Woman looking at her laptop
Woman looking at her laptop

New website explores women's experiences of science careers

What is the key to success for women who work in science? A new website, www.womeninscience.ox.ac.uk, launched this week, delves into the various experiences of successful women scientists at the University of Oxford.

The collection of video interviews with 39 women at various points in their science careers tell an inspiring story of an ongoing culture shift for women working in science, where – according to those interviewed – discrimination is rarely experienced and the work is fun, interesting and exciting.

This project will be enormously helpful to young women as they contemplate careers in science.

Professor Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford

Sue Ziebland, Professor of Medical Sociology in the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, who conceived the project with the Radcliffe Department of Medicine's Chris Price, said: 'It's a very promising time to be a woman working in science at the University of Oxford, as it's becoming clear that attitudes and beliefs about women in science are changing.

'Whereas previously there was a culture of exclusion to contend with, women now tell us they experience greater autonomy in their work and there's a great deal of University-wide and departmental support available to women to support their career progression. Indeed, very few of the women we spoke to had been aware of any discrimination at Oxford.

'We found that many women feel that working in science is hugely rewarding, though it is evident that women had to work incredibly hard to succeed. While women were aware of persistent gender inequalities at senior levels, they could also see that this was changing.  The University needs to continue its commitment to transparency, regular appraisals, mentorship, and maintaining awareness of unconscious bias to facilitate a continued culture shift for women working at all levels of science.'

The interviews were conducted by Dr Alison Chapple, a research lecturer in the University’s Health Experiences Research Group. She talked to women from many departments, including biochemistry, computing and plant sciences, as well as medics actively engaged in research including a general practitioner, a surgeon and an epidemiologist. Some of the women interviewed were leading national or international research groups at the time.

The researchers used a thematic analysis to identify and write about the variety of issues important to the women who were interviewed, which included obtaining funding, career progression, mentorship, and taking parental leave.

The website is introduced and endorsed by England's Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies.  She said: 'I can't think of anything more exciting than science as a career and while it does seem rather daunting any career is daunting when you’re at the beginning. But what we need to do is support women so they achieve what they want to achieve and that’s why I really like this website and the resources it offers.'