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Celebrating our female academics: International Women’s Day 2022

8 March 2022

4 minutes to read

Celebrating our female academics: International Women’s Day 2022

Today brings International Women’s Day 2022. To celebrate, Innovation, Impact and Business want to pay tribute to all the exceptional female academics we’ve been privileged to work with from the University of Exeter.

We caught up with Professor Rachel Fenton, Associate Professor of Law, Professor Maria Rosaria Marsico, Associate Professor of Structural Dynamics, and Professor Katie Lunnon, Professor of Dementia Genomics, to hear more about their inspiring stories, achievements, and ambitions

Professor Rachel Fenton

Rachel is an Associate Professor in the Law School, with research interests in gender and law and bystander interventions that empower people to intervene when they hear or see something unacceptable to prevent violence against women and other forms of discrimination.

Recently, Rachel has been working with the Wales Violence Prevention Unit. Funded by Public Health Wales, Rachel was the academic lead looking into bystander experiences around domestic violence during the pandemic– the first survey of its kind!

On top of Rachel’s University’s position, she is also the Director of the company Kindling Transformative Interventions, the first University of Exeter social sciences academic spin-out set up by a woman.

Kindling’s main objective is to prevent gender-based violence and other forms of oppression. They design and deliver bespoke bystander training to enable effective intervention against microaggressions and other harmful behaviours. Not only is their work is evidence-led, but it’s rigorously evaluated and sector-leading.

Since starting last year, Kindling has delivered bystander training for Devon and Cornwall Police, Dorset Police, Devon County Council, Public Health England, Cornwall Council, and the Universities of Exeter and Bristol. They are currently delivering a bystander programme for preventing sexual harassment in public spaces across Gloucestershire for the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner funded by the Home Office.

They have also developed the first bystander intervention for sports settings, Football Onside working closely with Exeter City and Plymouth Argyle Football Club. To do this, they ran a controlled evaluation evaluated by PhD student Anastasia Kovalenko from the Medical School, finding significant and positive results.

Rachel regularly completes consultancy work, frequently comments in the media around high-profile cases around gender-based violence, and has given evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee and the Defence Select Committee Women in the Armed Forces: From Recruitment to Civilian Life.

“In the UK, only 29% of small businesses are owned by women. I’m pleased to be one of them,” said Rachel.

“Violence against women and girls is a major public health problem. Prevention is essential, and I’m really proud to be doing this work, both as an academic and through the spin-out company. I am able to impact the actual daily lives of so many people through the knowledge exchange and the outreach into the general population.”

Professor Maria Rosaria Marsico

Maria is an Associate Professor of Structural Dynamics and a RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) chartered architect, chairing the RIBA Exeter branch from 2016-2018. 

Maria completed her PhD in structural engineering at the University of California Berkeley’s PEER Centre, one of the largest research networks in Earthquake Engineering. Her studies here stimulated her interest in the dynamic performance of buildings and the dynamics of structures.

However, Maria’s research is not just about improving the dynamic behaviour of structures; it is also about accessibility and sustainability. Maria is currently working in collaboration with industries, leading a team to develop sustainable technologies to mitigate ground-borne vibrations, including train-induced vibrations and earthquakes. She aims to improve the manufacturing process, making vibration mitigation technologies more accessible by using recycled rubber from tyres and advanced functional materials. 

In 2021, Maria took part in SETsqaured Exeter’s Entrepreneurial Research Programme (ERP) to aid her research further. The ERP supports academics to create impact from their research through commercial pathways.

Maria commented on the programme: “The ERP was extremely useful. It helped me set the scene and see the relevance of my research now and in the future. I am convinced anyone working in academia should be taking an ERP. Thanks to the ERP, I set up unique engineering testing facilities to accelerate the impact of my research and to provide an exceptional learning experience to our students.”

While considering the importance of women in academic roles, Maria said: “There is still a lot to do in academia, especially in engineering, where gender orchestration requires tuning, and women have yet to go beyond to get some level of recognition. The secret of success is collaboration. This means listening, understanding, and empowering diversity.”

Professor Katie Lunnon

Since joining the University of Exeter’s Medical School in 2013 as a Lecturer, Katie has worked her way up to becoming a Professor of Dementia Genomics.

Katie is currently the lead academic on several grants, including a National Institutes of Health and a Medical Research Council funded projects looking into dementia and neurodegenerative diseases. She currently holds £3.5million in funding, which her team are using to identify new disease mechanisms in the brain and biomarkers in the blood.

The team have gone beyond looking at simple genomics. Now, they are integrating different molecular pieces of information to identify disease signatures that cut across different layers of genomic regulation. They hope the signatures they identify from this will feed into drug repurposing.

Katie’s research has led to her winning many awards over the years. Most recently, Katie was awarded the 2019 Cavanagh prize from the British Neuropathological Society, a bi-annual award given to a young neuroscientist who has made a significant contribution to the understanding of the Neuropathology of Human or Veterinary Neurological Disease.

Outside of the University, Katie has been a member of the Alzheimer’s Research UK scientific advisory board, which she has chaired since June 2020.

Katie said, “Being on the board and being able to review everyone’s grants has been really rewarding. I get to read other areas of dementia research science, from sleep issues to clinical studies. It helps keep me up to date in the field more generally.”

Looking to the future, Katie would like to run a world-leading research group that is at the forefront of research in dementia genomics.

If you would like to get involved with International Women’s Day today, you can check out the events and activities happening around campus HERE.

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