Pod of the Week London

Pod Bio

Location: London, UK

Number of women: 38

Frequency of meeting: As we were very small when we started and had a lot of ideas for actions in the sort-term we decided to go with the flow. Up to now, we have approximately met every 2 weeks.

Mission statement: The 500 Women Scientists London Pod focuses on empowering Women and Non-binary scientists, through various awareness raising and outreach activities.

 The London pod celebrating the launch of 500 Women Scientists with a picnic.

The London pod celebrating the launch of 500 Women Scientists with a picnic.

How did you come to this mission, why is it relevant to your city?

When the pod started we were only two members for a couple of weeks, but we decided to arrange a Skype call to meet and discuss our motivations. A few days before the scheduled meeting several women joined the pod! On the call, the two of us realized we were both concerned about issues that women in science face. As we had new members, we decided to wait to have the kick-off meeting before formalizing a mission to see what other members were interested in.

A couple of days later, we had a fantastic kick-off meeting and the biggest topic of discussion was again… issues faced by women in science. It then became clear to all of us that we should focus on empowering women and creating a supportive structure where self-identifying women could share their experiences and find support.

Obviously, all over the world, women in science face specific challenges for the main reason that… they are women! London is a big and diverse city, which is known to be progressive. Therefore, it is all the more concerning that so many of us studying or working in London raised gender-based issues. Furthermore, the current social climate — especially regarding the debates around Brexit and immigration — is somewhat similar to what has happened in the USA in the recent election. Scientific evidence has been challenged, experts’ opinions have been defied and values of openness, tolerance, and diversity are questioned.

Therefore, the values of 500 Women Scientists as an organization are particularly relevant to a city like London. We are all very excited to be part of an organization that aims at fighting against anti-science discourse, and creating an inclusive environment where women and non-male scientists stand together with minorities, immigrants, LGBTQIA, people with disabilities, etc. We found a safe space to share concerns, collaborate and support each other.

How has your pod ensured that a diverse group of women scientists attend the pod meetings?

Spontaneously, we had members from very diverse backgrounds. That is the magic of London! Our co-leader Sabah is French from Algerian origins, we have a non-binary member, members from the USA, the European Union, from different ethnic backgrounds and from different scientific fields. For our activities, one of our events organizers, Rehemat, took special care to invite women from different disciplines, nationalities, or backgrounds. We are attentive to have a wide range of experiences and to reach diverse audiences. Finally, we are paying attention to try to communicate science in different ways through the activities we are developing.

 Busy brainstorming during a pod meeting in the park.

Busy brainstorming during a pod meeting in the park.

Can you talk about the activities the pod is focusing on? What actions and outputs do you envision? Who is your audience?

Our kick-off meeting was a firework of fantastic ideas! It was so inspiring and all of us were extremely excited to be with like-minded scientists willing to empower women. We very quickly generated a list of actions to undertake in a short-, mid- and long-term timeframe. We decided to first raise awareness on issues faced by women in science, then develop empowerment activities to tackle the raised issues and expand to outreach activities with younger people in schools.

So, here we are! On the 28th of June, we will have our first public event that is a Discussion forum where women in science at different stages in their career (from MSc student to Professor) will share about their careers and challenges they have faced. The second part of the event is interactive with the public. It is open to all and we expect that students and academic staff will be our main audience.

This event will help us identify key themes that we will work on. Afterwards, we plan to conduct short video and audio interviews, as well as Facebook livestreams with other women in science to follow up on these themes and continue raising awareness.

From September, we have a couple of activities in the pipeline. We will pursue our interviews with women scientists. One of our events organizers, Selina, is planning a non-male science show-off, which is a stand-up performance where a scientist would be expected to share anything related to science — about being a scientist, curious study subjects or more. We will try to get in touch with schools to have outreach activities with kids — especially young — to promote science among young people and maybe… provide them with a non-male role model! We are discussing more about organizing tours in laboratories or science museums as outreach activities as well.

Are there any specific activities that the group is really excited about focusing on?

We are all excited about all our events, really! But for the moment, all our efforts are focused on this exciting Discussion forum next week that we hope will inspire women scientists.

Do you have any tips or lessons learned for your fellow pods around the world?

We are all very happy and very excited that so many women have joined and are already taking action. We are still a very young pod, so we may not have many lessons learned yet, but have a couple of experiences to share.

One thing we found very useful is that we function as a very collaborative and supportive group without hierarchy. Once an idea is given, we quickly decide who wants to lead on it and things move on very fast. We share roles and this is functioning very well for us at the moment.

We invite all members to the meetings, so we have a core group that is complemented by other members. This enables us to have fresh ideas and to let members free to engage when their agenda enables them to!

We feel there is a need for non-male scientists to support each other. In the 500WS London pod, we've found a supportive environment that gives us the energy to try to break down barriers facing women in STEM. We've fostered empowerment already by brainstorming what we would like to do within the pod, being supportive to ideas shared and finding partners to help us transform ideas into projects. And, we feel great to be part of a group of such motivated and very active scientists!

Pod Leaders

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Sabah Boufkhed

Pod Coordinator

Sabah Boufkhed is a final year PhD student in Public Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. She has been using advanced quantitative methods to analyse voices of experts and immigrant workers to develop a conceptual framework of exploitation of migrant workers. Sabah has studied in France and has an interdisciplinary background. She initially obtained a Licence in Biology, a Master’s in Public Health-Epidemiology and then obtained a Master’s in Humanitarian and Development. After working for two years in developing a laboratory network in the Mediterranean region to support preparedness to Public Health threats, she moved to the UK to discover Social sciences through her PhD. Throughout her education and work, she has been interested in overlooked issues in health and getting involved in women & minorities rights and empowerment.

Amy Chadderton

Communication and social media coordinator

Amy Chadderton is a final year PhD student at University College London working in experimental volcanology. She uses high temperature experiments to investigate the permeability of lava dome rocks to explore how volcanoes erupt. Amy has an undergraduate degree in Geography from Sheffield University where her love for all things volcanoes began. She then went on to obtain a Masters degree in Volcanology and Geological Hazards from Lancaster University. After finishing her PhD she hopes to continue her academic career and further pursue her passion for encouraging women in STEM. She is currently thoroughly enjoying her role as the 500ws London Pod Communication & Social Media Coordinator which allows her to continue her pursuit of scientific outreach.

Rehemat Bhatia

Events Coordinator

Rehemat Bhatia is a final year micropalaeontology/geochemistry PhD student at University College London. She uses different chemical elements to disentangle the palaeoecologies of various fossil species of planktonic foraminifera (calcareous zooplankton) from the Eocene (55-34 million years ago) and Miocene (23-5 million years ago). She also volunteers with the V Factor Volunteer Scheme at the Natural History Museum in London, working with two curators who look after the carpological collections (fruits and seeds) and has taken part in various outreach events including the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival and Science Uncovered (NHM public outreach event, which highlights EU funded science).

Selina Groh

Events Coordinator

Selina Groh, is an agender PhD Student who did their Biology BA in Oxford and an MA Evolutionary Biology with the MEME Programme in Uppsala, Munich and Harvard. Now they work at University College and the Natural History Museum in London on their PhD in palaeontology in crocodile evolution with the London NERC DTP. Apart from being interested in taxonomy and systematics, they harbour a special love for crocs, spiders and orchids and doing public engagement about science with all ages, reaching from science comedy to NHM events.