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Department of Plant Sciences

Members of staff and students do the womens day hug

Embracing Equity - celebrating International Women's Day 2023

Head of Department Professor Julian Hibberd shares his thoughts on Embracing Equality #Embraceequity


For International Women’s Day 2023, I want to take the opportunity to celebrate and amplify the achievements of some of the remarkable women associated with the department, and reconfirm our commitment to #EmbraceEquity, IWD’s 2023 theme.
It will be impossible for me to list out all the achievements of the great many women who have either graduated from, or worked in, the Department. But I bring together just a few names here to highlight the range of contributions to both scientific understanding and our teaching mission.

Firstly, you may be aware that when Professor Alison Smith became Head of Department in 2017, she was – unusually for a high-profile department of science – not the first woman to do so. The Department was previously led by a remarkable woman Professor Enid MacRobbie, Life Fellow of Girton, who was the first woman scientist at Cambridge to be elected to a personal chair (for her work in the biophysics of stomata), as late as 1987. Enid was elected to the Royal Society of London and the National Academy of Sciences, and the Royal Society of Edinburgh in the 1990s. Alison herself, alongside her work on plant metabolism, led the Department with immense focus and commitment through the pandemic, bringing us through the most difficult time that the vast majority of us are able to remember. Alison also led the highly successful 2021 submission of the Biological Sciences Unit of Assessment 5 to the Research Excellence Framework that determines funding provided to the University.

In addition to the two former heads of department, we are extremely lucky to have other eminent women scientists in the department. Professor Ottoline Leyser DBE, Fellow of the Royal Society and National Academy Member, is our Regius Professor of Botany. She currently leads UKRI as its CEO, and is globally renowned for her work on plant development and hormone perception.

Professor Beverley Glover was elected Fellow of the Linnean Society of London in 2010, became the first female director of the Botanic Gardens in 2013, leads her research group on the evolution of flowers, and was also voted by students as “Best Lecturer” in the 2022 Student Led Teaching Awards – testament to her skill as a scientific communicator.

In addition, the faculty benefits greatly from the work of Professor Julia Davies, Professor Uta Paszkowski and Dr Leonie Luginbuehl, all inspiring us, leading their own research programmes and contributing significantly to teaching in the Department. We are also proud that many women have held fellowships in the Department, with current holders including Drs Jeongmin Choi, Lida Derevnina and Natasha Yelina, all at the Crop Science Centre. You may well have seen them posting on Twitter with the Women and Girls in Plant Sciences handle, and I would encourage others to do likewise to support our future pipeline of talent.

Catherine Butler, our Departmental Administrator, is known not just in the Department for her calm and wise approach to every challenge thrown at us, but also across the School of Biological Sciences. Every Head of Department who has worked with Catherine has greatly appreciated her contributions.

There are simply too many alumnae of the Department who have gone on to make significant contributions to list and explain their work. But some names include Agnes Arber, Alison M. Smith, Cathie Martin, Rebecca Mosher, Heather Whitney, Alison Karley, Rose McNelly, Phillipa Borrill, Jennifer Sloan, Kate Parsley, Naomi Brown, Keri Torney, Elin Falla, Murphy Thomas, Jenny Mortimer, Katherine Helliwell, Elena Kazamia, Roshni Best, Cicely Marshall, Edwige Moyroud, Heather Whitney, Gabriela Doria, Holly Astley, Kaisa Kajala, Pallavi Singh, Elisabeth Truernit, Angie Burnett, Jessica Royles, Josie Maidment,  Kaisa Kajala, Isabel Webb, Maddie Seale and Ronelle Roth. All made important contributions to our Department whilst they were here, and have gone on to make their mark either in research, or in other disciplines.

Whilst I recognise that science and the Department continues to have a long way to go to be truly diverse and inclusive, it is fantastic to take this time to reflect on the achievements of women in what is still an unequally represented discipline.

Professor Julian Hibberd
Head of Department
8 March 2023




See the department's Women and Girls in Science day 2023 profiles below!