On Friday 4th March at the bright and breezy hour of 10pm WiSTEM’s OxFEST attendees gathered. Armed with blankets and pillows we boarded our wonderful minibus, resembling a “girl band tour bus.” The 10-hour journey began. Eight am saw our arrival at the Maths Institute at the University of Oxford. After desperately seeking bathrooms to change out of our stylish pyjamas we transformed from bedraggled travellers to professional and enthusiastic conference guests.
The conference began with a welcome from the OxFEST president and then we were straight into career talks. Prof Ulrike Tillmann, University of Oxford, started off with a brief personal history, she proceeded to explain Path Integration in String Theory. At 9am on a Saturday this lead to a few confused faces. Jessica Griggs, an editor of New Scientist, then offered an interesting insight into a non-stereotypical STEM career. Throughout the day four other career talks were presented, Prof Alison Noble, Sue Kershaw and the University of Glasgow’s very own Prof Rhian Touyz. However, the committee’s favourite career talk was that of Prof Elena Rodrigeuz-Falcon, Univeristy of Sheffield. She’s seriously worth a google, follow her twitter – she has done so much amazing work for minorities in STEM.
The broad spectrum of subjects these women worked in catered to all our attendees. Natasha, UofG Microbiology student said,
“I really enjoyed my time at OxFest, seeing those powerful women excel in their field has really inspired me to continue with my STEM studies and hopefully to continue into academia.”
OxFEST also offered research presentations, ranging to topics such as, ‘SimCells: a new chassis for synthetic biology’, to ‘How to become a Pulsar Hunter’. Further to this workshops focussing on confidence, resilience or communication were available to attend. These were helpful, Laura, WiSTEM’s Maths Convener said,
“I gained a different perspective by attending the conference. Instead of seeing mistakes as failure I’ve learned to look at them as learning opportunities.”
The WiSTEM committee were highly anticipating the panel discussion, looking for topics and tips for our event the following week. The six person strong panel offered up a plentiful of viewpoints, sometimes contrasting, and the audience was encouraged to participate. Points to note were the widespread use of male subjects in research and how this affects healthcare and services available to women. There is a huge loss of talent from these subjects because encouragement and accessibility isn’t offered. Everyone agreed, a diverse workforce, gender and otherwise offers the varied perspectives essential for success. Furthermore, competition is against yourself, progression is individual was a key statement. From this discussion Cat, UofG Maths student commented,
“I gained new insight on how women are often raised to hold themselves back and be less confident and practical techniques on how to overcome that, such as applying for things because we want them, not because we meet every single criterion.”
After a long day we treated ourselves to a brief whizz around Oxford followed by some hearty Italian food and then piled back onto the minibus. Arriving back in Glasgow at 4pm, maybe due to exhaustion, we somehow felt a bit let down. Perhaps the hours of relentless organising and funding proposals had hyped this event up to more than it could deliver. Make no mistake, our incredible congratulations to the OxFEST committee for the work they’ve been doing for 5 years now on the conference. The organisation and execution of the event was impressive but there seemed to be a missing element to our experience. We felt the conference focussed strongly in those wishing to pursue work in academia and this left us without a full spectrum of perspective. Perhaps in the years to come a wider range of speakers will increase the success of the event.
The trip was ultimately a wonderful learning opportunity for the society and we have taken away so much that we can utilise in our events. It was incredible fun to get to know some of our members and hear their thoughts. We can only aspire to hold an event with as many keen and influential speakers and attendees. It is promising to see the work of other Women in STEM societies across the UK. We shall channel our remaining curiosity and hopefully in the near future WiSTEM will hold its very own noteworthy conference at UofG in an innovative and extraordinary way.
Special thanks to: University of Glasgow School of Engineering, School of Life Sciences and School of Mathematics and Statistics, GU FemEng, Extra Mile Coaches and to our wonderful members.