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International Women's Day 2015: What inspired some of UCL's leading women to become academics?

5 March 2015

Sunday 8 March is

UCL women academics internationalwomensday.com/" target="_self">International Women's Day (IWD) 2015, celebrating the achievements of women around the world, while recognising the challenges still faced by many.

This year's theme is 'Equality for women is progress for all', focusing on how tackling gender inequality is essential to economic and social development.

To mark the occasion, we asked some of UCL's leading women who or what inspired them to become academics:

"As a teenager living in Hackney and later in south east Nigeria, I was bored most of the time and decided early on that I wanted to have a stimulating job - a job that changed from day-to-day and a job that allowed me to meet lots of different people. I have found that job."

- Professor Ijeoma Uchegbu, Professor of Pharmaceutical Nanoscience (UCL School of Pharmacy)

"My mother was an influence. She worked as a computer programmer. She was very practical - far more so than my dad, in fact. My parents were never at all pushy and they weren't obsessed with how good my school grades were. They were just up for having a look at things. If I asked them a question about the world or how something worked, they'd just say, 'let's find out'. I grew up in an atmosphere where it was okay to be curious."

- Helen Czerski, Research Fellow (UCL Mechanical Engineering)

"It all started with questions. I am deeply attached to organised scepticism: the questioning of ideas, frameworks and assumptions. The appeal of academic life lies in the really big challenges: why we live and think as we do. For me, that's all about what we can learn from others. It drew me to anthropology and it's what inspires my work here at UCL."

- Professor Henrietta Moore, Director of UCL Institute for Global Prosperity (UCL Bartlett)

"My parents encouraged me in science as a child. I was drawn to astronomy but thought it would remain a hobby. An excellent further maths teacher encouraged my interest in research and a summer research experience at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory convinced me that I wanted to be a professional astronomer."

- Dr Hiranya Peiris, Reader in Astronomy (UCL Physics and Astronomy)

"I don't come from an academic background - I had no idea how it worked. But someone passed me the ball and I ran with it: my Master's supervisor (Professor Seamus Ross) encouraged me to apply for an advertised PhD. I didn't think I had a chance… Here I am 17 years later, still running, because someone spotted something and encouraged me!"

- Professor Melissa Terras, Director of UCL Centre for Digital Humanities

"The thrill of enquiry always propelled me. Academia allowed me to enquire professionally. I was a solitary child, curious about what makes humans human. The countryside, a parental flow of books to match my enthusiasms and periodic trips to salvage yards and building sites, all fuelled what I became; an archaeologist with a focus on material culture and cultural landscapes."

- Professor Sue Hamilton, Director of UCL Institute of Archaeology

"I was inspired by several female academics - above all my PhD supervisor. She - and they - set an example of the highest, most attractive intellectual challenge and demand; encouraged me to have children and a career; and showed me that you could be both supportive and critical. They never pretended it wouldn't sometimes be tough. They still inspire me, actually."

- Dr Jane Gilbert, Senior Lecturer (UCL French)

"My inspiration came from the desire to make a difference to the teaching profession and to enhance the professionalism of other workers in the area of pre-school education, which is largely low paid and seen as 'women's work'. I also wanted to strengthen the research base in this area. I couldn't think of a better way for academia to influence and engage with the real world."

- Professor Iram Siraj, Professor of Early Childhood Education (UCL Institute of Education)

"I was inspired to become an academic while conducting a research project for my Master's dissertation, which saw me evaluate an intervention designed to increase fruit and vegetable consumption among pre-school children. I realised that academia extended far beyond the confines of a desk and I could be involved in work that had a direct impact on public health."

- Dr Sarah Jackson, Research Psychologist (UCL Epidemiology and Public Health)