Challenge Accepted!

Jess is in her 2nd Year as a PGR in the XM2 Metamaterials CDT. She is working on a project on phononic crystals and acoustic microfluidics.




Earlier this year I fulfilled one of my oldest childhood dreams by representing Exeter on University Challenge! I made it onto the team by obtaining one of the four highest scores on a written test of questions circulated by the production team, and our team made it through several more interview stages to get to the televised rounds.

The other team members were all undergraduates, and as I had tried out for the team three times while I was one, finally making the team as a postgraduate was very exciting. Our training consisted of working through questions from old episodes, while using buzzers with farm animal noises! We were each assigned other subjects alongside our specialities, and finding as much easily-absorbed information as possible about Literature (how broad!) was very challenging! You never quite know when that little nugget of information might be useful!

We eventually found out how much our preparation had paid off when we travelled up to Salford for filming. The process is very intense, especially as you find your way to your seat accompanied by the Game of Thrones theme tune! Our albatross mascot (NOT a seagull, though perhaps that would have been more appropriate!) is called Albus, for those wondering. The matches are all filmed in real time which is pretty scary, especially under the glare of Jeremy Paxman! The names are called out live which makes things stressful particularly towards the end of matches, and I was so desperate to hear ‘Exeter – Brown’ if the right starter question came up! It was such a fantastic experience though, and I will never forget it, even if it was a bit of a blur at the time!

A few months later, our match was broadcast in July, kicking off the new series – watching it back (accompanied by friends and few glasses of prosecco!) was a bizarre experience, especially looking at Twitter afterwards! After a strong start from us and an incredibly close game, we lost by 15 points to Warwick. You’ll have to tune in later in the series to see if we come back as highest-scoring losers… Meanwhile I’m continuing my research in Acoustic Metamaterials!

We’re hopefully planning to reunite the team at the famous Firehouse Quiz – maybe see you there one Monday!

Written By: Jessica Brown

Why have we started Women in Climate – and why you should do the same!

Dr Freya Garry graduated from the University of Southampton in 2013 with best in class for Master of Science in Oceanography. She remained based at the National Oceanography Centre Southampton for her doctorate, co-sponsored by the Met Office, during which she researched deep ocean heat content and how it is observed. In January 2017, she became a researcher in the Department of Geography at the University of Exeter, where she studies Atlantic Ocean climate over the last millennium. 

Twitter: @freyagarry

Dr Penelope Maher is a climate scientist specialising in convection and large-scale circulation of the atmosphere. She is an early career scientist from Australia who joined Exeter’s mathematics department in 2015.





Despite many STEM undergraduate and postgraduate degrees having a reasonable gender balance, there is a rapid loss of women in STEM subjects post-PhD. In particular, there are significantly less senior women in climate science. Post-doc and lecturer positions frequently demands mobility which is often harder for women. Additionally, women are more likely to may take career breaks for their children.

Mentoring relationships can be hard to retain and informal mentoring is not as common for women, who are less likely to be taken to the pub by their senior colleagues for example. Generally, women will delay applying for promotion until the meet every criteria rather than just ‘giving it a go’. Perhaps this is also true in applying for grant funding. Typically women find failure more difficult. There is evidence of unconscious bias in recruitment against female applicants. In addition, there is evidence that women leave male dominated professions (regardless of age) after a few years because of lack of senior role models. Of course all of these points are generalisations and not all women will relate; equally, those with other gender identities may relate to these points.

The name of our network, Women in Climate, reflects the gender imbalance that exists amongst academics in climate science. The aim of the network is to support the retention of women in climate science and promote diversity in all areas. We hope to achieve this aim by hosting events and discussion groups to try and address some one issues listed above. Therefore our events are open to all genders and we hope the topics for discussion will benefit anyone who feels disadvantaged in academia. We encourage senior staff to attend as well as early career researchers; senior staff can share personal experiences and opinions and network with their younger colleagues.

The core event of the network are monthly meeting on a Friday afternoon. These events have free snacks and refreshments! We use these events to meet new people, to network and to discuss a diverse range of subjects. Some of these might be discipline specific, and some very general. We typically ask relevant climate scientists or subject specific experts (e.g. we asked psychologists to come talk to us about the ‘imposter’ phenomena) to help lead the discussion and offer experiences/opinions that can frame open discussion.

The relaxed atmosphere, where we can talk freely with our colleagues, is a positive step in building a positive work place culture where we (a) don’t feel alone in struggles associated with the academia life, (b) can share experiences and ideas for coping with some of the things we find hardest about academic life and (c) promote diversity and the ideal of treating colleagues as individuals regardless of gender (or race, or sexual identity).

Organising such events on a smaller local scale (ie similar research interests, in our case the climate) by colleagues you know and where everyone can help shape the meetings, seems to be a recipe for success. We hope to organise numerous one-off events over the coming year to provide specific skills training and bigger networking events, in addition to maintaining our monthly meetings. There is no doubt that this comes at significant time cost to the organisers, but we feel the benefits already only a few months in and have received good feedback. We would encourage others in setting up similar within their own departments or subject areas.