The Parents’ and Carers’ Network and Women in Science, Engineering and Technology (WiSET) equality and diversity event was held on Tuesday 15th March 2016 to celebrate International Women’s Day 2016. A panel of significant and inspiring speakers, including our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Christopher Snowden shared their thought provoking ambitions, experiences and challenges relating to equality and diversity during their careers.
Dr Emma White gave a very interesting and thought provoking talk questioning the labels that apply to us. Follow this link to see how many laws you have broken today by making the day-today choices as a woman!
The guest speaker, Dr Sharon Strawbridge gave an empowering talk “Making things work out”. Sharon discussed her own personal journey as a mature female student, describing how she had to use every bit of her inner resourcefulness and determination to keep going with University studies and to keep home and family together at the same time. Sharon’s talk was incredibly inspiring and has received fantastic feedback from both students and staff who attended the Talks. Outlined below is a short biography of Sharon’s journey.
Click here to view the talks from the Panel speakers
Dr Sharon Strawbridge (University of Exeter)
I came into the university to study chemistry later in life, in my 30’s with five small children and a disabled husband in tow. It was a huge gamble, which I did know would pay off at the time. I had previously dipped my toe in the waters of HE by taking a OU foundation course and attending lectures as an associate student in physics and chemistry when I could. This let me see that although it was going to be very hard work, it was going to be doable. I was really chasing my dreams and my passion for science and mathematics and I realised that after 17 years of milking cows twice a day, this was going to be a total change in lifestyle for all of us.
I flew as soon as I started to study, and I was incredibly lucky with the fantastic support, teaching and encouragement I had in the chemistry Dept. at Exeter as an undergraduate. I finished with a First and winning the White Knight prize, this was such a confidence boost. I had initially thought about just going back to my family full time, after all I had proved myself. However, I really really didn’t want to stop, I wanted to understand more and went on to do a PhD in Physical chemistry at Exeter, all went extremely well, with a paper out very early on in the PhD and I was able to do my own novel work and really having fun.
At this point, things began to unravel a bit, I discovered my sixth child was on his way unexpectedly! I didn’t let this stop me and carried on right up to the point he was born, again I was lucky, we have an outstanding university nursery and he got a place. Even though managing everything had jumped up several gears, I was totally determined to finish my PhD. So my young son spent the first few months of life, when not in the nursery, on a lab bench in a car seat, at group meetings and at lectures, I even successfully took him to a conference with me!
Then real disaster struck, the first the blow came when my son was a few months old, , I was rushed into hospital with a ruptured appendix. Within a few weeks I had bounced back and getting on with things again. However, very shortly afterwards, I had a heart attack (very odd given my age and the fact I was very fit), a chest x-ray revealed the cause, I had a huge mass on the right lung that was pressing against the heart. It was the worst time in my life. I had to undergo major surgery to remove the mass and my lung along with it and I was very very sick for over a year. Then just as I was returning to work on my PhD, our chemistry Dept. was closed down, I had very little time to get everything written up and then what?? I thought at that time my career in science was over!
I was rescued by a Professor in physics, who knew me and understood how important continuing in science was to me, he gave me a desk and a computer and said I could stay in Physics, if I could get funding. I approached the Daphne Jackson Trust, I explained my situation and put together a proposal for a Fellowship, which was fortunately successful. That funding turned things around for me and enabled me to remain in science. I picked up teaching along the way and have worked a taught in physics ever since, I am now a senior Lecturer, and I will never forget the challenges I have had and will always go the extra mile to help our students, who face their own challenges. In particular I do understand on the personal level some of the special challenges that can come when you have a home and family along with your academic life. Because of this I have been strategically involved in the Athena Swan initiative from the start of our journey at Exeter and recognise the importance of supporting women (and Men) in HE by bringing down some of the barriers to success.