Athena Swan

The Department of Chemistry is currently working towards achiving the Silver SWAN Award.  Below outlines what the award is, where we are in terms of achiving this award and how we plan to continue to monitor the progress of the award.

What is it?

Launched in July 2005, the Athena SWAN recognises and celebrates good practice on recruiting, retaining and promoting women in SET (Science, Engineering and Teachnology) in higher education.

UCL has been awarded the Bronze Award.  This award recognises that the University overall has a solid foundation (the policies, practices, systems and arrangements) for eliminating gender bias and developing an inclusive culture that valies all staff.  At Bronze University lever, the focus is on:

  • The action already taken and planned which demonstrated the University's commitment at a senior level of the 6 Athena SWAN Principles; and
  • The journey to which the University has committed itself in order to achieve a significant improvement in women's representation and career progression in SET, with:

    • An identified starting point
    • the resources needed
    • people to lead and support, and
    • the means to monitor its progress (e.g. the action plan).

Since the launch of the award, 4 UCL Departments have received Silver awards from the Athena SWAN Charter. The departments are: Chemical Engineering, Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering, the MRC Laboratory for Molecular & Cell Biology and the Division of Psychology and Language Sciences.


UCL has an Athena SWAN Working Group. In addition, the Chemistry Department has set up a Self Assessment Team (SAT) which identifies and addresses gender and ethnicity issues within the department so that all staff can reach their full potential.

The SAT looked at data collected by UCL to explore what could be learned. Its recommendations were implemented immediately and continue in practice today.

In (YEAR) Helen Fielding participated in the publication of "Planning for Success: Good practice in University Science Departments" which looked at Work Life Balance. This described Helen's life as a working mother in HE.

Helen Fielding

Professor of Physical Chemistry at University College London (UCL)

After a degree at Cambridge, a Dphil from Oxford, 3 months as a junior scientist at the National Physical Laboratory and 18 months post-doc in Amsterdam, Helen returned to the UK in 1994 to a lectureship at King's College London. She was promoted to reader in 1997, and professor in 1992. She moved to UCL in 1993 where she established a very well-equipped ultrafast laser science facility. She is a recipient of the Harrison, Marlow and Corday-Morgan medals of the RSC, and was rather pleasantly surprised to be awarded the Mosely medal by the IOP earlier this year.

After returning to the UK in 1994, Helen married and had two children, who are now 10 and 7. Her husband is Head of Measurement R&D at LGC in Teddington and they live in South London. They both commute about an hour to work - in opposite directions! During the school term, life at home is pretty hectic, but fun. After playing in the park, swimming, taking the children to sport and music activities, and attending various events, there is little extra time for anything else. In the holidays it is nice to escape from London as a whole family for activities such as walking in the Lake District.

In 2004 both Claire Carmalt and Ivan Parkin participated in the publication of "Good Practice in University Departments",

©The Royal Society of Chemistry and the Athena Project 2004. They explored the issues of career progression, the structural barriers in chemistry and HE and the constraints on individuals which made it difficult even for the best departments to appoint and retain the small number of women chemists in the supply chain. The experiences of these two academics with different trajectories to their present positions near or at the top of the academic career ladder are highlighted. Their experiences, and the influence of opportunity, location and luck recounted by others who contributed to this study.

Claire Carmalt

Reader in Inorganic Chemistry at University College London (UCL)

Claire took her first degree in 1992 at Newcastle and completed her PhD there in two and a half years in order to take up a post-doc in Austin, Texas. Working there for an FRS, getting a new lab and running for him, in a different culture where she was younger than colleagues at the same stage, was vulnerable, as was the number of papers she wrote and co-authored. Knowing how few posts were available in the UK, Claire applied for and was awarded a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin fellowship which she took up at University College in 1997. There, with lab space, and office and opportunity to do some teaching, Claire has been well supported by three heads of department. While on her research fellowship she got through her three year probation and became and accredited teacher. UCL offered her a lectureship in 1998 to start in 2001 at the end of her fellowship. In 2002 she became a senior lecturer and a reader in 2004. She came back from maternity leave at the beginning of the 2002 academic year not having written all the papers she planned. However, she did have a colleague who looked after her group and now has a colleague who covers her late labs which do not fit college day nursery hours. Claire juggles a child, with whom she shares a longish commute by train, and a husband (a chemist in industry) which a tedious commute in the opposite direction. She hasn't attended as many conferences as she used to. Her strike rate on grant applications has slowed down, and although she managed this summer to catch up on her paper writing she expects a slow down with new people in her lab not yet ready to publish. For Claire the future balance of her priorities, her family, her research and her career progression, is not absolutely clear.

Ivan Parkin

Professor of Inorganic Chemistry at University College London (UCL)

A duel career family, Ivan has a wife who is also an academic chemist, a daughter of eleven, and a son of nine. After a first degree and PhD at Imperial and a NATO fellowship in the States, Ivan took a temporary lecturer post at the Open University. With grants from Leverhulme and EPSRC, two post-docs and a prolific publication record he was offered a lecturer appointment at UCL, but fond getting his laboratory established there hard going as a probationary lecturer with a full time teaching load. He turned a serendipitous contact with Pilkington Glass into a valuable established relationship. Promotion to senior lecturer in 1997, then reader and, in 2000, professor, with a continuing high publication rate now makes it somewhat easier to sustain his research funding. Ivan is not sure if his career would have progressed as it did, had his daughter arrived before he became professor.


Self Assessment Team.

The SAT consists of the following members from Chemistry:-

  • Ivan Parkin, Chair of the Athena Swan Application
  • Nicola Best, Coordinator of Athena Swan Application
  • Elizabeth Read
  • Professor Claire Carmalt
  • Tom Sheppard
  • Sacha Noimark
  • Meetal Hirani
  • Anna Roffey
  • Sue Perkin

Kathleen Lonsdale



"Women have often had a tough time in science - first getting jobs, and then getting enough recognition for their research.  Kathleen Lonsdale's life is a great inspiration to women who want to become scientists.  She showed they are as good (or even better) than men".

Dame Kathleen Lonsdale, born 28th January 1903 in Newbridge, County Kildare, Ireland, played a fundamental role in establishing the science of crystallagraphy and in her scientific career scored several important firsts.

From 1908 to 1914 Kathleen attended Downshall Elementary School i in Seven Kings and then won a scholarship to Ilford County High School for Girls. She was a good student, especially in mathematics and science. However, she had to attend classes in physics, chemistry and mathematics at the boys' high school because the girls' school didn't offer these subjects.

Kathleen did well in her exams and won a county major scholarship, with distinctions in six subjects. She was allowed to enter Bedford College for Women, part of the University of London, at 16. She first read mathematics but at the end of her first year switched to physics, against the advice of her old headmistress, who said she would never distinguish herself in physics. Kathleen came top in the University of London BSc examination in 1922, with the highest marks for 10 years. She was invited by W. H. Bragg, one of her examiners and a pioneer of X-ray diffraction, to join his research school at University College, London (UCL).  On Bragg's advice she worked on the structure of simple organic crystals, and collaborated with W. T. Astbury on the theory of X-ray diffraction. In 1923 W. H. Bragg moved to the Royal Institution (RI) in London and Kathleen went with him. Bragg set up team of young researchers, including John Desmond Bernal.

It was at UCL that Kathleen met Thomas Lonsdale, an engineering student at University College. They were married in 1927 and moved to Leeds the same year when Thomas got a job at the Silk Research Association. Thomas encouraged her to continue her scientific work and she worked on X-ray diffraction in the University of Leeds' department of physics. Whilst there, C. K. Ingold in the Chemistry Department gave her some crystals of hexamethylbenzene to study. Her results showed conclusively that the benzene ring was flat, something that chemists had been arguing about for 60 years. This was an important milestone in organic chemistry. Lonsdale also applied Fourier methods for the first time to analyse X-ray patterns in solving the structure of hexachlorobenzene.

During her time at the RI Lonsdale worked in many areas related to X-ray crystallography - both theoretical and experimental. She was awarded a DSc by University College in 1936 and in 1945 she and Marjory Stephenson became the first women Fellows of the Royal Society.

After World War II Lonsdale was encouraged to move into academe and in 1946 she became reader in crystallography at UCL. In 1949 she became professor of chemistry and head of the department of crystallography. Only then, at the age of 43, did she start to build up her own research school and get involved in teaching. 

She achieved many firsts in the arena of professional science and broke through several glass ceilings, blazing a trail that many women have followed, particularly in crystallography, where women are still strongly represented. These include being one of the first two women elected as Fellows of the Royal Society, the first woman professor at UCL, the first woman president of the International Union of Crystallography, and the first woman president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. She was made a DBE in 1956.


1922-23 Research Assistant to William H. Bragg, University College, London
1923-27 Research Assistant to William H. Bragg, The Royal Institution, London
1927-30 Amy Lady Tate Scholar and part-time demonstratorship, Leeds University
(Between 1929 and 1934, Lonsdale gave birth to three children, and continued her research at home.)
1934 The Royal Institution
1935-37 Leverhulme Research Fellow, The Royal Institution, London
1944-46, Dewar Fellow, The Royal Institution, London
1946-49 Reader in Crystallography, University College, London.( Founded Crystallography Group.)
1947 Special Fellow of the United States Federal Health Service
1949-68 Professor of Chemistry and Head of the Department of Crystallography, University College, London
1968-71 Professor Emeritus, University College, London