Woman scientist

OU celebrates impact of women in science

Nations throughout the world will be celebrating International Day of Women and Girls in Science 2017 tomorrow (11 February 2017).

Established by the United Nations (UN) in 2016, the occasion celebrates women and girls in science, and aims to eliminate gender inequality in academia, education, and industry. In honour of this, we are celebrating the achievements of women in science, technology, maths, and engineering (STEM) at the OU.


Dr Josie Fraser, Executive Dean, Faculty of STEM

Executive Dean, Dr Josie Fraser

Executive Dean, Dr Josie Fraser

Dr Fraser will be Executive Dean from March 2017. The first women in her family to attend university, Dr Fraser has had a love of science from an early age and always knew she wanted to be a researcher in human health sciences. She is fascinated with the study of animal behaviour and its application to the discovery of new drugs in neuroscience.

With daughters of her own, Dr Fraser emphasises the importance of empowering women and girls in all aspects of society:

“I feel passionately that women and girls should be empowered to achieve their potential in whatever their field of interest. I look forward to building on the good work of colleagues in the Faculty of STEM to ensure we continue to champion those initiatives that support our women in science.”


Dr Arlëne Hunter, Head of the School of Environment, Earth and Ecosystem Sciences

Dr Hunter has set ‘engendering equity of opportunity for all’ as a key priority for the School; she said:

“There is no doubt that a career in science is both challenging and rewarding.  As an academic at The Open University, I feel it is an integral part of my job to support and facilitate the career development of our students and my fellow academics.

“I am also aware that, even though everyone will encounter obstacles at times, there are particular career progression issues that affect women. It is therefore vital that we do all we can in the School of Earth, Environment and Ecosystem Sciences to help address and remove these barriers to progression.”


Professor Sally Jordon, Head of the School of Physical Sciences

Head of School of Physical Sciences, Professor Sally Jordan

Head of School of Physical Sciences, Professor Sally Jordan

Following an unconventional career path, leaving academia after her first degree because of a lack of confidence, Professor Jordan went on to lecture for the OU when her children were younger and is “very grateful” to the University for the opportunities it provided to develop her career.

In addition to her commitment to equality as Head of School, Professor Jordan has research interests into the reasons for demographic gaps in attainment on physics modules across institutions. She is also delighted that, in recognition of its work in continuing to develop good practice, the School has been awarded a two-year extension on its JUNO Champion and Athena Swan Silver Status.


Cath Brown, Faculty of STEM student

Cath studied mathematics at a traditional university in the 1980s, and has been studying chemistry, engineering, and physics, with the OU since 2008. Cath has noticed the dramatic change in attitudes from when she was first a student, with women being a minority during her original degree. As late as the 1990s, when Cath’s mother studied with the OU, some people were surprised at an older woman pursuing a distance learning degree in mathematics and physics.

She reflects that the OU offers a much more gender-balanced environment in the sciences, with committees and membership of student science societies being similarly balanced:

“I fit my OU studies around my day job, teaching mathematics at a girls’ school. Avoiding girls being stifled by stereotypes is absolutely key. I was always awkward enough that being in the minority didn’t bother me at school; however, I see there are plenty of girls who are very strong scientists, but still want to fit in. We need to show them female scientists are the norm, not the exception. The OU seems to have a good gender balance of students in the science subjects and that is marvellous.”


Dr Clare Lawson, PhD Researcher

Dr Clare Lawson is a Daphne Jackson Research Fellow in the Faculty of STEM. One of the key aims of the Daphne Jackson Trust is to support both women and men in returning to research after a career break.

Dr Lawson is researching biodiversity and soil-carbon storage in floodplain meadows. The OU and the Daphne Jackson Trust have enabled Dr Lawson to be career focused whilst having a family; she said:

“Continuing with my research work while caring for a young family was always going to be a challenge, but I found there are initiatives out there to support women in research. The Daphne Jackson Trust has allowed me to return to my career after having my children and I’m delighted that I now have opportunities to develop my work still further.”

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