FeRN @ Cranfield, Frances Saunders
Winners and judges from the FeRN poster symposium

The Female Researcher Network (FeRN) held their biennial lecture last week (19.06.17), with renowned scientist Dr Frances Saunders giving an inspiring talk to early-career female scientists at Cranfield.

A poster symposium was also held, showcasing some of the fantastic research being led by women at Cranfield. The winning posters were by Kerry Smith and Simone Webber, who each received a £75 prize for their work. In addition, Chiara Riccio and Charlene Greenwood received high commendations from the judges for their research.

Dr Saunders delivered a talk that spanned a long and high-flying career in an often very male dominated world. “Leadership is having a sense of direction, and communicating it, and get people excited”, she said. “It’s about leading people, not just having great ideas. You need not just the ability to turn your vision into something that motivates people, but also a plan of how to get there. And you have to be prepared to say thank you, and recognise what went well.”

On achieving what you want from your career, she continued; “The most important part is communication. I helped people communicate results in a way laypeople could understand. Because unless we get people excited, they are not going to invest. And don’t worry about making a mistake; the experiment that fails can be the one that really illuminates your thinking.”

Dr Christine Thompson, Director of Research and Innovation Office, said; “We are delighted to have Dr Saunders with us to talk about women in STEM. Embracing diversity amongst our staff and students is extremely important here at Cranfield. This was recognised by the Athena Swan award, which represents a firm commitment to advancing women’s careers in STEM. In the coming weeks and months you’ll start to see more activities in support of women in science, not least our proud sponsorship of the Women in Engineering event."

Siobhan Gardiner, who is at Cranfield on a Unilever-BBSRC Industrial CASE PhD Studentship, founded Cranfield’s FeRN network in 2014. Since then it has grown into an important network for women at Cranfield, providing events and support to assist with employability and networking skills, amongst other things. Last year it held an intercity event with 11 other universities from the UK and Europe, bringing together women to discuss working and advancing in STEM.

The event was held under International Women In Engineering Day 2017, and Innovate UK #InFocus Women in Innovation. FeRN is also endorsed by the British Federation of Women Graduates, an organisation that has promoted the equality of women graduates since 1907.

Dr Saunders was the former chief executive of DSTL, was appointed as a member of the UK Space Agency Steering Board in 2015, was president of the Institute of Physics from 2013–2015, and is a trustee of the Engineering Development Trust. She was elected a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2011, and also received CBE that year.

The posters were judged by Dr Saunders, Dr Thompson, Dr Adele Carter and Dr Kathy Abbott-Banner.

Reflections from the judges

Dr Adele Carter; Shrivenham alumnus, Managing Director at Kiteway Ltd and an experienced Innovate UK assessor and Monitoring Officer, said: “The attention to the application of the various technologies/modelling to real world issues across the students, as well as both cost and social implications surrounding their research projects was excellent and this bodes well for the success of the end products/ideas.”

Dr Kathy Abbott-Banner; President of the BFWG Greater London Association, and Director of Clinical Therapeutics and Drug Delivery - Respiratory Disease at GSK, said: “I was extremely impressed by the consistently high quality of the communication skills of each of the students I spoke with. Each student spoke with confidence, passion and enthusiasm and it was a pleasure to meet such highly motivated students who are working across such diverse and interesting subjects areas.”