Words from the WISE: investigating women in science, 1830-2012

Lead Research Organisation: Kingston University
Department Name: Sch of Social Science

Abstract

'Words from the WISE: women in science 1830-2012' is a research network which aims to stimulate cross-disciplinary (both academic and non-academic) debate of the position of women in science today. Although WISE usually refers to Women in Science and Engineering, in the context of this project we also include technology and mathematics (which with Science and Engineering make up the STEM subjects) and medicine.

The network will be composed of thirty or so participants who can bring a wide breadth of knowledge to the table, be they academic historians interested in how women first broke into the male enclave of science, to sociologists and policy makers concerned that women scientists still have a long way to go to achieve parity in representation at all levels. The aim is to generate new ideas concerning the application of an historical understanding of female scientists' experience of science, particularly through learned societies, to contemporary imbalances, with regard to participation of women in science, persistence in scientific careers and achievement.

The network will examine what might be learned through a better understanding of female scientists' historical interactions with learned societies, such as the Royal Society and Royal Institution, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Institute for Engineering and Technology, or the Royal College of Physicians, to name a few. It is, after all, through these prestigious organisations that the fruits of imagination, argument, creativity, discovery and curiosity have largely been published, celebrated and rewarded, yet the history of women's interaction with them has not been fully explored and documented.

Our proposed network will bring participants together to discuss the theme from several perspectives, in a series of UK-based workshops. Participants will bring expertise in historical and archival research, the use of biographical and autobiographical sources (including oral history), and social science research methods. By sharing cross disciplinary methodologies we will explore what each group might learn from the other in a wider history of how gender affects authority, expertise, trust and engagement in science. A two-day conference is planned, to accumulate and share views from international participants to enable a cross-border and cross-cultural exchange of ideas.

The international perspective of this programme is reflected in the presence of scholars from Europe and the United States on the project's steering committee.

The key scientific figures, institutions and research questions identified during the network debates will form the basis of a large scale archival research proposal. If the position of women in science is to be improved (and current experience suggests that large pools of talent are being lost to science with a concomitant effect on the competitiveness of the British economy), such research is essential to understanding why it is happening and how to correct it.

The project will also produce more immediate outcomes which will have an impact on archival policies of the learned societies which participate, and a number of other short term outcomes. These are discussed in detail in the Impact Summary.

This is a collaborative project led by Kingston University with support from The Royal Society, The Rothschild Archive, London and Liverpool University. Individuals from a range of educational, public and professional institutions have already agreed to participate in the management of the project and in the network itself.

Planned Impact

The proposed research network will produce a series of short and longer-term benefits for a diverse range of groups.

The network will bring together a group of contributors from a variety of disciplines (history, branches of science, engineering and technology, sociology and business), including early researchers and students, to exchange ideas and experiences of working on the subject of gender in science, be it from an historical or contemporary perspective. This will produce a fertile environment in which a vibrant exchange of ideas and methodologies can be moulded to develop novel approaches to research.

One group of beneficiaries will be the archivists at the Learned Societies. In an initial conversation, the archivist at the Royal College of Physicians commented, 'We have very little in our collections which is accessible via gender based searches ... the archives are very functionally organised ... deep research would be needed to pull out female personalities.' Discussions which take place through the network will stimulate archivists to ask what material their archives hold on the interactions of female scientists with their societies. Often this material is overlooked in cataloguing and difficult to find (as the quote above illustrates), frequently as a result of collection and cataloguing policies established years ago. The Learned Societies will discover from historians and policy makers the types of data needed to investigate the participation of women in science, helping to develop acquisition and cataloguing policies for the future, and revising existing catalogues. In doing so, they will be able to encourage more rigorous and efficient use of their archives by new groups of users.

Policy makers, fully aware of the great loss to British competitiveness which results from the low participation and persistence of women in scientific activities, are now looking to history to provide answers. The Athena Survey of Women in Science Engineering and Technology (ASSET) is generating contemporary data on participation of women in the sciences, but has identified a need for historical data to contextualise the findings. By engaging with the network as it develops plans for a large scale historical research project, policy makers will be able to influence the shape and form of that project, ensuring that it generates data appropriate to their needs. This data will feed into the datasets collected during the Athena surveys, thus supporting and informing policies designed to redress the loss to the British economy which results from poor representation of women in science training and poor persistence in work.

One obstacle to increasing female participation in science is the prevalent, socially-constructed idea of science as a male activity: this view is already entrenched when students are making important subject choices at secondary school. By engaging with groups such as WiSENET, this project will investigate how historical material (such as biographies of successful female scientists and female careers) can be used within schools to break down this obstacle to female participation in science. The project will also build contacts within further/higher education to encourage students and their teachers to think positively about employability post higher education, using examples of successful career paths and successful women scientists.
 
Description I was invited as a result of the Women in Science Network to to run a workshop for a group of female secondary school students at Parliament Hill School, north London, who were engaged in a project on Women in Space. The workshop encouraged the students to think about why female students at school choose not engage in science, and to introduce them to some women in science from history, including women involved in early space programmes in Russia and NASA. The students used the workshop to develop ideas for a drama/movement performance on women in space. There were 4 performances of the piece held at the school. the project was run by Scarabeus Aerial Theatre Company.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Education
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description Diversity grant: to support the international launch event for WISRNet
Amount £1,250 (GBP)
Organisation Rothschild Archive 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2013 
End 07/2013
 
Description Diversity grant: to support the international launch event of WISRNet
Amount £1,000 (GBP)
Organisation The Royal Society 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2013 
End 07/2013
 
Description Fractured Histories: discovering women scientists in the archives 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact The workshop, organised by the project team, brought together historians of science, women's historians and archivists to discuss the difficulties of locating material held in archives which relate to women's historical engagement with science. Among other things it generated a list of unknown (or little known) women scientists from a long time period (19th century to present day), identified by archivists from a variety of scientific societies of worthy of further study. The workshop (held at the Royal Society) was attended by thirty people - archivists, historians and scientists. The workshop ended with a discussion session which is summarised on the Women in Science website It also generated a list of 'lost' women scientists referred to during the day by the archivists as they talked about their own archives.

It was agreed to use the website as a repository for information on women in science in history, to encourage archivists to send information on women scientists in their archives and to also use the website as a hub for sharing ideas. These ideas were acted upon, and sections of the website developed to facilitate them.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.womeninscience.net
 
Description Revealing Lives: women in science, 1830-2000 
Form Of Engagement Activity Scientific meeting (conference/symposium etc.)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation workshop facilitator
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact The project team organised this international two day conference, identified and invited key note speakers from within the network created as part of the WISRNet project. The conference attracted nearly 100 delegates and consisted of 2 key note talks and 44 speakers, who came from UK (29) Europe (9), North America (6) and Australia (1). The speakers and delegates came from a number of backgrounds: history of science and women's history, but also from archives, from the world of science, and other humanities subjects. It was organised to allow plenty of time for informal networking as well as the formal presentation sessions. Feedback on the conference was excellent. The main criticism was a lack of time to fit everything in.

The conference sparked some media attention, which in turn generated more interest in the WISRNet network. Delegates particularly enjoyed the ability to discuss issues with people from other disciplines, and reported having thought-provoking conversations which introduced new perspectives to subjects they were working on within their own discipline. Many delegates in their feedback indicated that the conference should become a regular, perhaps biennial, event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://womeninscience.net/?page_id=438
 
Description WISRNet International Launch 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This launch event was held in July 2013 at the International Congress on the History of Science Technology and Medicine. This conference brings together the international community for the history of science, which is why we chose to launch our network at the Congress. The launch event was attended by 150 people from all over the world, representing 25 countries. Our guest speaker was Prof Ludmilla Jordanova who spoke passionately of the need to increase women's involvement in science now, and how 'projects on women and science have to grapple with images of science, femininity, and masculinity, which are notoriously hard to get a grip on ... If this network can enhance and extend our understanding of the intricate ways in which gender, science, history, institutions and public life are interwoven, it will make a very significant contribution indeed.' The full transcript of Prof Jordanova's talk and a report on the launch are available through the WISRNet website.

The project team made some invaluable contacts at the event which enabled us to take the Network forward, both within the UK, but more importantly overseas as well. It also served to raise awareness of the network to ensure we had excellent attendance at future events, and enabled us to recruit a diverse group of people into the fledgling network.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://womeninscience.net/?page_id=454
 
Description WISRNet Next Steps 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact This was the final workshop of the network. Participants discussed the various strands of the network from the previous 18 months, with the objective of generating a plan of action taking WISRNet forward. It identified a number of research themes which could be brought together in a large research project, on gender and STEMM, and the interrelation between women's involvement in science today and in the past. It has produced a document summarising the findings of the network which it is proposed to be circulated among some leading participants in the field of gender and science, both form humanities and the sciences. It is hoped that from them we will receive advice on how to identify a potential team of researchers (including a PI) who could take forward a large, multi-disciplinary project.

Any impact from this final meeting is yet to be seen as the document has not yet been circulated.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Women and Science in the 20th Century: Using oral history to reveal hidden stories 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact The use of oral history in the study and recording of the experiences of women scientists was the subject of the second WISRNet workshop, held at Kingston University on 4 April 2014. The workshop was organised by the project team. It was attended by 20 delegates who represented practitioners and users of oral history. There were talks from a number of people who either make or use oral histories of women scientists. Sue Hawkins, the project PI, gave a presentation on her experience of interviewing women scientists at the Natural History Museum, which was part of an AHRC-sponsored project, Museum Lives. Two of her interviewees also attended the workshop and provided some interesting insight into being on the other end of the microphone. The ensuing discussion was lively and generated a great many questions which could feed into a larger research project.

There were no tangible impacts from this discussion, although it did raise a number of important questions which could be taken forward into a larger research project, and which were fed into the discussions in final workshop.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://womeninscience.net/?page_id=587
 
Description Women in Science Royal Society Podcast, October 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This podcast was recorded during the Revealing Lives conference: a conversation about women in science in history with Sue Hawkins and Claire Jones from the WISRNet project and Victoria Druce of the Royal Society.

No specific impact came from this podcast, but it placed the WISRNet project firmly within the Royal Society's Diversity programme, reinforcing the need to consider the problems of women in science as being part of the larger issues of diversity in science.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://blogs.royalsociety.org/rscience/2014/06/30/june-2014-diversity-special/
 
Description Women in Science and The Guardian Science Weekly Podcast 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Claire Jones the Co-I for the project and Professor Tilli Tansey a member of the WISRNet Steering Committee were interviewed about the project and more generally about the historical involvement of women in science for the Guardian Weekly Science podcast. The podcast was broadcast on 12 May 2014, and took place as a follow up to our press release on our upcoming Revealing Lives conference.

It generated interest in the conference and prompted some requests for more information.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.theguardian.com/science/audio/2014/may/12/science-weekly-podcast-dna-synthetic-biology
 
Description Women in Science for Radio 4 Inside Science Programme broadcast 29 May 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Radio 4 Inside Science broadcast an item on the Revealing Lives conference in response to our press release advertising the conference. It included short interviews with a number of delegates and speakers.

No immediately obvious impact, but requests for further information about the network to the team increased after it.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b044j948
 
Description Workshop for female secondary school students 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact I was invited as a result of the Women in Science Network to to run a workshop for a group of female secondary school students at Parliament Hill School, north London, who were engaged in a project on Women in Space. The workshop encouraged the students to think about why female students at school choose not engage in science, and to introduce them to some women in science from history, including women involved in early space programmes in Russia and NASA. The students used the workshop to develop ideas for a drama/movement performance on women in space. There were 4 performances of the piece held at the school. the project was run by Scarabeus Aerial Theatre Company.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015