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The University of Southampton

Women academics celebrate new approach to improving career prospects

Published: 2 June 2004

An initiative established to help the career prospects of women academics at the University of Southampton has already proved its value. After a university-wide review of promotion prospects and procedures in the University, six women who took part in the project have been successful in their applications for readerships.

The University has also funded a high-profile lecture series, the Campbell Lectures, which will showcase women scientists, and highlight the need to increase the visibility of women in science, engineering and technology.

These initiatives have been established through the encouragement and lobbying of WiSET (Women in Science, Engineering and Technology), set up at Southampton in 2002 to provide a support group for women academics in these traditionally male-dominated subject disciplines.

"WiSET has provided a valuable forum for women academics across the University-and also for male colleagues, since we have not excluded anyone from taking part in our seminars," says Dr Jane Hart, Chair of WiSET. "We are especially pleased that the University has been so willing to work with us and has been committed to addressing the issues which particularly concern us."

In collaboration with WiSET, the University undertook a review of the promotion procedures as they related to women academics, and then funded an 'Action Learning Set', a supported programme which according to Jane Hart, was both challenging but also empowering to women in the group. "We were able to explore the reasons why we felt that we would find it hard to be promoted and to build up each other's confidence and self-belief," she said. "The support of the group was vital in leading women to make their applications for promotion, and in being able to realistically assess their prospects.

"The fact that there were six successful readership applications as a result of the Action Learning Set attests to its value," she continued. "However, it's not just about promotion. The group helps women-and men-on a range of different issues."

The WiSET group has also carried out a childcare survey and been involved in developing mentoring networks in oceanography and medicine. The new Campbell Lectures represent a key aspect of the visibility project, by demonstrating the high quality of women scientists, both internationally and at Southampton, at all stages of their careers. The lecture series is named in honour of Ishbell Campbell (1906-97), one of the founding academics of the University. Ishbell Campbell was a Reader in Chemistry with an excellent research record into the organic compounds of Group V elements, as well, says Jane Hart, as being a committed teacher and inspiration for women in science.

Notes for editors

  1. A digital image is available of Nancy Rothwell, first Campbell Lecturer, with the University Vice-Chancellor and members of WiSET.
  2. The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship. The University has over 19,200 students and 4,800 staff and plays an important role in the City of Southampton. Its annual turnover is in the region of £250 million.
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