Many initiatives have been undertaken to promote entrepreneurial spirit amongst women scientists, but very few can boast of doing so in a concerted manner between Oxford and Cambridge.. The RisingWISE programme is a new Oxbridge network fostering long-term relationships between enterprising early-career researchers and women working in industry, emboldening these women to move beyond gender stereotypes and confidently build careers across the science and technology sector.
The RisingWISE programme was spread across three weekends between November 2018 and January 2019, in Oxford and Cambridge. More than 60 women, actively engaged in academic and industrial research, came together with a will to network and grow their personal and business ideas into a solid plan of action. The workshops were designed to inspire and strengthen the Oxbridge Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) network, to offer mentoring and leadership skills, and to help all participants to enhance their confidence and learn techniques that could be employed in their own working environments. In addition, it provided a platform for women in academia to interact with their peers in industry, in order to build future collaborations.
Despite having just finished a long working week, the participants came fully prepared to engage in in-depth discussions and hands-on workshops that across the whole weekend. Additionally,the participants had the unique opportunity to visit start-ups and entrepreneurial spaces spread across Oxford and Cambridge, with a detailed account of the resources and support available in these local hubs. All participants were divided into small groups with facilitators and mentors, who worked alongside them during the entire course of the workshop. The beautiful settings of Madingley Hall in Cambridge and Egrove Park in Oxford lent an extra stroke of magic to the event, while the bus journeys between Oxford and Cambridge served as added time to interact and exchange ideas.
Key highlights of the event included a plethora of engaging talks on confidence boosting, networking and negotiating skills, combined with workshops on writing impact statements, defending proposals and pitching ideas to a larger audience. In addition, there were a slew of talks by successful women entrepreneurs sharing their personal narratives of triumphs and tribulations.
The first day at Cambridge focused mainly on exploring and comparing the mindsets of a researcher versus an entrepreneur, and encouraged one and all to focus on a long-term mission statement. This was followed by a networking session for women in academia and industry, over drinks and dinner. The second day aimed to encourage active listening and putting one’s best foot forward, using very creative group exercises (including dancing!). Post-lunch, all women worked together in small cohorts to discuss their vision and paths to impact. The day concluded with a session on collaboration –how to achieve and maintain good collaborations and be an effective collaborator.
Highlights of the second weekend in Oxford involved promoting authentic leadership and negotiating skills. Group exercises served as a good vantage point to discuss personal achievements and reflect upon difficult situations faced by individuals in their professional life. A considerable amount of time was spent on contemplation and deliberation of personal goals set by each participant.
The final weekend in Oxford commenced with a number of inspiring talks, followed by networking drinks and a formal dinner for all participants at Egrove Park. On the last day, there were group sessions centred on celebrating success stories and sharing experiences as well as talks on how to manage the media and use it effectively to promote one’s endeavors. Post-lunch, group strategies and team building were put to the test, when teams were asked to pitch a start-up idea in the form of an elevator pitch. The workshop ended with a promise to meet again in six months, to discuss each individual’s plan of action and to exchange notes on the impact of the work done as a collective.
Overall, the workshop helped foster new collaborations between women in academia and industry, and reconfirmed the special relationship shared between Cambridge and Oxford. One last parting thought that dominated the participants’ minds was that the workshop should continue to empower more women in the years to come.
This workshop was sponsored by EPSRC, and designed and developed collaboratively between MPLS Enterprise and OPDA Cambridge.
Sonia Muliyil is a Post-Doctoral research fellow in Matthew Freeman’s lab at the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology. She was also an attendee of the first-ever RisingWISE workshop.