Alexandra Ramadan, left, and Leanne O'Donnell, right
Alexandra Ramadan, left, and Leanne O'Donnell, right

Physics success in VC Diversity Awards

Initiatives and individuals working hard to increase diversity in the Department of Physics have been recognised in this year’s Vice Chancellor’s Diversity Awards. The Vice-Chancellor’s Diversity Awards are an opportunity to celebrate the strength of commitment to equality and diversity at Oxford and to recognise individuals and groups who have inspired others, demonstrated leadership and made a difference to equality and diversity in the University’s working, learning and social environment.

Winning project

The Challenges and Changes in Physics lecture series won the ‘promoting awareness’ projects category. Challenges and Changes in Physics was founded in September 2020 to raise awareness of the challenges posed by the lack of diversity in physics and promote changes the department can make to build a community that is more diverse, equitable and inclusive. It began as a series of events with speakers from a wide range of backgrounds and now includes a monthly reading group which meets to discuss equality, diversity and inclusivity (EDI) topics and consider concrete changes that department members can themselves realise and advocate for.

The six talks have attracted almost 700 participants and more than 1,000 views of the recordings. They have been held online, which has allowed people to ask questions anonymously and share things they might not have felt comfortable expressing in person. Participants have sought to learn how they can best mentor people from marginalised backgrounds when they do not have first-hand experience of their struggles, interrogate department attitudes and initiatives and share their own experiences of feeling excluded.

The programme has supported the establishment of a strong department network of people interested in EDI and has resulted in the development of a race equality action plan and other examples of tangible change, such as clearer signposting of the accessibility of different meeting rooms. Find out more at: www.physics.ox.ac.uk/challengesandchanges

Staff champions

Two members of the Department of Physics were shortlisted in the ‘staff champion’ category – Alexandra Ramadan and Leanne O’Donnell – and a third, Kathryn Boast, was nominated in the same category.

Alex Ramadan, a postdoctoral researcher, led the Challenges and Changes programme and works towards an inclusive academic environment mentoring younger students within her research group. She participates in a range of outreach activities, mentoring students from under-represented backgrounds, hosting students for research placements and giving regular talks in schools. Alex is an MPLS EDI Fellow, contributing to wider divisional policies and actions.

Leanne O’Donnell, sub-department administrator for Astrophysics, has been the driving force behind ensuring that the department’s public engagement events really are inclusive and open to all. She spearheaded the development of a dedicated stargazing event for children with ASN and their families and has built the department’s relationship with KEEN Oxford, an organisation promoting disability rights and inclusion, and members regularly attend events.
Kathryn Boast was nominated for having transformed the Department of Physics’ access programme with a strategic and proactive approach and consistently pushed boundaries with an innovative schedule of events to support students through their application journey.

‘It is wonderful that such achievements have been recognised by the Vice-Chancellor,’ comments Professor Ian Shipsey, Head of Department. ‘Alex and Leanne as well as Kathryn have all demonstrated extraordinary tenacity and commitment in their vitally important work – to the benefit of our department, the local community and beyond. They are excellent role models and their hard work inspires those around them to make our department welcoming to all.’

Find out more about the awards and see a full list of winners: https://www.ox.ac.uk/about/oxford-people/vice-chancellors-diversity-awards