A Lab of One's Own - Dr Patricia Fara

Dr Patricia Fara - a historian of science at Cambridge University and author of 'A Lab of One's Own: Science and Suffrage in the First World War' - discusses women in science, leaky pipelines, and what's wrong with the way we write female biographies.

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We are giving away 10 signed copies of Dr Fara's book A Lab of One's Own: Science and Suffrage in the First World War!

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About the book:

"Many extraordinary female scientists, doctors, and engineers tasted independence and responsibility for the first time during the First World War. How did this happen? Patricia Fara reveals how suffragists, such as Virginia Woolf's sister, Ray Strachey, had already aligned themselves with scientific and technological progress, and that during the dark years of war they mobilized women to enter conventionally male domains such as science and medicine. Fara tells the stories of women such as: mental health pioneer Isabel Emslie, chemist Martha Whiteley, a co-inventor of tear gas, and botanist Helen Gwynne Vaughan. Women were now carrying out vital research in many aspects of science, but could it last?

Though suffragist Millicent Fawcett declared triumphantly that 'the war revolutionised the industrial position of women. It found them serfs, and left them free', the outcome was very different. Although women had helped the country to victory and won the vote for those over thirty, they had lost the battle for equality. Men returning from the Front reclaimed their jobs, and conventional hierarchies were re-established even though the nation now knew that women were fully capable of performing work traditionally reserved for men.

Fara examines how the bravery of these pioneer women scientists, temporarily allowed into a closed world before the door clanged shut again, paved the way for today's women scientists. Yet, inherited prejudices continue to limit women's scientific opportunities."

Photo by Jen Campbell


Dr Patricia Fara - an incredibly established and respected academic in the field of History of Science and the author of A Lab of One's Own: Science and Suffrage in the First World War - discusses her unusual leadership journey, the position of women in science throughout history, and what is wrong with the way we write female biographies.

Dr Fara was a Director of Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge, the Senior Tutor at Clare College, President of the British Society for the History of Science, and currently she is an Emeritus Fellow at Clare College and President of the Antiquarian Horological Society.

She has published a range of academic and popular books on the history of science, such as Science: A Four Thousand Year HistoryNewton: The Making of a Genius, and most recently A Lab of One's Own: Science and Suffrage in the First World War, which we will discuss in this episode. She also regularly writes for publications such as Nature, and appears on TV and radio programmes, such as In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg.

Send us your thoughts at contact@laidlawfoundation.com or leave a comment below!



NIKOL CHEN [V.O.]: From the Laidlaw Foundation, I’m Nikol Chen and this is The Good Leader - a podcast where we talk to remarkable individuals in all sorts of fields to learn more about how to lead with integrity and explore what the next generation of leaders is doing to solve the world’s most intractable problems. Our first season is all about the ins & outs of navigating the world of leadership as a woman.

Just a quick warning before we get started: we discuss sexual assault in this episode, so if that subject might be difficult for you, please take care while listening. 

Our special guest today is an incredibly established and respected academic in the field of History of Science, and certainly knows a thing or two about good leadership. In the past, she was a Director of Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge, the Senior Tutor at Clare College, President of the British Society for the History of Science, and currently she is an Emeritus Fellow at Clare College and President of the Antiquarian Horological Society. She has published a range of academic and popular books on the history of science, such as Science: A Four Thousand Year History, Newton: The Making of a Genius, and most recently A Lab of One's Own: Science and Suffrage in the First World War, which we will discuss in this episode. She also regularly writes for publications such as Nature, and appears on TV and radio programmes, such as In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg.

Today I am delighted to welcome Dr Patricia Fara. Dr Fara’s rise to the top has been far from straightforward and in today’s episode she will discuss her unusual leadership journey, the position of women in science throughout history, and what is wrong with the way we write female biographies. 

You can find the transcript of this episode, further reading suggestions and a list of references on the Laidlaw Scholars Network.

NIKOL CHEN: Dr Patricia Fara, welcome to the podcast.

PATRICIA FARA: It is very nice to be here, thank you for interviewing me.

NIKOL CHEN: I’d like to start by talking about your academic journey - so, I understand you studied Physics at Oxford as an undergraduate but later on you switched directions to go into History of Science...

PATRICIA FARA: Well, I did, but there was a big interval inbetween - I finished my degree in Physics but I don’t think I should have ever read that subject and I think it was because when I was at school, they were absolutely delighted to find a girl who could do physics and maths and I was just sort of steered into it because I was good at it, rather than because anybody, including me, stopped to ask what I really wanted to do. And that is one message that I really want to emphasise, is that if you are ever at a point when you have to choose between different options, you should really go for the one that appeals to you, that you are really engrossed in, that you are really passionate about, and it doesn’t really matter if it doesn’t seem useful or if it doesn’t seem like a good direction in the long term. If that’s what you want to do - just go for it, and find out later what that leads to. 

NIKOL CHEN: So, I read that you said that physics is “eminently doable but woefully unmeaningful” and that you often get considered to be someone who leaked out of the pipeline…

PATRICIA FARA: Yeah, I personally don’t like this expression - “to leak out of the pipeline” - because one thing it implies is that to be a scientist is the only possible goal or the best possible goal. There’s a lot of people like me who left science not because I couldn’t do it but because I didn’t want to do it. And there’s a huge difference. And to say that I’ve leaked out of the pipeline implies that since I did that, I’ve been a complete failure, whereas I think I’ve had quite a successful career but it’s just gone in a completely non-scientific direction. 

So, leaking out of the pipeline is a whole model that I really don’t like and it takes away women’s agency because the implication is that a woman leaves the pipeline because of failure to get a job or failure to be able to do the work or for some other reason. Whereas, actually, if a woman is thinking about what she wants to do, she might make quite a positive choice. That she wants to go into another area or else she doesn’t want the sort of life where she’s committed 24/7 to working for a company or a laboratory or a university when she wants to run her life in a different sort of way. 

NIKOL CHEN: So, what did you do after graduating from Oxford?

PATRICIA FARA: I worked in computing for a while - computing was still quite a new area. And then I left, I was married by that stage, and my husband and I set up a company and we made audiovisual presentations about computing and about statistics. And we were very successful because none of the major companies like Time Life or the BBC or anything like that - nobody realised how important computers were going to be. So, we didn’t have any competition and we sold to all technical colleges and universities and institutions of higher education in Britain, and then we moved to California and we did the same thing in America. And we did that for about 10 or 12 years, I think. And we were very successful, but then everybody started realising how important computers were and also the technology started changing, so there were videos, rather than just 35mm slides. And so, we decided to close down the company and do something else. So, I was in a strange position of “What am I going to do with my life?”. And I decided that what I really really wanted was a PhD, so I went back to university. And all my friends thought I was mad but it was a really good decision because I just loved it right from the very beginning. 

NIKOL CHEN: So, after writing quite a few books about Isaac Newton, Joseph Banks, recently - last year - you published a book called “A Lab of One’s Own”, in 2018, which was the centenary of women getting, well, partially getting the vote in 1918. And of World War I, could you tell me a bit about what motivated you to write that book?

PATRICIA FARA: Well, I think partly I wandered into it almost by accident - I just discovered a wonderful handwritten book in the archive in Newnham College, which is one of the first women’s only colleges in Cambridge. And the archivist showed me this beautiful book in which someone had collected all the activities of over 600 women connected to Newnham during the First World War. I flicked through it and, of course, I expected to see women who’d been nurses or women who’d driven ambulances, made the tea, all that sort of stuff. What really really stunned me in the first few pages were lists of women who had done ballistics research or they had served as doctors in Serbia, or had done experiments into vitamins; they worked doing all sorts of mathematical and chemical calculations, and I was so impressed and so surprised when I read that, that I wanted to know more about them. 

So, I went into the university library, which is what all academics do, and discovered that nobody else had ever written about them and that is just what inspired me to find out more about them, and the more I learnt about these women, the more fascinated and impressed I was. These were mostly just ordinary women who had come from far more sheltered backgrounds than women do now, and when the war started, they were just out there, doing absolutely everything and, in fact, they loved it, because for the first time, they were leading their own independent lives. They were in charge of what they were doing, they were making their own decisions. And I think for a lot of them it was paradoxically the best time of their lives. 

NIKOL CHEN [V.O.]: Here is a bit more background on Dr Fara’s book A Lab of One’s Own: Science and Suffrage in the First World War - as I mentioned, it was published in 2018, 100 years after women in Britain obtained partial suffrage in 1918. In the book, Dr Fara explores the fascinating stories of some of the female scientists who participated in the war but were left majorly unnoticed and uncelebrated by historians, such as Hertha Ayrton, Helen Gwynne-Vaughan, Ray Strachey, and Isabel Emslie. If those names mean absolutely nothing to you - don’t worry, that is the entire point. We discuss some of them in this episode, but if you would like to learn more, check out Dr Fara’s book. 

NIKOL CHEN: So, one of the women you’ve written about is Hertha Ayrton, who was tragically declined a Royal Society fellowship because she was married. And one of the quotes from her is “I do not agree with sex being brought into science at all - the idea of a woman in science is completely irrelevant. Either a woman is a good scientist or she is not.”

PATRICIA FARA: Yeah, she said that in...I think it was 1919 or something like that. She said it to a journalist, and it still seems to me a wonderful ideal and unfortunately we still haven’t got there yet. She was a wonderful woman, I’m surprised more people haven’t heard of her, she was a very close friend of Marie Curie. And even someone as eminent as Marie Curie, who won 2 Nobel Prizes, had her bad moments as well. And she had some sort of nervous breakdown after she was persecuted by the press. And she came over to England for about 6 months and Hertha Ayrton looked after her. And the reason they became friendly in the first place is a few years earlier they had both been at a conference at the Royal Institution. And this was when Marie Curie had already discovered radioactivity. Because she was a woman, neither she nor Hertha Ayrton could speak on the platform, and they were both married to male scientists. And so, Hertha Ayrton sat with Marie Curie in the audience while Pierre Curie was talking about radioactivity. So, that must have been a bonding experience. I imagine they were both pretty angry.

NIKOL CHEN: So, speaking actually of Marie Curie, you’ve written that the way people write biographies about female scientists also affects our perception of them…

PATRICIA FARA: Yeah, I think one of the things we do which is terribly wrong and is very common is to always use first names when writing about women. Even if you’ve got a book which is about men and women, it is surprising how often the men are referred to by their surnames and the women by their first names, which seems to me incredibly patronising. I think there’s quite a divergence between a traditional male biography and a traditional female biography in that people who write books about women tend to focus on their emotions and their family, whereas people who talk about a man tend to write just about their career and their public side. And I think both male and female biographies should be rather different. Because everybody has a public side and everybody also has a private side, and I think if you’re writing about a whole person, you can’t really separate those. 

So, in general - yes, I want to reform the position for  women in science and academia more generally. But I don’t think it’s just the question of changing things for women, so that they are really equal to men. I think it’s a question of changing the whole of society, so that both men and women can have a different relationship between their work and their home lives. And that’s starting to change now, certainly within the university context. Men are in the position where they look after their children far far more than they ever used to 20 years ago. And I think that’s marvellous for the children, I think it’s also marvellous for the men. And, of course, it also benefits the women. So, I think it’s the whole of society that has to be changed, and our attitudes to work. Not just making it a battle site between men and women. I think that’s a very counterproductive approach.

NIKOL CHEN: And in that same article, you said that, and I quote: “In the past, biographers and their publishers routinely squeezed female scientists into stereotypical roles--the frump, the whore, the enchantress, the underdog or the power behind the throne.” Could you give me some examples of women who have been stereotyped in this way?

PATRICIA FARA: I think categorising women as frumps is very very common. The idea is that either a woman is a good scientist or she is a normal woman - that’s sort of what Hertha Ayrton was saying. I think the most common example, or the most well known example of a woman who has been marginalised in that way is Rosalind Franklin in Jim Watson’s book ‘The Double Helix’. He constantly describes her in terms of her lack of make up or the length of her skirts or her general appearance. And even though his and Crick’s discovery of DNA depended absolutely on the X-ray photographs that Rosalind Franklin had taken, that almost gets sidelined. He just focuses on her appearance and her behaviour. 

I think another example would be Dorothy Hodgkin who is the only British woman to win a Nobel Prize in science. I think she’s not nearly as well known as she should be and I think that’s probably because she was actually a really really nice ordinary sort of woman - everybody liked her, she had 4 children, she was married, she just got on with her work. She was very very competent - the fact that she won the Nobel Prize shows how brilliant she was at science. And she was overlooked several time - she was passed over in favour of men but she did get her Nobel Prize. And I just think that’s an achievement that should be much more celebrated - that there wasn’t anything odd or freakish about it. She was just a very very clever, determined woman who had many research initiatives. 

NIKOL CHEN: And while I was reading your book, it was very surprising to me that you told a story of how eminent suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst, how she was seated next to a female engineer at a formal dinner and she exclaimed: “Surely that’s a very unsuitable occupation for a lady, isn’t it?”

PATRICIA FARA: I think that’s sort of the attitude I experienced. When I first graduated from Physics and I went down to London. Women and men thought that that was really strange and they were apprehensive about talking to me. And it wasn’t just that I had a degree from Oxford - that sort of might have been acceptable if it had been an English or a History degree - but the fact that I was doing science was unacceptable. I mean it’s still like that. About five years ago, I was having dinner at a high table in Cambridge and someone I’ve known for years discovered I have a degree in Physics - and he hadn’t known that - and he looked at me and said: “Oh, you must be terribly clever!” and I said: “But that’s ridiculous, I mean, everybody in Cambridge is terribly clever - no more clever to do Physics than to do anything else”. And I had people who do sort of art subjects and History and English, who are really rather frightened of someone who does science as though it is impossibly difficult, and I think it’s a big mistake. It’s difficult to do History.

NIKOL CHEN: You know, personally for me, it was a bit of a relief when I read that story about Emmeline because I find that sometimes I catch myself presuming that when I read ‘professor’ or ‘scientist’, automatically in my head I think - a man. And then when I read that it’s a woman I think “Oh my god, I’m such a horrible person, I’m such a horrible woman for thinking that automatically”. But I just feel like it’s so ingrained into us - this unconscious bias - that even when you don’t really intend to do it, it just happens automatically.

PATRICIA FARA: Yes, I think we all have unconscious bias about gender and about ethnicity, probably about age too. There was an experiment that was carried out about 5 years ago where the experimenters compiled a stack of CVs and there were 2 sets of CVs and they were identical except on one lot they put women’s names and on the other lot they put men’s names. And then they had 2 panels of interviewers and they gave the CVs out and asked who would they choose and who wouldn’t they choose - this was in science. And the really scary thing is that on the interview panels, the women as well as men tended to rate the male applicants higher than the female applicants, and that was really really frightening when that result was revealed. And I think that’s absolutely true, I mean, from the very minute we’re born, unfortunately, however egalitarian our parents might be, you just encounter other people or, now, television and the media and it’s drilled into you right from the very beginning that boys and girls are different.

NIKOL CHEN: And just generally what do you think is the position of female scientists in the world today?

PATRICIA FARA: I think it varies from country to country. I think it’s vastly better than it used to be. I walked into the University library the other day and there was a very very large oil painting on the wall which has just appeared, and it shows...it’s not a particularly exciting painting - it shows a huge research laboratory and there’s 2 people in it, and they’re both women and they’re both doing what looked like a very ordinary sort of task and they were just getting on with it, they were doing it. And I think that’s something that is really important because it has to be shown that it is ordinary, that it is normal for women to be doing that sort of work. And it reminded me of the passage in “The Room of One’s Own” by Virginia Woolf and she imagines a novel which describes Olivia and Chloe - they are two young women and they are in a science laboratory and they’re getting their experiments organised, they’re mincing up liver to treat anemia, and then they put the tops back on the jars and say: “Right, it’s 16:30, it’s time to go home,” and off they go. And that is standard life. That’s what I think we have to aim for. 

NIKOL CHEN: I read that you said that you empathised the most with Helen Gwynne-Vaughan, could you elaborate a bit on that? 

PATRICIA FARA: Yes, Helen Gwynne-Vaughan was a woman that I’d never come across before. And the reason I personally found her very very interesting was that at every stage in her life, she felt sort of like a misfit. She felt as if she didn’t really belong there. So, she was born into a very wealthy diplomatic family, and a lot of her relatives were aristocrats and she went to society balls and she had lots of money and beautiful clothes, and she went travelling. But she never really liked that. What she wanted to do was go to university and after many many years, I can imagine some of the arguments around the dinner table, she won the battle and she went to King’s College in London, but of course, she didn’t fit in there either because she was a woman and she was studying the sciences, and that was a very unusual thing to do. And then after she graduated, she went to Royal Holloway college, which was the first women’s only college, just outside London. And she didn’t fit in there because she insisted on wearing beautiful clothes because she was so rich and so, the other women were rather apprehensive and suspicious. 

And then she worked during the war - she went to France and then she came back, and she was the head of the botany department at Birkbeck College. Birkbeck College catered mainly for men who were working - it was an evening college. So, she was teaching a lot of men who had been in the war, and photographs show her wearing rather masculine clothes and she was quite a strong head of department but she was often criticised for being too...well, I think, in their words, she was criticised for being ‘authoritarian’. Whereas, if she had behaved in that way as a man, she would have been called ‘authoritative’. It seems to me that if you are the head of department and a professor, you have to tell other people what to do, and you have to organise things, and you have to make sure everything’s working properly. But, of course, that was something that, as a woman, she shouldn’t really have been doing and people found it very difficult to cope with it. 

So, it’s not that my life is like hers - I certainly wasn’t born into a rich aristocratic family, not at all - but the fact that she always felt slightly out of place. And the last 10 or 20 years I’ve been at Cambridge, I’ve felt much more in place than I had during the rest of my life. 

NIKOL CHEN: So, speaking of being a leader, you were Director of Studies in History & Philosophy of Science, you were a College Teaching Officer in the Dept of History & Philosophy of Science, President of the British Society for the History of Science, and the President of the Antiquarian Horological Society...

PATRICIA FARA: Yes, I still am the President of the Antiquarian Horological Society, although it’s mainly an honorary position. I think the real aspect of leadership was not those academic positions - it was a very high administrative position within the College. For 10 years, I was what’s called the Senior Tutor of the College who is responsible for the education and the welfare of all the students. So, it was a very high-powered administrative position, and I think I probably took that route rather than rising through an academic career because when I started here, I was substantially older than most other people on my academic level. But, on the other hand, I did have lots of life experience and that made me very well qualified for a position like that. And so, I was the Senior Tutor of the College. I was also on a lot of university committees, so that was very exciting to have the opportunity to affect College and University policy and to hopefully try and improve Cambridge, make it more democratic. 

NIKOL CHEN: And you also said, and I quote: “I’m determined to help ensure that the undergraduates I now teach can embark on their careers with confidence.” How do you go about doing that?

PATRICIA FARA: Okay, well, in teaching we’re very lucky at Cambridge - we have small group teaching, so, not just lectures, so I have supervisions typically with 2 people, perhaps 1 or 3 but usually 2. And one of the things I do is really encourage students to argue and discuss and I tell them in advance that whatever they say, I will put the opposite point of view and they don’t necessarily have to believe me but they have to learn how to reply. And the important lesson that they should learn from that, provided that they’ve got their facts right, it doesn’t matter what their opinion is - if they can justify their opinion, then that’s right. There is no right and there is no wrong. But you have to be able to justify what it is that you believe and you have to work out what it is that you believe as well. 

And another thing is I suppose I try to make sure that both students speak for roughly the same amount of time, so if somebody is very reticent I encourage them to speak up. 

I think another very important thing is for younger women and men to realise is successful people didn’t get there magically, they weren’t born different from everybody else. They all have their doubts, their misgivings, their fears. I remember once I said to a group of students that I was a bit nervous because I had to give a lecture the next day. And they stared at me in amazement and said: “But you give lectures all the time.” I said: “Yes, I do, but it doesn’t mean that we aren’t all petrified sometimes when we have to give a lecture.” And so, counteracting that idea of imposter syndrome, this idea that one day they’re going to find out that it’s only me and they’ll realise that I shouldn’t have the job or the scholarship or whatever it is. I mean, I do try to be honest with younger people and explain that we all feel like that. And interviews like this - if I go back over my life and trace things that have gone wrong, things that didn’t work out right, but anyway I sort of managed to get there in the end by a rather peculiar circuitous route, and other people’s lives aren’t any more straightforward and easy than your own.

NIKOL CHEN: And is there something you wish you’d learnt sooner about leadership? 

PATRICIA FARA: I think I wish I’d learnt sooner to accept that I wasn’t going to get everything right and I learnt that, I think... We had what is called a 360 degree appraisal, where you get comments from people who work for you and people who work above you. And it’s done on a numerical scale but there’s also room for written comments, and there were 2 comments of one of my appraisals: one of them said “The trouble with Patricia is that she can’t make up her mind. Before she makes a decision, she always asks other people what they think she should do.” And then the other comment was: “The trouble with Patricia is she never consults anyone, she just goes ahead and makes her own decisions.” So I thought: “Well, if those two completely opposite complaints are both valid, it means that I’m getting it more or less right most of the time.” So, that was actually quite helpful. 

NIKOL CHEN: What is something that someone listening to this episode can do right now to become a better leader?

PATRICIA FARA: I think ask somebody who works for you what it is that needs to be improved and when they’ve told you, turn around and say “OK, I want to put you in charge of making sure that that happens” and, of course, as a leader, you will always be there to back the person up if something goes wrong but, on the other hand, giving somebody the responsibility for doing something themselves is a very very important part of a leader. It means you’ll get huge loyalty from your staff because they will have a very high level of job satisfaction and also just on the more pragmatic, practical level, the people are doing the jobs so they are the ones who know how it has to be changed, how it can be improved. Just listen to what they have to say, don’t micromanage and order them around the whole time.

NIKOL CHEN: So, what sort of advice would you give to women who feel that they keep hitting the glass ceiling in their careers, specifically in academia?

PATRICIA FARA: I think, this may sound a bit counterintuitive, I think one piece of advice would be - don’t assume automatically that it is due to gender bias. Ask for interview feedback, think a bit more carefully about what it is you applied for and how suitable you were for the job. What I read in a women’s magazine years ago, it said that if you want to get somebody’s job, another woman’s job, you should look at how she behaves and look at how she dresses, and not be identical but at least emulate it. And I think it’s quite important to learn from what other people do and why other people are successful. So, for example, if you’re worried about your interview technique, watch the television news and see how politicians deal with answers. You’ve got to behave with confidence and I think don’t keep going around complaining - oh you’re a woman and therefore you’re excluded. Just behave as though it should be absolutely normal that you’re going to be accepted. 

Also, whenever an invitation comes to do something or to go to a meeting or a party or whatever it is, accept it so that you become a very very visible person, you become a part of the workforce and people realise that you are important and they can’t do without you. You’re not a marginal person trying to get in from the outside, you’re someone who belongs there, and that job and promotion are owed to you. 

NIKOL CHEN: And what is the one sentence you would say to someone listening to this episode? 

PATRICIA FARA: I would say - it doesn’t matter if things go wrong, just keep going and change direction and keep going for the things that you want to do and eventually it will all be fine, don’t be deterred if things don’t seem to be working out perfectly as you had planned in advance because they very very rarely do. And the big maxim in life is that life is not fair and it isn’t and you will probably get some pretty raw deals and that’s tough, but you just have to keep going. And everybody who you admire has also gone through some rough times. Nobody gets to the top easily.

NIKOL CHEN: And, as a last question, what is the bravest thing that you have done in your life?

PATRICIA FARA: OK right, so this is something that I very very very rarely talk about. So, by talking about it, I am being pretty brave. So, a long while ago, about 30 years ago, on Hampstead Heath I was attacked and I was raped and I was quite badly injured and got taken off to hospital and the day after I came home, I made myself go out of the house and I was walking along the pavement and I could hear someone behind me and I could tell from the footsteps that it was a man and I turned around and he was much taller than me and he was quite near to me, and I was really frightened and I kept looking around, and I kept going. Then, as he passed me, he said: “Don’t show them that you are afraid.” I was so grateful to him afterwards - that was such wonderful advice. And I made myself after that, I made myself go out first on the pavements, then into a park, then into the countryside, and I think collectively those expeditions together were the bravest thing I’ve ever done but it really paid off because I know a lot of women who after they’d been attacked, they basically become house-bound, certainly can’t go out at night and it was really hard but I’m glad that I forced myself to do it. 

NIKOL CHEN: Thank you Patricia, that was amazing, I think a lot of women can actually relate to that, I can certainly relate to that. It was very brave of you to say something like this.

PATRICIA FARA: Yes, I don’t usually talk about this, when I was still employed as a Senior Tutor, I decided that I was never ever going to mention it because I didn’t want to become branded as the Senior Tutor who had been raped. But now that I am no longer working I sort of feel that perhaps it would be helpful for other women for me to talk about it.

NIKOL CHEN: I had a similar experience when I was younger and then I also avoided talking about it and you know, whenever the topic of rape or domestic abuse or sexual abuse came up, you kind of...I didn’t want to say anything but now I realise that it’s OK to just stand up and raise your voice and say something about it, and not hide your story and speak out about it because people tend to underestimate how often it happens as well. 

PATRICIA FARA: I actually wasn’t embarrassed at the time because I had bruises all over my face and my husband was horrified that I went out, I think he thought that people would think that he’d done it. But I never had any qualms at the time, it’s just that being in a high administration position I didn’t want that to become my identity. So, that’s why I kept quiet about it.

NIKOL CHEN: Yeah, that’s what I mean - it wasn’t that people feel embarrassed but they just don’t want to be reduced to that one thing that happened to them, you don’t want to be labelled as that woman or that girl who got raped. 

PATRICIA FARA: But it’s all a part of what I have been saying this whole time - difficult things happen to everybody and you just have to try to overcome them.

NIKOL CHEN: Thank you very much for coming on our podcast, it was lovely to have you.

PATRICIA FARA: I really enjoyed talking to you and I hope people will take to heart what I said. Life ain’t easy but keep going. 

NIKOL CHEN [V.O.]: It is estimated that 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lives. That is not including sexual harassment. Sometimes, as in Dr Fara's case, sexual assault involves a stranger. More often, around 90% of the time, it involves someone the woman knows, such as a partner, a friend, or a relative. This is what happened in my case. In fact, a woman's home is the most common site of sexual and physical violence, which is particularly relevant at the moment with many women in quarantine and self-isolation. There has been an alarming rise in domestic violence cases since the start of coronavirus-related quarantines, so please make an extra effort to be aware of your neighbours, friends and family who may need your support in this difficult time.

The issue of violence against women obviously goes far deeper - if you would like to learn more, please check out UN Women as a start. And if you are a woman experiencing sexual violence, please report it. We will have resources on this episode’s page. 

Check out Dr Fara’s amazing book A Lab of One’s Own or any of her other books if you are looking for a productive stimulating quarantine read. 

Subscribe to the Good Leader on Spotify, iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts, and follow the Laidlaw Foundation on Twitter and LinkedIn to find out when we release our new podcasts episodes. If you would like to find out more about our programmes visit www.laidlawfoundation.com. Once again, you can find all the references, further reading suggestions and the transcript of this episode on the Laidlaw Scholars Network.

Our music is by Broke For Free and Tours. 

Thanks for listening.

References, Further Reading & Resources:

Selected Publications by Dr Fara

A Lab of One’s Own: Science and Suffrage in the First World War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018)

Women in science: Weird sisters? https://www.nature.com/articles/495043a.pdf

'Leaky Pipelines': Plug The Holes Or Change The System? https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2018/02/02/581849526/leaky-pipelines-plug-the-holes-or-change-the-system?t=1586879148543

Helen Gwynne-Vaughan: An extraordinary botanist whose problems of identity still confront female scientists today https://www.sciencefocus.com/science/helen-gwynne-vaughan-an-extraordinary-botanist-whose-problems-of-identity-still-confront-female-scientists-today/

Science: A Four Thousand Year History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009)

Pandora's Breeches: Women, Science and Power in the Enlightenment (London: Pimlico, 2004)

Newton: The Making of Genius (London: Macmillan, 2002)

Unconscious bias in academia 

C. A. Moss-Racusin, J. F. Dovidio, V. L. Brescoll, M. J. Graham, and J. Handelsman (2012), “Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 109(41), 16474–16479.

Violence against women & general sexual assault resources

National Domestic Violence Hotline (USA): 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224;

National Domestic Abuse Helpline (UK), run by Refuge: 0808 2000 247;

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN - USA);

National Sexual Violence Resource Center (USA);

Rape Crisis (England & Wales);

Survivors UK – male rape and sexual abuse support;

1in6 - for male survivors of sexual assault in the US;

Galop - advice and support to members of the LGBT+ community;

CAVNET (Communities Against Violence Network) - organisation addressing violence against women, human rights, genocide, and crime victims with disabilities;

Advice from the NHS on what to do if you have experienced sexual assault;

Advice from the Metropolitan Police on how to report rape and sexual assault;

Supporting a survivor: 

Facts and figures: Ending violence against women by UN Women;

A New Covid-19 Crisis: Domestic Abuse Rises Worldwide by Amanda Taub for the New York Times;

Galop's research into LGBT+ people’s experiences of domestic abuse;

If you would like to suggest a resource, please email contact@laidlawfoundation.com.

Nikol Chen (she/her)

Digital Content Manager, Laidlaw Foundation

Hello! I have been with the Laidlaw Foundation for over 2 years, helping us strengthen the global Laidlaw community and expand our programmes to break the cycle of poverty, reduce inequality, and develop a new generation of leaders.

I am originally from Kazakhstan and I studied Human Sciences at UCL. I am a fan of all things human- and design-related, as well as an avid swimmer, obsessive podcast listener, documentary enthusiast, and film photography fan.

Drop me a line if you'd like to chat! 💬👀


Go to the profile of Susanna Kempe (she/her)
almost 2 years ago

This podcast left me feeling emotionally poleaxed. It is incredibly informative and inspiring; packed full of, until now, hidden historical heroes; critical thinking and proper kick-ass advice and achievements. The articulation of how common it is for female scientists to be stereotyped as the frump, the whore, the enchantress, the underdog or the power behind the throne made me laugh and wince, it also resonatedly deeply. I think this has been true of women in business too. 
Mostly though, this is the bravest podcast I have ever listened to. Both Dr Fara and Nikol share profoundly personal, traumatic experiences. It made me cry - in empathy and admiration. Thank you both x

Go to the profile of Nikol Chen (she/her)
almost 2 years ago

Thank you, Susanna! It was an absolute joy speaking to someone as knowledgeable, wise, and inspirational as Dr Fara. Not to blow my own trumpet, but I think everyone can take something away from this remarkable episode. 

Go to the profile of Susanna Kempe (she/her)
almost 2 years ago

Totally agree.  It is really exceptional.