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Women in Science

Hazel is a materials scientist who works in polymer science. After completing her undergraduate degree in natural sciences at Cambridge University she also went on to study for her PhD there. Hazel gained a lectureship at Oxford University two years into her postdoc and has been working at Oxford University for over 20 years.

Hazel Assender

BACKGROUND

at the time of the interview - 2017

Hazel is a materials scientist who works in academia. She has worked at Oxford University for over 20 years, which she has balanced with other family commitments. Hazel has two teenage children. Whilst Hazel enjoys working in scientific research on “real world problems”, she has noticed that gender bias sometimes impacts her field in multiple and often subtle ways. 

EXTENDED BIOGRAPHY

at the time of the interview -  2017

Hazel is a material scientist who works in polymer science. Hazel pursued the sciences from a young age as she found them “rewarding and interesting”. After completing her undergraduate degree in natural sciences at Cambridge University, Hazel went on to study for her PhD at Cambridge as she enjoyed the research and “the discovery”. Hazel gained a lectureship at Oxford University two years into her postdoc and has been working there for over 20 years.

Hazel feels that gender bias remains an issue in science in general, and is something people are often unaware of. She feels that whilst legislation around equality of opportunities exists, this does not apply to situations such as forming collaborations. There have also been times when she has sat on hiring and conference panels and mentioned that no women have been shortlisted. She has found that sharing such observations has been well received, but at other times has been ignored.

So a number of people have said, “You can’t possibly be an academic on a part time contract,” as an example, well they’re not right. So avoid the sweeping statements. You are you and you’ll take the path that you’re taking.

Much of the research Hazel works on is linked to industry. Hazel thinks this is important as she is motivated by “real world problems”. Hazel has found that in industry there are more noticeable gender imbalances. She has noticed that there are fewer women working at a senior level in industry than in academia.

Hazel has had experiences of people suggesting that positive discrimination could favour women and disadvantage men in hiring procedures. She has had a candidate call her a “token woman” and suggest that her opinion “wouldn’t count”. Hazel has noticed that sometimes gender may impact working relationships in subtle ways, such as women not being included in introductory greetings and hand-shaking.

Hazel has had both good and bad experiences when pregnant and throughout her time as a working mother. When she was pregnant, she found that whilst some people were very accommodating and tried to organise collaborations that would work for her, others raised questions about her capacity to work on future projects.

Hazel has worked at 80% full time since her second child was born, and generally manages to maintain this. Her husband also changed to part-time work to help with childcare. One problem Hazel finds with working part time and managing her family responsibilities is with going to events such as conferences that may involve travel over several days.

Whilst there have been other options for different roles both within and outside of her university, Hazel has stayed in her job for several reasons. Family commitments; her children’s schooling and caring for elderly relatives have been a factor, but she enjoys her work due to the “quality of the people” and the opportunities it has given her. Ethnic background: White British.