Department of Physics Promotes Gender Equality

Durham University’s Department of Physics has been awarded Juno Practitioner status by the Institute of Physics (IoP) due to its work to promote gender equality amongst its staff and students. Project Juno was established in 2007 by the IoP ‘to recognise and reward departments that can demonstrate they have taken action to address the under-representation of women in university physics and to encourage better practice for both women and men’. By joining this movement the University has expressed its commitment to addressing the gender imbalance in the subject at the highest levels of academia, with its progress so far including more help for working mothers such as flexible working hours and childcare provision. Within the last five years, five women have also been appointed as lectures and two to professorships.

Dr Alistair Edge, the coordinator of Durham’s bid for the award, says that he is ‘delighted’ with the achievement which ‘provides the recognition that [they] have started the long process of creating an environment that gives everyone the best opportunity to succeed’. He claims that there is still ‘a lot of work ahead’ but that ‘knowing [they] have the support of the IoP behind [them] will spur [them] on’.

Dr Elizabeth Bridge, a postdoctoral researcher in the department, says that she is ‘looking forward to helping identify and address problems that may be contributing to the gender imbalance within academia and the physical sciences.’ She hopes that ‘many other departments will follow similar paths […] focusing on ensuring that this is a good and fair place to work.’

However, despite creating more provisions for female staff, the department’s admissions statistics show that it continues to struggle to recruit female undergraduate students. Of those applying for 2012 entry only 19.3% were female, the second-lowest figure in the university after the Department of Computer Sciences with 12.0%, compared to the 83.2% of female Primary Education applicants. It can only be hoped that the new award will allow the department the means to begin to eliminate this gender bias and encourage more female students to consider a scientific degree.

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