Tackling COVID-19: Dr Ellen Brooks Pollock

Dr Ellen Brooks Pollock. Credit: Dave Pratt.

As part of our #BristolUniWomen campaign to mark International Women’s Day 2021, we’re meeting women from across the University of Bristol community who have been using their expertise to tackle the pandemic, from carrying out world-class research to helping on the frontline of the NHS.

Dr Ellen Brooks Pollock is a Senior Lecturer in Infectious Disease Mathematical Modelling, member of the government’s SPI-M modelling group, and SAGE-subgroup on children and schools, and a member of the JUNIPER (Joint UNIversities Pandemic and Epidemiological Research) consortium. 

Your research has focussed on COVID-19 recently. Could you tell us a little more? 

My research involves using maths to describe how an infectious disease will spread. Before the coronavirus pandemic, I mainly worked on tuberculosis and influenza, but the underlying equations are the same for all diseases. One of my research interests is how contacts influence disease spread. Contacts depend on the disease and the host. I have worked on how cattle movements spread bovine tuberculosis, how household contacts spread human tuberculosis and how social contacts spread influenza. During the pandemic, I developed a tool for visualising the balance between social distancing and re-opening schools based on social contacts.  

What have been the biggest challenges or triumphs for you during the pandemic?  

It’s been really exciting to be able to contribute to SPI-M (the SAGE modelling subgroup) during the pandemic. My husband Leon is also a modeller and on SPI-M – we were first invited to SPI-M when we adapted a model of pandemic influenza to COVID-19 back in February 2020.  We haven’t worked this closely before – we’ve spent many late nights coding and writing up our results after putting the kids to bed.  

Some of our work last summer was widely used by SAGE and policymakers, and it was a very rewarding experience to be able to contribute to shaping policy.   

What is it like being a woman in academia? Have there been times when you have either faced inequality or had to challenge it?

That is a difficult question, and it’s always hard to know if something is due to being female, either directly or because of societal normsor whether it is par for the course. Maths and disease modelling is a fairly male dominated area, but there are prominent women as well. Rejection is a routine part of academia, but I have the feeling that women do get rejected more than men. I find it easier to see when it happens to other people: male junior scientists are more likely to be given the benefit of the doubt than female junior scientists 

Which women have inspired you in your career? 

Both my PhD supervisor and postdoc supervisor are top scientists and have active family lives. Both are male – but they are great examples of doing both. I attended an inspiring talk given by Professor Dame Carol Robinson, a chemist at Oxford University. She took eight years out of science while having three kids, which proves you can take time out and still be a brilliant scientist.  

What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self? 

Carol Robinson said in her talk that it really helped having a supporter, and that’s definitely true. Try to work with people you like and trust and do work that you enjoy. Don’t give up!  

What are you most proud of?

Hmmm… that’s a good question! I recently re-read the ‘maths careers profile I wrote in 2015.  In it I said my dream was to give evidence to a parliamentary select committee, which I did last year – so I’m pretty proud of that!  

Tackling COVID-19: Prof Caroline Relton

Prof Caroline Relton

As part of our #BristolUniWomen campaign to mark International Women’s Day 2021, we’re meeting women from across the University of Bristol community who have been using their expertise to tackle the pandemic, from carrying out world-class research to helping on the frontline of the NHS.

Caroline Relton is Professor of Epigenetic Epidemiology in Bristol Medical School: Population Health Sciences (PHS) and MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit, and Director of the Bristol Population Health Science Institute. She’s working on a major research project to track COVID-19 infections in Bristol schools. 


Your research has focussed on COVID-19 recently. Could you tell us a little more? 

My research is in Epigenetic Epidemiology and focuses on the causes and consequences of molecular changes to the genome in normal development and diseases, such as cancer, using population-based approaches. 

With all schools closed early in the COVID-19 pandemic it became apparent the impact on children’s learning and wellbeing and how important it was to get pupils and staff back to school and minimise further closures. 

Working with the city councilschool heads and Public Health England, I applied for funding from the NIHR-UKRI to carry out a major research project to track coronavirus infections in Bristol schools. 

The project, COVID-19 Mapping and Mitigation in Schools (CoMMinS), began last autumwith saliva-testing several thousand pupils and staff from schools across the city over the course of the school year.  The aim of the study is for us to understand patterns of infections, the role of symptoms in identifying infection and the longer-term impacts of Covid-19 in children.  The study also aims to provide school heads with the tools to identify cases early so they can keep their schools open and allow the continuity of education. 

What have been the biggest challenges or triumphs for you during the pandemic?  

The pandemic has brought a range of new opportunities and challenges for me at work. I have tried to maintain my usual research activity – understanding how epigenetics can be useful in understanding and predicting health and disease – as well as responding to the new research challenges that the pandemic has thrown up. With a large group of colleagues from many disciplines, I’ve been working closely with school leaders and the city council to help schools to operate during the pandemic.

Undertaking a research project that at the same time has practical benefit to the community is really rewarding. The pace of change has been challenging though; coping with changes in infection levels in the community, changes in government policies and guidance in schools, and changes to modes of testing have all complicated the study. 

What is it like being a woman in academia/medicine (adapt)? Have there been times when you have either faced inequality or had to challenge it?  

I enjoy being a woman in academia. For me it is a profession that has allowed me to use a wide range of skills; organisational, social, intellectual, communication and others. I find it a privilege to work in a profession where learning is part of daily life, but the underlying mission is for the benefit of others. 

A career in academia is challenging for anyone and being a woman possibly adds to those challenges. For those women who have a children or other caring responsibilities, there is always a tension in trying to do the right thing for everyone. There have been times when my contribution has been assumed to be as a ‘token’ woman rather than based on what skills or expertise I may have been able to contribute. I’ve never challenged this directly but sought to prove my worth when I’ve suspected this to be the case. 

Which women have inspired you in your career? 

I’ve been inspired by many mentors, colleagues, family and friends – both men and women. My identical twin sister deserves a special mention as we have always been quietly inspired by each other’s successes as we have pursued scientific careers in parallel in academia and in industry. I gain my inspiration from traits rather than specific people and try to recognise qualities that I respect and admire. Commitment, compassion, generosity and resilience are attributes I value highly, and these can be found in many walks of life. 

What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self?

To believe in yourself and not place limits on what you are capable of. An academic career was never on my horizon, but I guess we don’t know what we are capable of until we try?

What are you most proud of?

My two sons. They have grown in to such adaptable and capable young adults and I couldn’t be prouder. They have always respected and supported my career and have never taken issue with the sacrifices that have occasionally been involved due to long hours, ‘lost’ weekends or time away from home. 

Tackling COVID-19: Dr Saffron Karlsen

Dr Saffron Karlsen

As part of our #BristolUniWomen campaign to mark International Women’s Day 2021, we’re meeting women from across the University of Bristol community who have been using their expertise to tackle the pandemic, from carrying out world-class research to helping on the frontline of the NHS. 

Dr Saffron Karlsen is an Associate Professor in Sociology. She’s been look at the social and economic reasons behind the big ethnic differences in COVID-19 infections and deaths.

Your research has focussed on health inequities. Could you tell us a little more about how this relates to Covid-19? 

My work looks specifically at the reasons why there are differences in the health experiences of different ethnic and religious groupsThis has been very relevant given the big ethnic differences in Covid-19 infections and deaths we’ve seen in the UK. 

My research focuses on the ways in which these problems are caused by things we do as a society, not as individuals. Negative stereotypes about people, in particular ethnic and religious groups, mean that they can be excluded from opportunities to get a good education, a good job, a good house, good healthcare. This disadvantage increases the risk of infection and also of developing conditions like diabetes and respiratory illness – all important for covid-19 outcomes. It also means people don’t have the resources to fight infection when they do get ill, or don’t get the care they need, meaning they’re more likely to die.  

Racism can also make people feel excluded or stressed – leading to mental ill-health and heart disease. Our research also shows how racism has directly affected people’s experience of lockdown and ability to manage itThe additional stress and isolation for people who felt the government wasn’t interested in protecting people ‘like them’, has encouraged distrust in government policies. We’re seeing that legacy now around the vaccine 

Media and government discussion often suggests that the solution to these inequalities lies in changing the biologies or attitudes of people in particular ethnic minority groups. My research shows that actually the responsibility for solving these problems lies with our whole society. 

What have been the biggest challenges or triumphs for you during the pandemic?  

The public reaction to these ethnic inequalities and George Floyd’s death was quite spectacular. After 20 years, it has been brilliant to finally be having these conversations so openly. There has been a real hope for positive, lasting change. I’ve been very pleased to be able to encourage this momentum – across the world’s media, through the government and also with initiatives closer to home. My work as part of the Bristol Race Equality Network (with Black South West Network) to ensure people get the information they need to effectively address ethnic inequalities has taken on new significance. The focus on Bristol and Colston led to important initiatives in the University to look at our own particular history, which started the grassroots decoloniseUoB group which now has over 400 staff and student members. And one of our papers on ethnic socioeconomic inequalities, which supported conversations around #BlackLivesMatter this summer, has just been nominated for an award for excellence, which is great.  

But, this was also a very intense period. Responding to these opportunities, while trying to do our research, manage the rapidly changing demands of academic teaching, as well as home schooling etc, was relentless. It took its toll on me personally and on many others in the University and I fear there will be more very difficult times ahead.  

What is it like being a woman in academia? Have there been times when you have either faced inequality or had to challenge it?  

I think I’ve been very lucky and things have worked out pretty well. I’ve always been surrounded by supportive and enthusiastic colleagues and have had many valuable opportunities in my work. Academia is extremely demanding – it’s a vocation not a job. There are incredible pressures on people to work literally all the time. That can be particularly hard to manage in a society where so much of the other work still supposedly falls to women. Academia, and society more generally, are still not doing enough to recognise the implications of this, or the opportunities offered by working in different ways. But I have a very supportive partner and we are a team. Without that, things would’ve been very different.  

Which women have inspired you in your career?   

I have been inspired by many strong women, in many different ways. In terms of my career, I had a brilliant English teacher at school who was the first person I met who had a real-life PhD and opened my eyes to the fact that you could be a doctor without touching any blood! My mum – sociologist, socialist, teacher, advocate, creative, all-round superhero.  

I’ve spent my lockdowns catching up with some of the people who helped set the path so many of us now walk together – bell hooks, Angela Davies, Audre Lorde, Judith Butler (although they’re non-binary but until they have their own day…..).  

Many of the women I find inspiring, I’ve only met quite recently. Sado Jirde from Black South West Network, Cllr Asher Craig, Bristol’s Deputy Mayor, Alex Raikes from SARI, Hibo Mahamoud from Talo, Kalpna Woolf from 91 Ways and Aisha Thomas from Representation Matters, together with their friends and colleagues across Bristol and beyond. An absolute and somewhat-terrifying force for positive change. And Khadija MeghrawiUoB BME Students’ Officer (amongst other things). Watch out world. She’s just getting started! 

What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self?  

To dream big, be brave and have confidence in your capacity. Remember that life works in mysterious ways, and sometimes a convoluted route is best. 

What are you most proud of?  

I have many things I’m proud of. I’m proud of my contribution to raising our own strong, confident girls – already blazing their own trails. I’m proud to support my students realise their commitment to changing the world. I’m proud to feel that I’ve made a personal contribution to drawing attention to and actually undoing some of the ways in which race and other ‘isms’ impact on the lives of marginalised groups in the UK and elsewhere. I’ve been able to amplify the voices of people who felt unheard and that has been amazing. 

Tackling COVID-19: Dr Lucy Selman

Dr Lucy Selman

As part of our #BristolUniWomen campaign to mark International Women’s Day 2021, we’re meeting women from across the University of Bristol community who have been using their expertise to tackle the pandemic, from carrying out world-class research to helping on the frontline of the NHS. 

Dr Lucy Selman is Founding Director of Good Griefand Senior Research Fellow co-leading the Palliative and End of Life Research Group at the University of Bristol.


Your research has focussed on Covid-19 recently. Could you tell us a little more and the different Covid research projects you are working on?  

I’m a social scientist and for the last 16 years I’ve researched endoflife care and bereavement.  When the pandemic started although I couldn’t help clinically, I wanted to contribute in some way.  Ihas been such a challenging time for people to lose someone, especially when usually they’d be surrounded by support from their family and friends. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, I reviewed existing evidence and risk factors for complex or poor bereavement outcomes in hospital settings, and what this could tell us about how to improve experiences for people bereaved due to COVID-19.  I also worked with a GP colleague on an evidence synthesis on funeral practices, considering the potential impact of restrictions during the pandemic. We found that the benefit of after-death rituals depends on the ability of the bereaved to shape those rituals and say goodbye in a way which is meaningful for them.   

Subsequently, linked up with Dr Emily Harrop and colleagues at Cardiff University to look at the evidence from previous mass bereavement events like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and terrorist attacks Widentified some key features of positive responses, for example, making sure bereavement services are proactively advertised.  

The collaboration worked so well, we successfully applied to UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) via the Economic and Social Research Council, to carry out the first UK-wide study exploring bereavement experiences and support needs during the pandemic, and the impact on bereavement services.  We are currently analysing the baseline survey resultsbut our interim findings have highlighted the difficulties and distress experienced by those whose friends or relatives have died during the pandemic, both prior to the death and in their grief. 

In 2019 I was awarded funding from the Wellcome Trust to run a public engagement festival  about grief, bereavement and loss.  Good Grief was due to run last May, but when the pandemic hit, we transformed the festival into an online event.  It ran for three days in October and was really successful with 9,000 people attending and 4,000 people signing up to access the content afterwards. 

What have been the biggest challenges or triumphs for you during the pandemic? 

As an end-of-life care and bereavement researcher this year has been really busy. One of my biggest challenges has been working from home, trying to retain some kind of worklife balance, and protect time to spend with my kids and partner. That’s been really difficult at times.  

One of my biggest triumphs has been collaborating with so many different people and groups.  The research with colleagues in Cardiff only came about because of the pandemic.   Likewise, Good Grief Festival wouldn’t have been possible without such a collaborative approach 

What is it like being a woman in academia? Have there been times when you have either faced inequality or had to challenge it? 

I’m happy to say that Bristol is very family friendly, flexible place to work, and as someone with children alongside a career I’ve really appreciated that.  It’s great to see women who have children in senior positions But do think that there are sexist biases and assumptions in academiasome of which I have faced It can be more difficult for women to be taken seriously, and that’s true in academia, just as in other walks of life.  As a senior researcher, for example, I’ve been asked to take minutes at meetings, which I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been asked to do if I was a man.  It’s difficult because sexism is often insidious and hidden, and sometimes it’s hard to know whether it’s just somebody being obtuse, or whether there is actually a gender bias.  In many ways I’ve been very lucky as I haven’t faced really serious challenges in my career to date, and there are many strong women leading palliative care research. But there is more to be done to break down barriers to women and people from minority ethnic groups accessing the most senior positions.    

Which women have inspired you in your career?   

The women who have inspired me the most have been collaborative, rather than competitive. They’ve really shown that it’s possible to be supportive, kind and lift people up, but at the same time be academically successful.  I’ve got some great mentors, like Professor Fliss Murtagh at Hull York Medical School, who I used to work with at King’s College London, and Dr Becky Barnes, who was at Bristol but is now at Oxford University.  They have both been really supportive and inspiring. 

What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self? 

Believe in yourself and try not to worry too much about what other people think, because I think a lot of 13yearolds worry about other people’s opinions. 

What are you most proud of? 

Good Grief ipart of really important public conversation, and I’m honoured and delighted we’ve been able to contribute.  I’m very proud to work alongside my colleagues, Dr Lucy Pocock and Dr Charlotte Chamberlain leading the Palliative and End of Life Care Research Group at Bristol.  It’s lovely collaborating with them, supporting each other and running the group together, trying to be as inclusive and supportive as we can and nurture more junior colleagues 

For more information on the study of bereavement during COVID-19, see covidbereavement.com.  

Good Grief Festival – a virtual free festival exploring the many faces of grief – will take place on Saturday 27 and Sunday 28 March.  To register visit goodgrieffest.com. Good Grief is also working with end-of-life charity Marie Curie to host a series of events for the National Day of Reflection on Tuesday 23 March. 

Tackling COVID-19: Prof Sarah Purdy

Prof Sarah Purdy

As part of our #BristolUniWomen campaign to mark International Women’s Day 2021, we’re meeting women from across the University of Bristol community who have been using their expertise to tackle the pandemic, from carrying out world-class research to helping on the frontline of the NHS.

Professor Sarah Purdy, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Student Experience, former Head of the Bristol Medical School and part-time GP. 




What’s it been like managing a University during a global pandemic?  

It’s been incredibly challenging. The uncertainties we’ve all had to face have made decision-making very difficult. I’ve been very aware of the impact this has had on everyone in our community. For staff they have had worries about workload and moving teaching online and, for students they’ve faced financial hardship alongside concerns about their education all combined with the very real health concerns that come with living through a global pandemic.  

There’s been a real sense for me of responsibility for everyone and trying to do the very best for them at the same time as realising that we can’t get it right a lot of time because we just don’t know what’s coming round the corner. We sometimes can’t give people the answers they want and that is particularly frustrating at times.  

I’ve been so proud of our student leaders. Our sabbatical officers this year have been amazing and inspirational. The SU has done a great job in getting things online in terms of support for students. Across the wider university, we have delivered a really good, blended learning experience. Our support services pivoted overnight to provide services online and we’ve had lots of great feedback. We’re all in this together. There’s been a real sense that students want to contribute and do what they can to work with us in making things better 

You also work a GP. Are there any thoughts or insights from that side of your work?  

I’m so proud of what the NHS has done during the pandemic. My contribution is really tiny now. I’m just going in to do one or two sessions a week in general practice, but it’s been great to see how everyone has turned around and delivered services in a different way. Colleagues in hospitals have been doing a great job looking after sick patients. Likewise, in general practice, people have gone the extra mile to make sure patients have really good care despite the fact that it is more difficult to see people face-to-face. I’m amazed at how people have kept going, especially when vaccinations came along. People come in on days off and over weekend. Staff from my practice and others locally gave up their Saturday to help support vaccination clinics for staff at Southmead. That sense of volunteering and community support is inspiring. Everyone is trying to do their bit.  

What’s it like being a woman in academia and have there been times when you’ve faced inequality and had to challenge it?  

I actually can’t think of many times when being a woman in academia felt different to how a male colleague would feel. Maybe its because I work in health and there’s quite a lot of female academics who work in this field. There have been a couple of examples over the years where I’ve had to step up for recognition be that around salary or pushing to get recognition in other ways. I remember when I was Head of the Medical School, I attended a conference, and someone assumed I wasn’t a research active academic, perhaps because I was a woman. I had to say, well actually, I actively contribute to research, teaching and leadership but I wished I had added, ‘because I am a woman’. 

It was great when Judith Squires became part of the senior team. It was a strong signal to me as I’d just started as Head of School at the Medical School. Judith is a real role modeland she is a female academic. We now have Tansy Jessop and Lucinda Parr in the senior team which makes for a really positive gender balance. We also have some fantastic female leaders at this university, and I don’t feel that being a woman in a senior role puts me at a disadvantage at all, maybe it even puts me at an advantage.  

During your life, are there any women who have particularly inspired you?  

I’m covering this at a TheirStories talk I’m giving on Thursday 11 March, so I don’t want to use the same examples. But one woman, who often comes to mind was a psychiatrist I studied under at medical school at Barts Hospital in London. She was incredibly good at her job. She was funny and outspoken. I remember spending time in her clinics and being blown away. She was fearless, often caring for some of the most challenging patients including those in the prison system. Watching her at work was so inspiring. I came from a relatively ordinary background and had never met people like her before. She was so self-assured but in a really good way.  

What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self?  

Be more confident in your abilities. It took me a long to time to feel that I could put myself forward for opportunities, including applying to medical school. Also, say yes to things assuming they are safe and legal! By doing so, you widen your experiences. If someone asks you to speak at a conference or event, go for it! It’s so important to always try something new.  

What are you most proud of?  

I’m really proud of the fantastic medical curriculum colleagues produced and delivered under my leadership as Head of School. I also have three lovely kids and I’m very proud of them.  

Professor Purdy is giving a TheirStories talk for University of Bristol staff and students on Thursday 11 March, from 1pm to 2pm. 

Tackling COVID-19: Dr Emma Williamson

Dr Emma Williamson

As part of our #BristolUniWomen campaign to mark International Women’s Day 2021, we’re meeting women from across the University of Bristol community who have been using their expertise to tackle the pandemic, from carrying out world-class research to helping on the frontline of the NHS. 

Dr Emma Williamson, a Reader in Gender Based Violence and former head of the Centre for Gender and Violence Research, has been working with Women’s Aid to highlight how the pandemic has affected those experiencing domestic violence.


Your research has focussed on the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on domestic abuse. Could you tell us a little more?

We were aware quite early on that any lockdown was likely to have an impact on those experiencing domestic abuse. So we worked quickly and closely with Women’s Aid to look at how they could collect data in order to influence policy. A report called ‘A Perfect Storm’ came out in the summer based on a number of surveys with support services, victims and survivors. We found there was an increase in coercive control, with perpetrators using the restrictions as a tool to stop victims from leaving or seeking help. Many people didn’t realise that domestic abuse was an exemption, so they were worried they would be arrested if they left. This, coupled with a stark increase in homicides during the first six weeks of lockdown, showed there was a major issue. Some of our data was used in a Panorama documentary and we were able to feedback these crucial insights to policy makers.

What have been the biggest challenges or triumphs for you during the pandemic?

The biggest triumph for me was when Boris Johnson announced the second national lockdown and explicitly said that domestic abuse was an exemption. That was amazing and so important. It felt like we’d come a long way from it not being mentioned or discussed, to it being said to the nation by the Prime Minister. That’s testament to the hard work of people in the sector, collecting data and ultimately presenting evidence to the government to show what’s happening on the ground.

What is it like being a woman in academia? Have there been times when you have either faced inequality or had to challenge it? 

There have definitely been times when I’ve been sat in a room as one of the most senior people and there’s been an automatic assumption that I am more junior. I tend not to get it in my day-to-day work thankfully. Because of my area of research, I work with a lot of really great senior women and professors.

I think a lot of female academics experience discrimination, especially those with children. Take lockdown: there’s a lot of evidence that suggests women have picked-up more of the caring responsibilities so I expect we’ll see fewer publications from women because their research activities have been put on the backburner. The gender pay gap is one example, but there are other inequalities in academia that the sector needs to deal with, particularly around ethnicity. Although I think we have come quite a long way, there’s still a long way to go.

Which women have inspired you in your career?  

When I was doing my PhD in the mid-1990s, I travelled to London two or three times a year to attend meetings of the British Sociological Association’s Violence Against Women Research Group. It allowed me to meet the women whose work I’d been reading – the big names in our field of research such as Marianne Hester, Liz Kelly, Betsy Stanko amongst others. I feel lucky that over the years I got to know them and ultimately work with them.

Our PhD students here at Bristol always inspire me. Many are from overseas and have chosen to come to Bristol because of the expertise in the Centre for Gender and Violence Research; they want to take what they’ve learnt here to bring about positive change in their home country. The risk to them as individuals can be quite high but they’re absolutely determined to make a difference. I enjoy learning from them and vice-versa!

And, ultimately, I’m inspired by the bravery and courage shown by every single one of the victims and survivors who I’ve ever spoken to as part of my research.

What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self? 

Not to worry about things you can’t change. When we’re younger, we spend a lot of time when we could spend that energy on other things. It’s easy to get frustrated by everyday things but sometimes you have to accept them and focus on the things that really matter, the things that you can change.

What are you most proud of? 

I’m proud of what myself and colleagues have achieved in the Centre for Gender and Violence Research. Domestic abuse can be a tough area to work in but we know our research makes a difference. The Centre was due to celebrate its 30th birthday in the first lockdown, which obviously didn’t happen, and I guess ultimately it would be nice if our work was no longer needed. But for every step forward, a new challenge presents itself and we need to keep listening to the voices of people who experience domestic abuse and try to make a difference to their lives.

Commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Guest blog by Erandi Barrera Moreno, Secretary of feminist society Women Talk Back!

The Mirabal sisters

On this day in 1960, three sisters – Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa Mirabal – were assassinated in the Dominican Republic. They had been involved in clandestine activities against the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, the country’s president at the time, who ordered their murder. In honour of the sisters, the United Nations General Assembly designated 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in 1999.

Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations in our world today remains largely unreported due to the impunity, silence, stigma and shame surrounding it. According to the UN, one in two women killed worldwide were killed by their partners or family in 2017; while only one out of 20 men were killed under similar circumstances.

To commemorate this sombre occasion, the University’s Women Talk Back! feminist society will host campaigners who have dedicated their lives to ending male violence against women and girls at a public event on 25 November. ‘Feminist Campaigners Talk Back! at the University of Bristol’ invites both the University community and members of the public to listen to and engage with feminists activists as each speaker focuses on different aspects of the interconnected forms male violence against women and girls takes in our society.

At Women Talk Back!, we are insistent on the fact that ending violence against women and girls cannot be a single day event. Creating a world where women are free from violence permeates everything we do as a feminist student society. Throughout November and December, we are hosting workshops, events and writing articles to raise awareness in our community about this crucial issue.

UN Women is running its 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign between 25 November and 10 December, Human Rights Day. The theme for this year is the urgent need to end the plight of rape.

Artwork for UN Women – Violence Against Women: Facts Everyone Should Know.

At Women Talk Back!, we stand in solidarity with all girls and women who have experienced male violence, including rape and intimate partner violence, today and every day.

In order to raise awareness about this issue, we decided to interview one of our sisters to explore our own experiences on this matter. Her name has been redacted to protect her privacy.

Sara and I met on a Thursday at a local coffee shop near the Bristol city centre. Through the windows, you could see people rushing after the rain started pouring during this Autumn afternoon. We had a lengthy discussion about male violence. She said she came across the term a couple of times as she was growing up, but that nobody really talked about it in her family or among her friends. Here’s her story:

“Come to think of it now, I had a cousin, though; Tammy. She was a promising student. All of a sudden she got married and dropped out of school. A few months later she was pregnant with her first child and that was it! She disappeared from our lives because she was a married woman now. One day when my nephew, Tammy’s son, was about two-years-old, they showed up at our house. It was nobody’s birthday, nor a holiday, nor any other ‘special’ occasion, so I was puzzled. She seemed to have just come randomly.

“My mom said Tammy and her son had come to stay with us for some time. I was quite content as I had missed having Tammy around, for she used to live near our house when she was studying. After two days I was beginning to settle with our new routine. I kissed Tammy and my nephew goodbye before I went to school. When I came back they were gone just as they had come, leaving no trace.

“The only thing my mom ever said was that ‘they had to go’. Time went by and it became apparent that her husband was abusive and that visit to our house was one of her attempts at escape.  I felt deeply sorry and powerless. I didn’t know what to do. When this happened, I was a child and didn’t fully understand. After that, I’ve only seen Tammy twice. But everyone in her immediate circle would say ‘if she really wanted to, she could leave’, implying she was stupid, or ‘mentally unwell’, even a sort of masochist.”

Please continue reading on the Women Talk Back! website.

New book features pioneering women from Bristol’s past

Author Jane Duffus. Credit: Jon Craig Photos

Author and alumna Jane Duffus (MA 2008) has just published the second volume of The Women Who Built Bristol, featuring 250 brand new stories of inspiring females who fought tooth and nail to shape our city and the wider world. Olympians rub shoulders with boot makers; suffragists stand beside grocers; scientists are as one with artists.

Here, Jane share the stories of some of the pioneering women with a link to the University of Bristol. Women from volume one are featured in a special blog for International Women’s Day.



ISOBEL POWELL, 1907-1995

While Isobel Artner was working in Paris, she met Professor Cecil Powell, who was a Research Fellow at the University of Bristol. Isobel and Cecil soon fell in love and in 1932 she moved to Bristol to marry him and become his secretary at the University. She later became a microscope scanner in his team. Initially, Isobel was one of only a few microscope scanners (leading a team known as ‘Cecil’s Beauty Chorus’), who checked the plates which had been exposed to cosmic radiation. It was in this way that in 1946 Isobel became responsible for identifying one of the subatomic particles which led to her husband’s 1950 Nobel Prize.

MAY STAVELEY, 1863-1934

When Sir George Wills bought Goldney House in the 1920s as a men’s halls of residence, May Staveley nearly exploded with fury. She was the Tutor to Women Students at the University and the warden of the women’s halls of residence at Clifton Hill, just 16 feet away from Goldney Hall. The risks to her girls’ reputations by having young men sleeping so close by was more than May would stand for, so she threatened to resign. It was purely down to May that there even was a women’s halls of residence in Bristol. The site at Clifton Hill became available in 1909 and, with May’s help, a committee was formed to raise the funds to buy it as a women’s halls of residence.

Alumna Peggy Styles with a photo of Helen Wodehouse


In 1919, Helen Wodehouse came to Bristol where she was the first woman to hold the post of Professor of Education and Head of Department at the University of Bristol. She was also the first woman to hold any professorial chair here. Under her care, the University’s education department became one of the leading education departments in the UK. It is worth noting that, by the time of her death, Helen was still the only woman to have held a professorial chair at the University of Bristol.

Helen features in a series of portraits in the Wills Memorial Building, specially-commissioned to mark 100 years since the first women in Britain won the right to vote.


Geraldine Hodgson became head of the women’s secondary teaching training department at Bristol University College in 1902. In 1911, she was among a group of female graduates who formed the Bristol branch of the British Federation of University Women, which campaigned to see women’s achievements in the workplace treated equally. Her shock dismissal from the University in 1916 appears to have been due to disagreements about salary. And she was justified because, in 1911, Geraldine’s annual salary was £200, while a Mr T Foster with the same job title at the same university in the same year was being paid £400, despite not even having her doctorate.

You can buy The Women Who Built Bristol books via Jane’s website

Towards a gender-balanced community

By Professor Judith Squires, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost

Delve into the historic records of any public institution and you’re likely to find a familiar pattern of gender inequality. Thankfully, recent trends show an encouraging move towards greater inclusivity.

While a great deal of work still remains to be done, and indeed underpins our commitment to redressing the balance across the University and the HE sector, it’s illuminating to look back so that in planning for the future, we’re both inspired and motivated to do better.

Professor Judith Squires holding a photo of Winifred Shapland – the first female Registrar of any British university.

You may have seen our recent Vote 100 campaign in which we honoured the lives of notable female figures who not only shaped the history of the University, but of the world. If you missed it, I invite you to take a look at this remarkable and long overdue celebration of activists, pioneers and researchers without whom, society would undoubtedly be lacking.

It’s a legacy that we’re determinedly building upon. In fact, Bristol has strong roots from which to grow – we were the first higher education institute in England to admit women on an equal basis to men and we’re one of the founder members of the Royal Society Athena SWAN Charter, which recognises the sector’s commitment to advancing and promoting women’s careers.

Senior female leaders gather to mark International Women’s Day 2019

I’m proud to be able to say that I am among a growing number of female appointees at the University of Bristol. Today, we make up over half (55%) of the University’s total workforce and women account for a third of the senior team.

This is testament to the work we’ve been doing to build a diverse and inclusive environment in which talented individuals from all backgrounds, heritages and gender are supported and promoted to thrive.

This week, as part of the celebrations for International Women’s Day, I attended the second launch event of our Women’s Mentoring Network through which we plan to extend the influence of our female workforce.

It’s heartening that more than 250 female members of staff have already signed up to be part of the Network. They will be instrumental to shaping the future of the project, which in the spirit of equal opportunity, we intend to open to men as well. In these early stages though, our focus is on developing a strong platform where individual peer support and group mentoring can support people’s ambitions and ensure that as a University, we’re providing the right opportunities.

Staff at the University gather with Registrar Lucinda Parr for International Women’s Day 2019

That means ensuring that everyone, of all backgrounds, has access to those opportunities, which is why we’re also piloting a Bristol version of the Aurora leadership development programme. Run by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, the programme is open to all people who identify as a woman, and aims to enable more women to develop the skills they need to climb the proverbial ladder and so address the underrepresentation of women at senior levels in the HE sector.

I’m glad to say that the programme has attracted so much attention that we’ve decided to fund a parallel scheme to ensure that no-one misses out. Our Female Leadership Initiative serves the same purpose as the Aurora programme – and adds to the growing list of initiatives through which we’re actively driving for gender balance in the sector and across the world.

It’s initiatives like these that nurture talent and a strong sense of community, which demonstrate how much the momentum is building to change the professional landscape for the better.

Thanks to a strong legacy and the growing pool of talented and ambitious people in our midst, we’re making huge strides towards becoming a more gender balanced institution. By working together, and by adding our voice to those of millions of others around the world as part of International Women’s Day, we’ve every reason to believe that we can go even further.

The Women Who Built Bristol (University)

Guest blog by Jane Duffus (MA 2008), author of The Women Who Built Bristol, for International Women’s Day 2019

Jane Duffus. Credit Jon Craig Photos

When asked to share some stories of amazing university women who make up some of the 250 entries in my book The Women Who Built Bristol, I was spoiled for choice. Which is a great problem to have. So rather than share some of the better known stories (of women such as Nobel Prize winner Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, registrar Winifred Shapland, or the university’s first female chair Helen Wodehouse), I’ve picked some women who are maybe a little more obscure… although no less magnificent.

Alongside Marian Pease and Emily Pakeman, Amy Bell was one of the first three women to earn a scholarship to the then-new University College, Bristol in 1876. Thanks to her university education, Amy went on to become a stockbroker. And while her sex made it impossible for her to work inside the London Stock Exchange, Amy set up an office close by and operated successfully from there.

Alongside Amy, was 17-year-old Marian Pease who, in the spring of 1876 had been due to sit the London University Women’s entrance exams… but an attack of scarlet fever got in the way. In compensation, her parents allowed her to apply for one of the three scholarships to Bristol. Describing her commute to the university, Marian wrote: “I left home a few minutes after eight o’clock carrying my heavy bag of books – there were no lockers there – walked across Durdham Down, met Amy Bell who came in a cab from Stoke Bishop and then we took the horse tram from the bottom of Blackboy Hill to the top of Park Street … The journey had its difficulties on dark, wet and windy winter mornings and afternoons.”

Marian later became Mistress of Method at the Day Training College on Berkeley Square. She took a keen interest in the girls she tutored and one wrote of her: “She was to us a new kind of person. Everything seemed turned upside-down as there unfolded before our astonished eyes a new and larger world of mind and spirit than any we could have imagined.”

Mary Paley Marshall. Reproduced with the kind permission of the Marshall Librarian.

Marian was inspired by Mary Paley Marshall, who was the first female lecturer at the University of Bristol in 1878 and co-founded the economics department with her fiancé Alfred Marshall; the progressive couple agreed to remove the word “obey” from their marriage vows to show their equality. Mary had already proved herself academically by being one of the first five students to study at the all-female Newnham College at Cambridge… although being a woman she was unable to graduate. However, this didn’t stop Newnham from later enlisting Mary as its first-ever female lecturer.

The Fry family were big players in Bristol owing to their successful chocolate factories, and Norah Fry was born into this dynasty. She went on to be one of the first female Cambridge scholars to graduate with the equivalent of a double first, and would become a founder member of the University of Bristol’s Council in 1909. However, Norah used her combined powers of wealth and education for good, and became a lifelong campaigner for children with disabilities and learning difficulties. The Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies at the University of Bristol was established in 1988.

For more than 40 years, Dr Vicky Tryon cycled around Bristol doing her rounds. Vicky had been born in Bristol and attended the University of Bristol, where she became Woman President of the Union in 1919. However, she was far from a demure character. This is one description of a degree ceremony Vicky attended: “Singing and shouting interrupted the proceedings and on one occasion a hen was let loose to fly over the heads of the assembled students and dignitaries.”

Like other women who were attempting to forge careers in medicine in the early 1920s, Vicky was met with misogyny upon graduation. After applying for the post of House Surgeon at the General Hospital, Vicky was only offered the job if she promised to call one of the male doctors if there was any difficulty. It took 24 hours of hand-wringing before she reluctantly agreed. However, Vicky was to prove herself so capable and skilled in the role that the hospital then made a point of only appointing women to that position in the future.

You can buy The Women Who Built Bristol on Jane’s website. Volume two will be published in October 2019.