Criminal Cases and Cycling Successes on Show at SRUC

SRUC celebrated International Women’s Day in style with a series of talks from some of their most inspiring staff, as well as the renowned forensic soil scientist Professor Lorna Dawson. From international cycling success to criminal cases to career changes, the varied talks showed just how much the land-based sector can offer.
The programme of talks – ‘Celebrating Success’ – was arranged as part of SRUC’s application for an Athena SWAN bronze award. The Athena SWAN Charter was established in 2005 to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) employment in higher education and research.
SRUC Acting CEO and Principal Janet Swadling began the event by highlighting how much the equality agenda has improved things for modern women with the agriculture and rural sector much less of a man’s game than it used to be.
Certainly the keynote speaker – Professor Lorna Dawson of the James Hutton Institute – proved that determination and tenacity can go a long way, no matter your gender. Lorna, one of the country’s top soil scientists, gave a fascinating description of a career where she is regularly called upon by police to help solve serious criminal cases.
One particular case she highlighted was the 1977 Worlds End murders in Edinburgh, which finally concluded with a conviction in 2014. Lorna and her team were able to use soil and debris samples to explain where the victims – Helen Scott and Christine Eadie – had died.
Lorna was joined by five speakers from SRUC and the talks were livestreamed so that staff from sites across Scotland could participate. While the experiences described varied considerably, all the speakers noted how well SRUC had supported their ambitions and a number stressed how flexible working had helped them combine their career with family, or other passions.
Genevieve Whitson, who works in SRUC’s International and the Alumni Office, explained how the college has supported her international cycling career. Originally from New Zealand, she rides now for Scotland, and has her sights firmly set on the next Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast of Australia in 2018.
For animal scientist Fritha Langford, the birth of her daughter in 2009 meant she needed to reduce the amount of travel her job entailed; she was able to move more into teaching, and so stay closer to home.
Research Technician Marianne Farish spoke about the need to ensure opportunities for work experience are available for young people to help them decide on their future career path. For Caroline Robinson, a Veterinary Surveillance Officer from SAC Consulting, her ambition to be a vet came into focus at a young age however SRUC Oatridge student Katie Dubarry noted that this isn’t always the case, she was 29 when she decided to move out of beauty therapy and into agriculture.
SRUC’s Vice Principal Research Geoff Simm said: “Today there was an incredible array of experiences on display which gave a good glimpse of the possibilities a career in science offers. Our application for an Athena SWAN Bronze Award is evidence we are committed to offering women and men exciting careers here at SRUC, and that we understand the importance of personal development and work life balance.”
Professor Christine Watson, who is co-chairing SRUC’s application for the Award and was one of the organisers of the event, said: “All the speakers highlighted the importance of both teamwork and networking in making their jobs enjoyable and successful. Today was the first in a series of events being organised by our Athena SWAN team aimed at helping all our staff to develop and enhance their careers.”

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