What is Athena SWAN?

The Equality Challenge Unit’s Athena SWAN Charter was established in 2005 to encourage and recognise the commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) in higher education and research. In May 2015 the charter was expanded to recognise work undertaken in arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law (AHSSBL), in professional and support roles, and for trans staff and students. The charter now recognises work undertaken to address gender equality more broadly, and not just barriers to progression that affect women.

The Athena SWAN Charter is based on ten key principles*. By being part of Athena SWAN, institutions are committing to a progressive charter; adopting these principles within their policies, practices, action plans and culture.

  1. We acknowledge that academia cannot reach its full potential unless it can benefit from the talents of all.
  2. We commit to advancing gender equality in academia, in particular, addressing the loss of women across the career pipeline and the absence of women from senior academic, professional and support roles.
  3. We commit to addressing unequal gender representation across academic disciplines and professional and support functions. In this, we recognise disciplinary differences including the relative underrepresentation of women in senior roles in arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law (AHSSBL); the particularly high loss rate of women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM);
  4. We commit to tackling the gender pay gap.
  5. We commit to removing the obstacles faced by women, in particular, at major points of career development and progression including the transition from PhD into a sustainable academic career.
  6. We commit to addressing the negative consequences of using short-term contracts for the retention and progression of staff in academia, particularly women.
  7. We commit to tackling the discriminatory treatment often experienced by trans people.
  8. We acknowledge that advancing gender equality demands commitment and action from all levels of the organisation and in particular active leadership from those in senior roles.
  9. We commit to making and mainstreaming sustainable structural and cultural changes to advance gender equality, recognising that initiatives and actions that support individuals alone will not sufficiently advance equality.
  10. All individuals have identities shaped by several different factors. We commit to considering the intersection of gender and other factors wherever possible.

*Source: Equality Challenge Unit

The Department of Natural Sciences is committed to working towards these ten key principles, promoting gender balance within its academic community. There is a genuine desire within the Department to ensure that women are fully supported in their career development to achieve their full potential and that the Department is an attractive and supportive destination for female staff and students.

A team co-led by Dr Jennifer Rowntree, Senior Lecturer in Ecological Genetics and Applied Conservation, and Dr Adrian Watson, Head of Division for Chemistry and Environmental Sciences, is now working towards gaining the Athena SWAN Bronze for the Department of Natural Sciences. The team is producing an action plan that seeks to improve further work and study conditions for female staff and students, in an environment where all colleagues feel valued and supported.

For more information please visit Equality Challenge Unit Athena SWAN Charter

Athena SWAN Working Group Members

Jennifer Rowntree

Senior Lecturer and Athena SWAN co-ordinator

Biology and Conservation Ecology

Adrian Watson

Head of Division and Athena SWAN co-ordinator

Chemistry and Environmental Sciences

Jane Boygle

Head of Division

Geography and Environmental Management

Francis Brearley

Senior Lecturer

Biology and Conservation Ecology

Lauren McNeill

Part Time PhD Student and Graduate Teaching Assistant

Chemistry and Environmental Science

Liz Price

Head of Department


Sanja Potgieter

Senior Lecturer

Chemistry and Environmental Sciences

Chris Rego

Principal Lecturer

Undergraduate Programme Management

Kirsty Shaw

Senior Lecturer

Chemistry and Environmental Sciences

Inspiring women in STEM

We celebrated International Women's Day 2017 by sharing our Inspiring Women in STEM on digital screens across the Faculty.

Case studies

Dr Jane Boygle, Head of Division of Geography and Environmental Management

I am Head of Division of Geography and Environmental Management in the Department of Natural Sciences, MMU.

I started at MMU in 1998 as a lecturer in Physical Geography in the Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences. Over that time I’ve seen this Department and all the courses I’ve contributed to develop successfully and eventually merge with Biology and Chemistry to become a large and diverse Department. I’ve increasingly moved into more prominent management roles within the University but I’ve also tried to retain as much teaching as I can get away with! I have loved Geography from my school days and now my research specialises in identifying volcanic ash (tephra) in environments such as lakes and peat bogs to provide a dating framework for these records of climate change.

I have been interested in this area of Physical Geography since my undergraduate degree at St Hilda’s College, Oxford when I won a Royal Geographical Society Travel Grant to do my dissertation work in Iceland. A PhD at Edinburgh University looking at tephra in lake and catchment sediments cemented my love of all things volcanic but allowed me to develop strong links with Sweden as well as Iceland. Following the PhD, I had a two-year postdoctoral position funded by the Leverhulme Trust at Stockholm University making many lifelong friends and colleagues.

I’ve been very lucky at MMU that there has always been a real commitment to fieldwork for staff and students so I’ve had many opportunities to communicate my enthusiasm for landscape and past environments. My new role as Head of Division is challenging on a daily basis mainly due to the incredible variety of tasks and decisions that come as part of a management position but I keep sane by strictly separating my work and home life (definitely no online contact after 6 pm or weekends!) However, being a Geographer does mean that I can’t always avoid a little bit of “knowledge exchange” when out and about with friends and family!

Sarah Freeeman, PhD student and part time research assistant

I am a PhD student and part-time research assistant in CATE – the Centre for Air Transport and the Environment in the Department of Natural Sciences at MMU. My PhD work is looking at the effects that aviation has on the Earth's atmosphere, I hope to be able to ascertain which of the emissions from aviation (NOx or CO2) impacts more on climate over the longer term. This work will hopefully indicate which climate change mitigation strategies have the most chance of success in the aviation industry.

I came to MMU in 2011 to complete an MSc in Environmental Management, during which time I met my current supervisor who offered me the chance to do a PhD in the CATE department. As I live in Stoke-On-Trent, MMU was close enough for me to travel in for my MSc studies while at the same time allowing me to keep my job in Stoke in order to self-fund the MSc.

I was grateful for the opportunity to do a PhD at MMU as it was something I'd always wanted to do. Before my MSc, I studied Earth Science which, while providing a good background for my MSc and PhD, allowed me to spend a lot of time outside, looking at rocks, wildlife and climbing mountains, all of which I love!

Outside of my studies, I like to play netball and go horse riding. I also have a great interest in wildlife and wildlife photography and spend most of my weekends outside, camera in hand. After my PhD, I hope to continue to be involved in climate change research, perhaps in some area of conservation where I can combine my passion for science with my hobbies.

Rebecca Hudson, PhD student

I started as a PhD student in June 2014 after graduating with a first class BA Honours degree in Tourism Management. After working for 8 years, I decided to pursue my ambition to go to university and find a career I love.

I had never been anywhere near the top of the class throughout school or college and was very dubious about embarking upon a new level of education, particularly after so long.

With the help, support and guidance of the MMU staff, I not only managed to succeed in university but excel. During my time as an undergrad, I was consistently in the top 5% of student grades; I was the course representative; a student ambassador for the university; I represented the university at the RTD8 (8th International Conference of Responsible Tourism in Destinations) conference with a TUI sponsored place; won an all expenses paid trip to Malaysia to work with the Malaysian government on a niche tourism concept; and graduated last summer with a distinction in my foundation degree and a first class BA honours degree. With this flying success and through the strong relationships I built with the teaching staff, I expressed my longstanding ambition to focus on the aviation industry and I was put in touch with Professor Callum Thomas and Professor Paul Hooper at CATE (Centre for Aviation, Transport and the Environment) in MMU, to discuss my undergraduate dissertation (which I focused on aviation borne tourism) and the possibility of a summer project. From these discussions with Professor Thomas, when an opportunity for a PhD studentship arose, he asked if I would be interested in applying for it. I applied…and 4 rounds of interviews and ten months later I am sat at my CATE desk surrounded by scientists, sponsored by and collaborating with Arup Acoustics, writing this!

I absolutely love my PhD and working with Arup. It is only just sinking in how lucky I am, and just how prestigious this opportunity is. I meet people who are really lovely, and so knowledgeable; I get emails off people in the industry that has seen a write up on my research. The next day I find another useful journal to read and realise the name on the paper is the name of the knowledgeable person at the conference or the nice person on the email; I cannot believe how lucky I am to be surrounded by some of the top names in the industry.

I personally don't feel that there have been any barriers in my way to getting to where I am because of my gender. I equally feel my gender has not advantaged me. I have not yet (thankfully) experienced any kind of equality issues, nor really seen people overcoming it. I have been treated with respect because of my determination and feel I have been viewed on personal merit alone. I always knew I wanted to end up in aviation, but was really quite lost with just how to do that. The people I have encountered along the way advised, guided and encouraged me and I would not be here without them. Arup is a little more male-dominated, but I am most definitely not an outsider; despite my lack of acoustic (or general scientific) knowledge, they welcome me and help me each time I am in the office, and I cannot speak of my Arup supervisor, director of studies, or CATE and Arup colleagues, more highly. I would never in my life have imagined belonging to the Department of Natural Sciences and Arup Acoustics, but I would not change it for the world!

Dr Selvino de Kort, Senior Lecturer

I am passionate about animal behaviour and conservation and as a senior lecturer in Animal Behaviour, I aim to contribute to these fields through teaching and research. I am based at the division of Conservation, Evolution and Behaviour where we are all busy teaching during the two teaching terms, followed by field courses in the summer term.

Field courses and student project supervision take me away from my desk for 5 weeks in May- July and it is extremely rewarding to show how to bring theory into practice to our students. In addition, I maintain an active research profile that involves field work, often overseas. Together with my wife, also a full-time academic, we combine work life with our family life that includes two girls aged 2 and 7.

The combination of work and family requires flexibility from me and from my employer and I am very happy that MMU supports flexible working hours. An academic job is never finished, but many aspects of it, such as marking or writing of research papers, can be done away from the office.

As part of a flexible work arrangement with MMU, I stay home one day every fortnight to look after our youngest. The hours are spread over the remainder of the two weeks and as a result, the computer is regularly on after the children go to bed to do more work. However, this flexibility from MMU allows us to combine a dual career with family life.

Dr Liz Price, head of Department

I currently lead a talented team of academics in the Department of Natural Sciences at Manchester Metropolitan University.

I completed a degree in Biology at the University of Manchester in 1987. I received my NERC funded doctorate from the University of Sussex in 1991, where I specialised in plant ecology. During this time, I also worked for an international conservation charity. Subsequently, I undertook a variety of academic roles including Editorial Research Fellow at University College London and Lecturer in Ecology at Coventry University.

I became a Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University in 1993, where my academic interests have focussed on ecology and ecosystem management and restoration. Following two periods of maternity leave and seven years of part-time working, I returned to a full-time role in 2003. I benefitted from the university Spring Board programme to become a Principal Lecturer in 2007, following a fractional Principal Lecturer appointment in 2006. Supported by initiatives such as the University Senior Management Development Programme, I became Head of Division of Geography and Environmental Management in 2010. I am now Head of Department of Natural Sciences and Associate Dean, a role I have held since 2014.

On reflection, I have had to challenge assumptions, cope with conflicting demands and overcome a number of barriers during my time in academia. One of the positive aspects of my current role as Head of Department is that I am now in a position to support others to achieve their aspirations.

More recently, I have recognised the value of networking through working with the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, and I have become increasingly interested in communication, leadership, coaching and mentoring skills. With the benefit of ILM Coaching and Mentoring training received through the university, I have been a mentor for a number of individuals across the university, including for the Aurora Programme. I gain tremendous satisfaction from mentoring and supporting others to achieve their potential and am currently coordinating a pilot Research Mentoring Programme for the Faculty of Science and Engineering to widen access to support.

Dr Theresa Nicholson, Senior Learning and Teaching Fellow

I am a Senior Learning and Teaching Fellow in the Faculty of Science and Engineering and am based in the Department of Natural Sciences (Division of Geography and Environmental Management).

I have worked at MMU for 12 years and have used the autonomy that comes with academia to keenly pursue my teaching and research interests in geomorphology and pedagogy.

My academic career began relatively late in life at the age of 37. This followed a period of time working as a Landscape Architect and Environmental Scientist/Planner in private consultancy and local and regional government, prior to beginning a PhD on a part-time, self-funded basis in 1995. Although I completed an MSc immediately after my undergraduate degree, I did not have the self-belief to embark on PhD study at that time. My options for job-hunting or further study were also limited, geographically speaking, because my husband had a good, secure academic job in the North West. That said, I was fortunate enough to follow a very interesting and enjoyable career path and would not have had it any other way.

My husband has now retired and I am now the main breadwinner! Work tends to take over at times and maintaining a good work-life balance has always been, and remains a challenge. I tend to develop new hobbies on a regular basis and my latest passion is for comedy - watching, writing, and even performing. My childhood hobbies (music, acting, sports, dancing) and the subjects I followed at school (art, drama, music, literature) would never have led anyone to believe I would become a scientist. Nevertheless, an inspirational 'A' level Geography teacher with a passion for earth science and field research changed all of that. My favourite occasions are when I am perched on a boulder up a mountain, often in the rain, looking out over a beautiful vista, and remind myself, "this is my office".

Beverly Richardson, Crime Scene Tutor

I am a Crime Scene Tutor within the Department of Natural Sciences. I have achieved an HND in Applied Biology from the University of Central Lancashire, a BSc Biochemistry from Cardiff University, MSc Forensic Science from Kings College London, Certificate in Business from the Open University and a Diploma in Crime Scene Examination from Durham University.

My interest in Forensics began whilst I volunteered as a Special Constable for West Mercia Constabulary. This gave me a valuable insight into the roles and responsibilities of a Police Officer and enabled me to spend some time with Crime Scene Examiners (CSE). I was fortunate to gain a post with the Forensic Science Service as a DNA Awareness Trainer. This was a government funded project to enhance the awareness of DNA and the National DNA database to Police Officers of the different ranks throughout the UK. During my MSc in Forensic Science, I returned to the Forensic Science Service to complete a placement project looking at Low Copy Number DNA.

Following on from my studies, I became a CSE with British Transport Police based a Manchester Piccadilly Railway Station covering the North West of the UK. After four years I became a Senior CSE supervising staff in two regions. Throughout my time with BTP I attend numerous specialist courses & attended a wide range of scenes.

I left the British Transport Police in 2010 when I had my first child. I now have two small children and began working for Manchester Metropolitan University in January 2015 as a Crime Scene Tutor. The role suits my current circumstances as it is both part-time and term time only and thus allows me to have a career whilst also enjoying family life.

I am enjoying the role as I am able to pass on my knowledge and real-world experiences to students who are interested in the field of Forensics and Crime Scene Examination. Working at Manchester Metropolitan University offers numerous opportunities to develop myself and my career. For example, I am about to undertake the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice and look forward to developing new areas of Forensic research in the future; both of which will enhance my academic career.

We currently have a vacancy for a technical member of staff. For more information, or if you are interested in contributing to the working group please contact:

Jennifer Rowntree
Senior Lecturer in Ecological Genetics and Applied Conservation and Athena SWAN co-ordinator,
0161 247 1236

Adrian Watson
Head of Division and Athena SWAN co-ordinator,
0161 247 6196

Stuart McKenna
Equality & Diversity Manager,
0161 247 3313

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