Professor Linda Lawton from RGU in front of a blue background

Smashing Stereotypes: Professor Linda Lawton

By Linda A Lawton FRSE, Professor of Environmental Microbiology - 11 March 2024

You just need to type ‘what does a professor look like?’ into Google to see I don’t fit the typical science professor stereotype – the only thing I tend to have appearance wise is that I wear glasses.

I love to get out and share my love of science with future generations but even as recently as 2018 a little 6-year-old male Beaver scout boldly announced to me “but women can’t be professors!”.

Growing up I was always to be found discovering minibeasts in the garden, rockpools and collecting fluffy caterpillars as I walked to school. My passion was to explore and understand the world around me and always with a supportive mum by my side (although she wasn’t too impressed when I took apart my new Timex watch, age 5!)

Younger me was fearless and confident but through high school and beyond I noticed that it was tougher. None of my lectures were female at university and so many of those in science leadership were white men. I found this often influenced the culture, decision-making and the general atmosphere which wasn’t so comfortable at times.

It was and still is a tougher battle for females to succeed and be taken seriously in STEM subjects, but I believe in putting myself out there to ensure that everyone’s passion and confidence are protected. We all have a part to play in smashing the stereotypes, including the need to improve awareness to reduce bias. For example, in a class of school students, it has been shown that boys will often be chosen first to contribute.

Awareness is one way all of us can make small but significant changes and we can be open to challenge and be challenged when we fall into well-worn stereotypes.

I ask myself, when will it be that I won’t be seen as ‘smashing the stereotype’? I think back to a quote I read in The Telegraph newspaper over 30 years ago when I was a junior scientist. It read: ‘we will have equality when we have as many average and mediocre women in top jobs as we currently have average and mediocre men now’. While I am not suggesting we aspire to mediocrity, it does remind us that it is not enough to just celebrate the few women who succeed despite their difficulties. I do wonder how far we have come…

British Science Week is a ten-day celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths, taking place between 8 - 17 March 2024. This year’s theme is ‘smashing stereotypes’, celebrating the diverse people and careers in STEM.

On RGView, we have featured five leading staff members who have each written about their experience of smashing stereotypes. Read their inspiring stories:

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