Dr Sophie Nixon, a BBSRC David Phillips and Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw Research Fellow in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, won the award for Sustainable Development, while Dr Kara Lynch, who was recently awarded an Ernest Rutherford Fellowship and Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw Research Fellowship in the Department of Physics, won the award for Physical Sciences.
The national award works to support post-doctoral women scientists and overcome gender-driven inequalities. It offers a number of opportunities designed to help further establish women’s research careers.
Dr Nixon and Dr Lynch are two of only five post-doctoral women scientists to win the 2023 award, which includes a grant of £15,000 each to spend on whatever they need to continue their research.
Dr Nixon’s research broadly looks how microbial communities in the environment cycle carbon, and how we can harness community-scale metabolism to help remedy global environmental issues, such as climate change and plastic pollution.
The project she will pursue with her award looks to microbial communities in hot springs for novel approaches to converting waste 2 emissions into value-added products in order to achieve a Net Zero future as soon as possible - an ambitious but potentially powerful nature-based solution to the2 emissions crisis.
Awards and programmes like this one are really important for putting a spotlight on women in STEM - we need more talent in STEM but also need to showcase and celebrate the talent we already have.
She said: -It was a big milestone to even be shortlisted for this notoriously competitive award, but to win was just wonderful.
-Awards and programmes like this one are really important for putting a spotlight on women in STEM - we need more talent in STEM but also need to showcase and celebrate the talent we already have. One problem we have is lack a of role models, but another is peer support. This programme champions this talent and creates a really strong alumni network that will be invaluable going forward.
-For me, the most powerful part of this award is the flexibility the grant allows. A significant part of my grant will go towards the cost of childcare - I’ve been working condensed hours since the cost of childcare for our daughter has risen. The extra time and money this will buy me allows me to pursue some extra personal development training, some career and leadership coaching, and also attend events or conferences.
-I wouldn’t be able to achieve any of this if I couldn-t find a way to subsidise the cost of childcare. It has opened many doors and I’m extremely grateful- Dr Lynch’s research revolves around nuclear physics and using laser spectroscopy and decay spectroscopy to understand the properties of exotic nuclei. Her upcoming research project will measure the shape of proton-emitting nuclei, which is a new and exciting opportunity to test and improve understanding of the nucleus.
I feel very lucky and proud to be alongside the wonderful and inspiring women who were shortlisted for this award, and to win was just a wonderful surprise.
She said: -The L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Rising Talent Programme is a really innovative and refreshing way of supporting women in science, as it allows you to use the grant in whichever way is most beneficial to your research and your career.
-Programmes highlighting and supporting women in science are very important, so we can encourage more women to pursue scientific careers as well as support those already in science. The postdoc years can be particularly challenging as we try to forge our own independent research career, so having a network of support is invaluable.
-I feel very lucky and proud to be alongside the wonderful and inspiring women who were shortlisted for this award, and to win was just a wonderful surprise.-
Dr Lynch will use the grant to buy research equipment that will allow her to perform the first laser spectroscopy studies of proton-emitting nuclei, which she hopes will kick-start her research programme in an unexplored area of nuclear physics.
She will also use the grant for childcare to allow her to travel to CERN-ISOLDE - a radioactive ion beam facility - to perform her experiments outside of her normal working pattern.
Dr Lynch added: -Having just returned to physics research after a career break to start a family, the grant will uniquely support my desire to blend primary caregiving with my re-started academic career.
-I’m very grateful to L’Oréal and UNESCO for the opportunity to be part of this amazing network.-
All shortlisted candidates were invited to 10 Downing Street to discuss support for women in STEM. They met with George Freeman MP, Minister of State in the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, along with Angela McClean, Chief Scientific Advisor. They also received media training and had professional photographs taken at the Royal Society before attending the award at a ceremony at the House of Commons on Monday, 24 April 2023.