travel, leadership in universities, equality and diversity. Comments welcome and all views my own.
More information about Professor Lappin-Scott and her work can be found at the following links:
Linkedin, Swansea TedXTalk, STEM ‘Pioneer’ Award 2017, WISE Award 2016, Womenspire Award 2017, Soapbox Science, Swansea Uni PVC profile, Research Gate
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