On Ada Lovelace Day 2016, Tuesday 11th October, Sylvia Richardson, Director of the MRC Biostatistics Unit (BSU), becomes one of the first women to receive a Suffrage Science in Maths and Computing Award. It is a new branch of the existing Suffrage Science scheme that aims to encourage women into maths and computing and to reach senior leadership roles.
Women make up no more than four in ten undergraduates studying maths (London Mathematical Society), and fewer than two in ten of those studying computer science (WISE report, 2014). Despite much effort, there has been little sign of improvement. In fact, the number of women studying computer science at the undergraduate level has been in decline since the 1980s. The more senior the research position, the fewer women there are.
Sylvia Richardson relishes being a mathematician and says: "You have to enjoy thinking about a problem, in mathematics you do that in a rather abstract manner, and that's quite beautiful". Sylvia emphasises that if we can make women curious about mathematics, they will be drawn to the subject: "To attract women I think you need to show how stimulating it is, and how rewarding it could be".
Suffrage Science aims to make a difference. The MRC Clinical Sciences Centre (CSC) at Imperial College London formed the scheme five years ago. There are currently two sections, one for women in the Life Sciences, and one for those in Engineering and the Physical Sciences. This event launches a third specialism, for women Maths and Computing. At the launch, 12 women receive awards to celebrate their scientific achievements and ability to inspire others and each plan to make a real difference for the next generation.
Sylvia is honoured to receive a Suffrage Science Award and would like to use her mentoring skills to help young people at the start of their careers, and says that BSU will lead by example: "In our Unit, we are a very open group of scientists, women are extremely well represented and we do a lot of communication and outreach".
Professor Peter Diggle, president of the Royal Statistical Society and chair of the Medical Research Council’s Strategic Skills Fellowships Panel, said: “The more initiatives we have to encourage women to consider careers in mathematics, statistics and computing, the better.”
The winners fall into four categories:
1 Prof Christl Donnelly Imperial College London
2 Prof Jane Hutton University of Warwick
3 Prof Frances Kirwan University of Oxford
4 Prof Sylvia Richardson Medical Research Council, Biostatistics Unit
5 Prof Gwyneth Stallard Open University
1 Prof Ann Blandford University College London
2 Prof Muffy Calder OBE University of Glasgow
3 Prof Leslie Goldberg University of Oxford
4 Prof Wendy Hall DBE University of Southampton
5 Prof Carron Shankland University of Stirling
Prof Shafrira Goldwasser Massachusetts Institute of Technology/Weizmann Institute of Science
Prof Celia Hoyles University College London
Congratulations to Sylvia and all the other winners.