A research group from Heriot-Watt University hopes to improve recruitment practices and gender diversity in STEM to boost inclusivity and opportunities.
The Beyond Binary Quantum Information Lab (BBQLab) was established in 2018 by Professor Mehul Malik after he had identified recruiting challenges, particularly in recruiting women. Malik decided to ‘take action’ by searching from within the quantum science community.
Working within the international quantum information workshop series Q-Turn, Malik said he was introduced to the work of Dr Sabine Wollmann.
Dr Wollmann was previously awarded a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship by the European Commission and chose to bring her fellowship to Heriot-Watt. Wollmann then went on to introduce more female researchers to the team.
Malik said that, as they’ve built the team, creating a sense of welcome and belonging has been a “critical part” of the new approach.
Potential new members are invited to meet the team which gives them an opportunity to experience the inclusive and respectful culture, where members are encouraged to enjoy their work.
Today, Professor Malik’s team of eight early career researchers is 50% female – up from 20% by the end of last year.
Scotland is already championing the employment of women in tech, through events such as the Ada Lovelace Festival.
The event looks to inspire, educate, reward, and award women in the tech sector to ensure the future of Computing Science in Scotland is gender balanced after data suggested that the number of female students currently studying these subjects in Scotland is approximately 80% lower than it was in 2000.
Professor Malik, who is speaking on Ada Lovelace Day 2021, said: “Throughout my career I crossed paths with brilliant female scientists from across the globe and couldn’t figure out why we weren’t seeing them in the recruitment pool.
“I believe that a combination of networking in an inclusive way and presenting a welcoming and respectful culture has empowered us to make quantum and photonics more appealing.”
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Dr Wollmann added: “I am very passionate about being in the lab and using my creativity to overcome and solve problems. It was this puzzle solving and the use of my mind that really got me excited for science.
“I would recommend women to follow their passion and get into science. You might be quite surprised how diverse the graduate jobs can be. It is important to build your network early on and reach out to other women and men on different career levels.
“I ultimately decided to move to Heriot-Watt because of Mehul’s reputation in the field. It was his other Postdocs that convinced me that he is very supportive of early career researchers and I would be able to strive in his group.”
Commenting on her Postgraduate Research at the university, Natalia Herrera Valencia said: “Since I was little, I found the idea of a laboratory fascinating, asking questions and doing experiments to discover new things.
“I was lucky to have people in my life that would motivate me to follow that path, advising me to study physics and showing me that it was something I would be capable of doing.
“Currently, I’m doing my PhD, finding novel ways to characterise and manipulate complex quantum states of light.”
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