STEM Engagement: An Interview with Dr Heather Williams
At the MCRC, Patient Public Involvement and Engagement (PPIE) represents an important and active partnership between researchers, patients and members of the public. Dr Heather Williams, Consultant Medical Physicist, Group Leader for nuclear medicine at The Christie, and co-founder of ScienceGrrl, explains why she takes an active role in STEM engagement.
How did you get involved in STEM engagement?
I joined the Women in Physics group at the Institute of Physics when I was still a PhD student, and alongside working with them I noticed there was an opportunity to ‘get things done’ outside of a professional organisation, so I set up a network called ScienceGrrl. We initially started as a reaction on Twitter to the European project ‘Science: It’s a Girl Thing!’, where I thought it would be really good if we could run a project that showed people what women actually get up to in science.
What kind of outreach activities have you taken part in?
We take part in various outreach events at festivals, schools and community centres, to show who ‘women in science’ really are. We have also used professional photographers to create a calendar that showcased the work of female scientists from a diverse range of backgrounds. We have pulled together a report for Parliament called ‘Through Both Eyes’, which talks about many of the cultural factors which influence girls’ choices regarding STEM.
Why take part in engagement and outreach activities?
Part of the reason is to make things better for the people who are coming after us, and part of that is to say: this is what you can do in science. Quite a lot of what we do has this playful creative edge because we’re not doing it for a living – we do it in our own time, and finding new ways of expressing ourselves and communicating what we do is really important. If what you’re doing is above and beyond your job, you won’t want to take part if it’s dull and boring!
You were also awarded an MBE in the 2021 New Years’ Honours, for services to diversity and inclusion in science…
That was a complete surprise! I was really touched that somebody somewhere thought that whatever I’d done was worthy of that honour, and that is really quite something.
Quite a lot of what we do has this playful creative edge because we’re not doing it for a living – we do it in our own time, and finding new ways of expressing ourselves and communicating what we do is really important. If what you’re doing is above and beyond your job, you won’t want to take part if it’s dull and boring!
Dr Heather Williams
Consultant Medical Physicist, Group Leader for nuclear medicine at The Christie, and co-founder of ScienceGrrl
How can researchers and staff play a greater role in STEM engagement?
There are a lot of volunteer opportunities for science communication through The University of Manchester and British Science Association. In addition, social media can be a brilliant tool for connecting with people outside your own circle of influence, and Twitter is brilliant for professional networking. Social media can also be used directly as an outreach platform: Facebook is really good for speaking with parents and families, and Instagram is useful for speaking with a younger audience who are thinking about going into a STEM career.
MCRC 2020/2021 Annual Report
This article was originally published in our Annual Report, read the full 2020/2021 report to find out more about our year of cancer research.