Profile: Athene Donald
Professor of Physics, Cambridge
I am a professor of physics in the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge working on soft matter and biological physics. I have an active interest in issues around women in science within the university (WiSETI ) and outside (Athena Forum) and equality and diversity more generally; and a growing interest in education and science policy. I hold a variety of positions on committees etc, but this blog is written in a purely personal capacity.
My first degree and my PhD are both in Physics from Cambridge University. After I spent 4 years atCornell University in the USA I returned to Cambridge where I have been ever since. I became a professor in 1998 and was elected to the Royal Society in 1999 (I served on their Council 2004-6). I was the 2009 Laureate for Europe of the L’Oreal/UNESCO For Women in Science Awards, and won the Faraday Medal of the Institute of Physics in 2010. I was appointed a DBE in the 2010 Birthday Honours.
I am currently the University of Cambridge’s Gender Equality Champion, and chair the Royal Society’s Education Committee as well as sit on their Council. I was the founding chair of the Institute of Physics Biological Physics Group (2006-10) and am Project Director of the IOP’s Teaching Biological Physics project. I am a Trustee of the National Museum of Science and Industry and a member of the Scientific Council of the European Research Council.
NoteStreams By Athene Donald
Academia may be little better or worse than many professions for gender equality – law or medicine being obvious parallel examples – but we do seem to be increasingly measured in ways that look robust but almost certainly aren’t.
New lecturers are encouraged, possibly even compelled, to allow themselves to be videoed giving presentations/lectures so they can improve their teaching styles. However, I must admit that by the time I was offered the opportunity I figured I was so set in my ways that it would be all but impossible to amend them. So I declined.
Technical glitches during talks are all too common, but never easy to cope with. Recently I had a simple talk to give, one which could safely be brought along on a memory stick to the event: I was giving a brief talk to a CUSPE meeting on ‘Effective Policy to Bridge the STEM Skills Gap’ in which I had only a handful of slides with some relevant data on, plus a few striking images of the sorts of things that deter girls from sticking with subjects like physics at schools. I couldn’t imagine a problem.
How wrong can one be?
I have never previously sat down and thought about my style of speaking, or what I feel the necessary ingredients of a good talk are beyond clarity and coherence. And keeping to time. And that the slides are visible from the back of the lecture theatre. And that you’re audible. And….You will see why I realised as I started putting my presentation together for this talk, that actually there were a lot of things I felt quite strongly about. I may not have been used to articulating them but nevertheless I ‘knew’ at some level what I thought was important (though in fact most of the talk won’t be about giving talks).
My email inbox is also a good indicator of people’s expectation that we are all procrastinators. How many emails do you get a day headed ‘Last chance – fantastic offers end tomorrow’ or ‘Final Days to Register for…’. We are presumed to respond to these last minute opportunities, rather than opt for something in a stately and timely manner well before the deadline.
Does this matter?
Yet another anniversary for Winston Churchill has just past, with the 50th anniversary of his death falling on January 24th.
One of my aims over the coming months must be to get more familiar with the life of Winston Churchill, since I will now be so closely associated with his name and his legacy.
Like so much about Churchill, his views towards science and scientists seem to have been very complex.