10th European Conference on Gender Equality in Higher Education

28 August 2018

IOP Ireland recently sponsored a panel discussion on Women in Physics – Where are they and who is supporting the pipeline?

10th Conference European Gender HE larger image
From left: Regina Kelly, Niamh Kavanagh, Miriam Byrne, Nicola Wilkin, Yvonne Kavanagh, Deirdre O’Neill, Sheila Gilheany (IOP)

The event was part of the 10th European Conference on Gender Equality in Higher Education held at Trinity College Dublin. The panel, organised by IOP Ireland committee member Dr Yvonne Kavanagh of IT Carlow, included presentations on female physics participation at various levels in education as well as considering some of the personal factors in the individual panellists’ lives.

Professor Nicola Wilkin of the School of Physics and Astronomy at Birmingham University opened the discussion with a short review of some of the obstacles to the participation of women in physics, as well as presenting some positive solutions to challenges including the implementation of access to a carers fund grant and active mentoring for female junior staff. Professor Wilkin is also the winner of this year’s IOP Phillips Award for distinguished service to the Institute.

Deirdre O’Neill from CASTeL at Dublin City University, described the implementation of the pilot project, Improving Gender Balance, funded by Science Foundation Ireland. This project is working with seven schools in Leinster to address issues around the uptake of physics by girls at school. The project is building upon IOP projects on gender in England and Scotland and is taking a three-strand approach:

Providing physics teaching support

Taking a whole-school approach to unconscious bias

Addressing issues of resilience and confidence in girls

Niamh Kavanagh, a postgraduate student at the Tyndall Institute in Cork, looked at the support available for students and early career researchers drawing attention to issues around mental health and institutional support through structured PhDs. Niamh, who won the IOP Ireland Rosse Medal for postgraduate communication in 2016 also drew attention to the IOP resilience toolkit.

Dr Regina Kelly of the University of Limerick (UL) and a member of the IOP Ireland Education Group, presented findings from the WiSTEM2D project – a collaboration between global health care company Johnson & Johnson and UL. She looked at issues around male and female science identity and stressed the need to address stereotypes as well as developing supportive environments.

Dr Miriam Byrne of the School of Physics, NUI Galway spoke about the changing practice in physics academia in Ireland, including the introduction of gender equality schemes such as the IOP Project Juno for third level physics departments, and the Athena Swan initiative for colleges and universities. Miriam, who is a member of the assessor panel for the Juno Award, noted the need for a survey of academic physicists in Ireland to get useful data both to increase understanding of the issues and to enhance lobbying efforts.

The event concluded with a free ranging discussion with the audience.

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