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Commitment to women in science recognised

30 September 2009

Cardiff University’s commitment to women in science has been recognised with a national award.

The University has received the Athena Swan Bronze Award in recognition of its success in recruiting, retaining and promoting women in Science, Engineering and Technology (SET).

Cardiff is one of 19 universities nationwide to have been awarded a prestigious bronze award under the Athena SWAN Charter for Women in Science. The Charter commends good employment practice for women working in science, engineering and technology (SET) in higher education and research.

The judges praised the University’s "impressive" submission and highlighted the Positive Working Environment programme at Cardiff, which seeks to improve working life for all 6,000 members of staff the University wherever possible. The initiative seeks to support and develop the University’s staff, providing opportunities for everybody to reach their maximum potential. The University’s Women Professors’ networking group was also applauded along with support for staff returning to work from maternity leave and flexible working policies.

Vice-Chancellor, Dr David Grant said: "The Athena Swan Bronze award further enhances the University’s long-standing reputation for teaching and research excellence in science, engineering and technology disciplines. This award demonstrates the University’s commitment to academic excellence and to equality of opportunity and inclusiveness across the institution."

Jane Hutt, AM Minister for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning & Skills said: "I would like to offer my warmest congratulations to Cardiff University for their commitment to women working in science. We champion education, work-life balance and flexible working and we want women to achieve their full potential in the workplace. It is particularly encouraging to see successes like this in a field which was once male-dominated. This sort of gender bias may have deterred some women from entering Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths in the past. In Wales, we are committed to promoting and developing STEM subjects to all, including groups which are underrepresented. Cardiff University’s support towards this important goal has been duly recognised and I commend the University for its excellent work."

Comment and profile (interviews and photographs available on request):

Professor Terry Threadgold, Pro Vice-Chancellor Staff : "The University’s commitment to a positive working environment aims to eliminate gender bias and ensure a culture that gives support and encouragement to women at all levels and in all activities. Whilst our commitment to gender equality across the institution forms a solid basis for Science Engineering and Technology (SET) schools to support female staff and students, we understand that the SET disciplines are an area in which women, both staff and students, have been particularly under-represented in the past. It is therefore particularly pleasing that Cardiff’s determination to support women in these disciplines has been recognised with this award. We will continue to work hard to build on this success."

PROFILE: Dr Haley Gomez, School of Physics and Astronomy

Dr Haley Gomez has been at Cardiff University for 11 years, first as a student and then as a member of staff. Her research is based on understanding the formation and evolution of cosmic dust. Dr Gomez is a fellow of the Royal Commission of the Exhibition of 1851 and part of the WISE in Wales Committee, a campaign which collaborates with industrial and academic partners to encourage girls to pursue STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) or construction related courses/careers. In 2005, she was shortlisted for the Times Higher Young Researcher of the Year Award.

In addition to research and supervising students, Dr Gomez also works with local schools and is keen to be a role model. Dr Gomez said: "I ask pupils what they think a scientist looks like: it’s always a man with glasses. It’s nice to show them that we aren’t all the same.

It wasn’t a natural choice for me to stay on to do a PhD at Cardiff. I was the first person in my family that had a degree, we just weren’t used to thinking about things like studying as a full-time job or a career in academia - I wasn’t even sure what academics did! In truth, I just didn’t have the confidence to apply. The day before the interviews for PhD positions, the postgraduate tutor took me to one side and asked me to turn up to the interviews and give it a shot.

He convinced me that I might as well enjoy the experience so although I was nervous, I went anyway and I got a place: supervised by one of the most charismatic, slightly eccentric and old-school professors in the department (wild hair and everything). As part of my PhD, I travelled to the Rockies in Colorado and Hawaii to use some of the World’s best telescopes (all the while thinking, "how did a little girl from Barry get to be controlling a piece of equipment worth millions sitting on an extinct volcano on the other side of the World?").

Afterwards I was awarded a research fellowship with the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851. After the fellowship, I ended up being taken on to do some undergraduate teaching as well as research. A significant fraction of my time is spent on teaching and I hope that I’m the same as the academics who helped me get this far; the ones who listen to students and want to be involved with helping them learn and develop while they’re here. I love the interaction with students and my proudest moment was getting a medal for "Most Differentiable Lecturer" at our student society ball. I’m not sure I understand what that means but it was nice all the same. Although at times I yearn for a 9-5 job, I do really enjoy the spontaneity of the Astronomer’s life. The reason I’m here doing these things is because of the Physics and Astronomy staff who have encouraged and helped me along the way."

Notes to editors

1. Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s most research intensive universities. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, Professor Sir Martin Evans.

Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise in research and research-led teaching encompasses: the humanities; the natural, physical, health, life and social sciences; engineering and technology; preparation for a wide range of professions; and a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning.

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Emma Darling

Public Relations

Cardiff University

Tel: 029 20874499