Promoting Women in Physics at Sussex

At the end of a very busy day of meetings I suddenly remembered that I forgot to pass on a nice bit of news about the Department of Physics & Astronomy at the University of Sussex.

It doesn’t seem very long ago at all that I announced the promotion of its first ever female Professor of Physics in the Department, Prof. Antonella de Santo. In fact it was in July last year. Well, just before the Easter break I was delighted at the promotion panel’s decision  to appoint the second female Professor in the Department. The successful candidate this time was Clauda Eberlein, who has been promoted to a Chair in Theoretical Physics with immediate effect.

I’ve already posted about how the proportion of female undergraduates studying physics as been stuck at around the 20% mark for a decade despite strenuous efforts to widen participation. A recent (2012) study by the Institute of Physics contains a wealth of statistical information about staff in Physics departments, which I encourage people to read if they’re interested in the overall issue with equality and diversity in physics. Here I’ll just pull out the figure (based on a 2010 survey) that out of a total of 650 Professors of Physics (and/or Astronomy) in the UK, just 5.5% were female. At that date about 20 physics departments had no female professors at all; that would have included Sussex, of course.

The first ever female Professor of Physics in the United Kingdom was Daphne Jackson, a nuclear physicist, who took up her Chair at the University of Surrey way back in 1971. It’s interesting to note that when Daphne Jackson studied physics as an undergraduate at Imperial College she was one of only two women among the 88 undergraduates in her year.

Congratulations to Claudia on her promotion, but the news doesn’t end there. Claudia will actually be taking over as Head of the Department of Physics & Astronomy in January 2015. She is currently Director of Teaching and Learning for the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences and will take up her new role when the current Head of Physics & Astronomy, Philip Harris, stands down, having served his term in admirable fashion. Anyway, when Claudia takes up her post as Head of Department she will join an elite band of female physicists to have been appointed to such a role. Does anyone out there know how many other women have headed a Physics department?





12 Responses to “Promoting Women in Physics at Sussex”

  1. Congratulations to all! Here’s one: Joanna D. Haigh, Imperial College UK

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    They can’t grow beards though.

  3. As well as being the first female Professor, Daphe Jackson was also Head of Department. All slightly before my time. Sadly, we have not had a female professor since her death, though we have infinitely more female academic staff than when I arrived at Surrey.

    Prof Sarah Thompson is currently HoD of York’s Physics Dept.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      I remember well some good conversations with Betty Johnson at Surrey about gas kinetic theory. She was influential in setting up the Daphne Jackson Trust.

  4. Any significance to the fact that both Claudia and Antonella are not from the UK?

    • telescoper Says:

      Only that it reflects the fact that we’ve been able to attract many superb scientists to Sussex from outside the UK..

  5. Johanna Stachel was, 2003–2005, Dekanin der Fakultät für Physik und Astronomie der Universität Heidelberg, which is a quite similar post. She is now president of the German Physical Society (roughly equivalent to the Institute of Physics).

  6. Monica Grady Says:

    Um, do I count? I’m head of dept of physical sciences, of which one division is physics? One of my predecessors was Jocelyn Bell Burnell.

  7. […] readers may recall that I worked with Claudia Eberlein at the University of Sussex a few years ago – she was Head of the Department of Physics & Astronomy for a time, but […]

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