International Women's Day 2016 – how we're making a world of difference


Today (8 March 2016) is International Women's Day (IWD), a celebration of the huge contribution women make to social, economic, cultural and political achievement all over the world.

And there are so many talented women working here at our University that we thought a great way to mark the occasion was to ask what they're doing to make a difference: how they feel they're making an impact in the world through their work here.

The result? A collection of inspiring words to give us all, male or female, renewed confidence that what we do here at the University makes a world of difference.

Our Deputy-Vice-Chancellor, Professor Shearer West, agrees that we've got a lot to celebrate. She said:

“Our University has a genuine commitment to making a powerful difference in our economy and society, and this is all possible because of the talented people working here.

“International Women’s Day is a great opportunity to pause and reflect on the special contribution of women at our University, whose talent both individually and collaboratively makes a huge difference to the world in so many ways.

“There are innumerable examples of commitment, energy and ambition in the women working across all areas of our University. These qualities sustain the excellence we stand for here at Sheffield and through which we make a significant and lasting impact locally and globally.”

So it’s over to our contributors, from a range of faculties, roles and specialisms, to share their stories and tell you how they’re making that impact.

Faculty of Arts and Humanities

Angie HobbsProfessor Angie Hobbs, Professor of Public Understanding of Philosophy

"I am passionate about using my role in the public understanding of philosophy to apply philosophical arguments and conceptual analysis to current concerns: money and banking; mental health; interfaith and faith-secular dialogue. I am particularly involved at present in exploring and promoting the benefits of increasing the role of philosophy in education, both as an examined subject and also in the form of unexamined weekly sessions in both primary and secondary school, and I am engaged in this work in a number of countries.

"Philosophy can provide a superb training in how to ask good questions and consider whether there are any compelling reasons to believe whatever some authority figure is saying. It can also help young people understand that there are different ways of living, thinking and being than those on offer in their local environment – philosophy can help extend a young person’s imaginative grasp of possible lives."

Jennifer SaulProfessor Jennifer Saul, Department of Philosophy

"Together with my colleague Helen Beebee at the University of Manchester, I drew on my implicit bias research to formulate guidelines for the British Philosophical Association that philosophy departments could choose to adopt.

"This has succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. In the three years since the scheme has started, 19 British departments (and even one American one) have signed up to it. We've been thrilled to hear of important changes taking place around the country as a result."

Julie GottliebDr Julie Gottlieb, Department of History

"How I feel I'm contributing to the world? Being able to research and teach women's history is really rewarding, and the freedom to formulate my own research projects and questions is one of the real highlights and privileges of being a historian."

"My research has evolved, and I've worked on the impact of women's suffrage after 1918; my recently published book asks very new questions about a well honed topic. 'Guilty Women', Foreign Policy and Appeasement in Inter-war Britain (Basingstoke, 2015) situates women in the story of British foreign policy, and gives women a voice in questions about peace, war and preparing to fight an anti-fascist war.

"I have spent most of my career so far at the University of Sheffield, and it is a great place to work. In our department there is a great deal of respect for research, research-led teaching, and developing a rich research environment that draws in students at all levels of the curriculum. It isn't like that everywhere. Of course we are still on a high in the History Department after we ranked third in the country in the recent REF. It is also great to have so many younger female colleagues joining the department, a testament to the exciting and very high caliber work women are doing in all fields of historical research."

Dr Jane Woodin, Modern Languages Teaching CentreJane-Woodin

"I work on the postgraduate intercultural programmes in the School of Languages and Cultures. We have a range of students from across the world who take our courses and the lectures and seminars are intercultural scenes in themselves. As part of their programme students take part in ethnography projects where they join groups across the city in order to understand how people communicate group membership with each other, and learn the fundamentals of group 'belonging'.

"For me, making a difference is through the students themselves. My inspiration comes from working closely with them, and my reward is the lightbulb moment which is visible in some of them when they realise that they actually can make a difference. I know I'm doing my job when I hear, 'This course is changing me.'"

School of Law

Claire-McGourlayProfessor Claire McGourlay

"Ten years ago I started setting up clinical legal education at the School of Law to provide my students with experiential learning.

"I started with 10 students and now we have over 180 students working on various projects and making a real difference to people’s lives.

"I am proud of the work my students do every day and they never fail to amaze me. I am in a very privileged position and I love my job and the impact nationally and internationally."

JoannaShaplandProfessor Joanna Shapland

"It has been a privilege to be able, through in-depth research and evaluation, to convey the views and experiences of victims and offenders participating in restorative justice, so that policy making in England and Wales, and elsewhere, has been able to rely on that evidence."

Ting-XuDr Ting Xu

"One of the ways I am able to make a difference in the world is through my research into diversity in ownership and its impact on sustainable development."

Professor Sarah Blandy Prof-Sarah-Blandy

"More years ago than I care to remember, when I was in practice as a solicitor, I specialised in housing law – taking on cases for clients against landlords who were not complying with the law on tenants' rights.

"Now I'm able to use those skills and experience as an academic. I'm the Co-Director and a supervising solicitor for FreeLaw, the student-run legal advice clinic in the Law School, which takes on housing (and other) cases. I'm also committed to civic engagement more broadly, arranging for and encouraging students to volunteer their time and legal skills in a range of community projects from researching advice for refugees to supporting witnesses through the criminal courts."

Dr Bríd Ní Ghráinne Bríd-Ní-Ghráinne

“Through mooting, students develop oral and written communication skills that can help them become skilled advocates, and provides their future clients with the best representation possible.”

The Medical School: Department of Infection Immunity and Cardiovascular Disease

Sheila-FrancisSheila Francis, Professor of Cardiovascular Biology

"I get up every morning feeling privileged to lead the Department of Infection, Immunity & Cardiovascular Disease whose scientific discoveries are making a difference for patients in our city, the region and beyond."

Andrea-KingDr Andrea King, Business & Strategy Manager

"Not long after starting work at the University, a professor once told me that we're all pieces of a big jigsaw puzzle and singularly, it might feel like we don't make much sense, but collectively we build a much bigger picture that means something.

"Twenty years later and all throughout my University career, those words have stuck with me. I feel like I am making a difference to the world by bringing pieces of the puzzle together – working collaboratively with people and helping to make things happen. It's the little things coming together that create bigger things."

Yvonne Stephenson, Lead Development TechnicianYvonne-Stephenson

"Working at the University has given me the knowledge and confidence to take part in Medical Ethics as part of the University and NHS systems, helping to make research safe and relevant for the participants of research trials."

Research & Innovation Services (R&IS)

Dr Sarah Want, Head of Research Partnerships and Engagement/Assistant Director, R&ISSarah

"I'm proud to be working with academics to make the world a better place, through building partnerships with industry, not-for-profit organisations, policy makers and the government.

"By building new partnerships and developing existing ones we are improving agricultural systems to more effectively feed our population, making health systems that allow people to live longer as well as developing manufacturing processes to make products more efficiently.

"To put it bluntly: I love my job."

Sara Unwin, Public Engagement Manager, Public Engagement & Impact Team

"I love how my job brings me into contact with both academics and partners in Sheffield’s creative community. During the Year of Making, we’ve been raising money and creating great opportunities for artists in the city to develop their practice and to work with our academics to co-produce activity around research. It’s a fantastic way to make connections and bring our research closer to the wider public, and at the same time showing some of the global impacts of research.

"Look out for some great projects during Festival of the Mind in September! We’re looking forward to working with the city and its artists even more as Arts Council England have just announced that, with city partners, we have been successful in raising £550,000 for Making Ways, an ambitious three-year project that will develop, demonstrate and celebrate exceptional contemporary visual art produced in Sheffield."

charlotte-hardenDr Charlotte Harden, Fellowships Development Officer, R&IS

"It’s my great pleasure to be able to work with the Vice-Chancellor’s Fellows. This select group of early to mid-career researchers are destined to be leaders of the future at Sheffield and it’s my job to support them, in a variety of ways, so they can achieve their true potential. My work involves providing anything from grant capture support, through to facilitating industry engagement, coordinating bespoke training and offering pastoral care.

"What motivates me the most about my role is that the people I support will make a difference to international advances in their research fields, to Sheffield’s research excellence and to the most important global societal challenges of the future."

Chrissy Boxall, The Florey Institute

"I'm passionate about translational research and finding novel therapeutics to solve unmet medical needs. With a research background in chronic lung diseases and cancer, I was very happy to find a role that not only allows me to work with an amazing team of academics and students, but also to support research into global health issues such as antimicrobial resistance.

"With scientists (microbiologists, immunologists and microscopists) working together with clinicians to study both bacterial pathogenesis and how our bodies respond to bacterial infections (host-pathogen interactions); I believe we are in a unique and exciting position to address these major medical challenges."

Faculty of Engineering

Sheila MacNeilSheila-Macneil, Professor of Tissue Engineering, Department of Materials Science and Engineering

“Bioengineering at Sheffield is new, and energetic, and vigorous. I am passionate about ensuring our graduates are very employable for a big, fast-changing environment. They need transferable skills to become good engineers, because that’s what will help them get a job at the end of their studies.

"This is where bioengineering is brilliant. Our degrees ensure our students understand the basics of engineering principles, that they’re sound in maths, that they know the basics of physiology and anatomy, and that they are not afraid to work between disciplines.

"The thing I’m most proud of is that some of my biomaterials and tissue engineering research has helped patients with burns injuries and chronic wounds.

"I’m now working with surgeons to develop materials for women with stress urinary incontinence and for patients with scarring of the cornea.

"It’s very satisfying when research translates into the clinic and works well. Its achieved by building the team that includes some very dedicated surgeons and considerable persistence all round."

Sheli Smith, Communications Officer, Faculty of EngineeringSheli-Smith

“It’s hard to quantify what you do when 50 per cent of your role is interpretation and 50 per cent is creativity, but I’d say I’m mainly a message maker.

"It’s my job to tell stories, inspire people and create engaging communications from hard facts. Engineering is fundamentally about improving the world. And I love that I get to articulate that through my work.”

Natalka Shackley, Recruitment Support Officer, Faculty of EngineeringNatalka

"I feel priviledged to be able to provide work opportunities and skills to inspirational international engineering ambassadors."

Gemma Greenup, Student Recruitment, Faculty of EngineeringGemma

“I work with younger students from a diverse range of backgrounds increasing their awareness of engineering, improving their confidence and self-esteem to realise their potential to progress into higher education and a successful career.”

Dr Heidi Christensen, Research Associate, Computer ScienceHeidi-Christensen

"I am interested in how we can use computer-based audio and speech processing to help people live well and age well.

"Examples of my research are: i) creating speech-enabled interfaces for people with severe physical impairments such as cerebral palsy or high-level spinal injuries, ii) making intelligent human-computer interfaces that enables old people to interact with technology in an appropriate way and iii) trying to detect early signs of dementia in a person's speech and language."

Dr Siobhán North, Senior Lecturer, Computer ScienceSiobhan-North

"I have been at this University a long time and, looking back, I am astonished and proud of how much more welcoming to and respectful of women the Faculty of Engineering has become in the last couple of decades."

Jo Marriot, Faculty Administration ManagerJo

"Part of my work involves leading the delivery of successful professional staff development activities, which has so far placed over a third of the Faculty’s 200 administrative staff in projects, secondments, task and finish groups, job shadowing and mentoring.

"This has been great for the reputation of the Faculty as a dynamic place to work and great for those individuals who have been able to experience new things to help with career development and ultimately to help the Faculty make a difference in the world."

Dr Candice Majewski, Lecturer, Mechanical EngineeringDr-Candice-Majewski

“Sending my students out into industry educated and inspired about 3D Printing is one of my favourite parts of my job. When I receive emails years later telling me how they're using these technologies now, I know I did something right!”

Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre

Kathryn Jackson, Technology Researcher, Nuclear AMRCKathryn-Jackson

"I organised a work experience placement for two Maltby Academy students at the Nuclear AMRC last year. As a result, one of them (Charlotte Grainger) was inspired to take up an Apprenticeship at the AMRC Training Centre.

"I also helped a colleague (Eva McLeod) to run an activity at the Women in Engineering event at the Winter Gardens last year. We helped to raise awareness about the work that we do at Nuclear AMRC and encourage primary school children to think about engineering."

Faculty of Science

Jonna Katharina Kulmuni, HFSP Post doctoral Fellow, Department of Animal and Plant SciencesJonna

"Every day I am passionate about discovering how the world works. I want to know how new species originate, how ants are able to talk to each other or how our genomes change during the course of evolution. I want to mediate some of this passion to people around me. All of us can ask questions and search for the answer!"