International Day of Women in Engineering – Becky Lunn
At International Day of Women in Engineering, Professor Rebecca Lunn of Civil and Environmental Engineering talks about a unique initiative organized by Strathclyde to encourage more women to take on leadership roles in STEM research.
Professor Lunn is the program director of STEM is equal to , which develops projects to improve equality and diversity for female and LGBT staff in science and engineering faculties.
Priming the pump
The four-year research and impact project focuses on building more inclusive STEM communities for women and includes ten STEM ‘priming the pump‘projects led by principal researchers. These include a study on the dynamics of blood flow in women with pulmonary arterial hypertension led by Dr Asmina Melina Kazakidi, Senior Lecturer, Biomedical Engineering.
Another pump priming project led by Dr. Monica Oliveira, a lecturer in mechanical and aerospace engineering, studies aligned 3D collagen hydrogels – often used as tissue scaffolds for artificial tissue development – for the treatment of Parkinson disease. The disease is associated with a loss of neurons in a part of the brain that causes a reduction in dopamine in the striatum – key to controlling body movements. When this happens, it leads to the development of motor symptoms typically associated with Parkinson’s disease, such as tremors, slow movements, and stiff muscles. Current cell therapy approaches focus on the use of cells acting as dopamine factories without reconstructing the nigro-striatal pathway. The Strathclyde team aims to produce enhanced collagen hydrogels to help rebuild the pathway itself.
The idea behind the pump priming projects was to ask for a big block of money to fund research projects where women were in charge. According to research, in 2018, 90 percent of Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) were awarded to male-led projects.
Professor Lunn said: “STEM Equals is designed to try to improve the diversity of EPSRC research in the UK. Women are massively under-represented in STEM subjects and their numbers are decreasing as you increase seniority levels.
“The number of female principal investigators across the industry is very low and there are differences in the success rates and value of rewards compared to men.
STEM Equals is examining how we could increase the number of women in leadership positions under multi-partner grants and help women take the lead in creating new women-led research networks across the University.
“The idea was to fund small grants where women were PIs so that they could get pilot data to prove a concept in science or engineering and turn it into a larger grant proposal led by women.”
The pilot projects were also conceived as collaborative projects with the idea of networking people across faculties to develop larger networks of research and social support.
The project is also collecting data on the experiences of women and LGBT staff, with the aim of designing, implementing and evaluating strategic interventions focused on improving equality and diversity in Strathclyde.
The university also runs the Engineering the Future for Girls outreach programs and the Young Weir Wise program.