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Real lives in science

On International Women’s Day (Tuesday 8th March 2022) we were joined by a number of university members including undergraduates, postgraduates, research and support staff, and academics, for a celebration of the experiences and motivations that can shape a scientist’s career.

Is there only one way to be a scientist? How can broader life experiences impact science? What challenges exist in achieving your goals? An expert panel discussed their career paths, the challenges they overcame, and their lives outside of research.

Our speakers included:

Professor Rachel Evans

Rachel leads the Functional Photoactive Materials research group in the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy at the University of Cambridge. Her research uses materials chemistry to design functional soft materials which absorb, produce, or respond to light. These materials are the basis of many cutting-edge technologies, including light-emitting displays, solar cells, optical sensors, and bioelectronic devices. Rachel is Director of Studies in Natural Sciences at Jesus College and Chair of the Royal Society of Chemistry Photophysics and Photochemistry group. She co-founded and is Chief Scientific Officer of Senoptica Technologies Ltd, which was launched in 2018 to commercialise an optical sensor technology developed in her laboratory.

Professor Valerie Gibson OBE FInstP

Valerie is the Head of the High Energy Physics Research Group at the Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge. Her research is based at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and at Fermi National Laboratory in the US. Her research interests include the search for new phenomena using particles containing heavy quarks, the study of which holds the key to our understanding of the matter-antimatter imbalance in the Universe. She is also a core member of the Atom Interferometer Observatory and Network project that will enable searches for ultra-light dark matter, mid-frequency gravitational waves and new fundamental interactions. She is a champion of Women in Science and spearheaded the Cavendish Laboratory's success at achieving an Athena SWAN Gold award in 2014. She was, until recently, the University's Gender Equality Champion (STEMM). She is Patron of the Gravity Fields Festival, held in honour of Sir Isaac Newton. She was awarded an OBE in the 2021 New Year Honours for services to science, women in science, and public engagement.

Professor Lisa Hall

Lisa leads the Analytical Biotechnology group in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology at the University of Cambridge. The group's research focuses on understanding how biology can be interfaced with electronic, mechanical, and optical systems, and the development of new instrumentation or techniques to answer fundamental and applied questions concerning new biological measurement regimes. Alongside her research, Lisa served as Chairman of Disability Snowsport UK and in 2015 was the recipient of a CBE for her services to Higher Education and to Sport for the Disabled.

Valentina Ndolo

Valentina is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge and a Gates Cambridge Scholar. Her research focuses on developing mathematical models to identify areas of Uganda most at risk of anthrax. In 2016, she founded the STEMing Africa Initiative to help support talented female STEM graduates from Africa secure scholarships for postgraduate study at leading universities worldwide.