Professor Dame Athene Donald

Professor Dame Athene Donald

Professor Athene Donald

The award-winning British physicist Athene Donald speak to about her journey as a student and the problems she face as a woman in science.

Professor Athene Donald was not that kind of child who suddenly saw something on television and decided to do science. Her interest began in school, she went to an all girls school and started to talk about physics when she was 13 years old.

She had a really good physics teacher who had been able to keep her excited, and she really enjoy the subject she did in the school, she felt that physics was what she want to do from that time. So she went to Cambridge to study nature studies specializing in physics, then went to Cornell University in the States. Her supervisor suggested she look into an academic career during her second Postdoc.

“I didn’t think of doing an academic career until i was in my late 20s, I am the generation which really encourage girls to think about careers so although I wish to go to the university, but didn’t really think beyond that,”

After she finished her second Phd degree, she returned back to Cambridge with fellowships, since then she has been teaching physics at the University of Cambridge.

“ i don’t think I was actually thinking about a career, I was doing the next thing that came along.”

After pursued a career in academic, she realised that this is a wonderful job to have, because the fact that keep learning new things and look at the new challenges. “ I think a great thing about the university science, probably much more than I earn than industry science , because I had a freedom to choose what I work on subject to funding, and people.”

Even Though Professor Donald think it is a wonderful job to have, but she still faces stresses and difficulties. “These day I was so stressed being a senior woman you are asked to do so many different committees, it’s very hard to feel you are doing a good job at everything.”

It is hard to have a personal life as well. “ Being a working mother I always felt torn and demands of the family, demands of the job.”

Her husband automatically give up his career and became the primary care of their two children, “It is very difficult decision to make for any couple for how to do that, but it’s so difficult to find a job, academic jobs for two people in the same place.”

There are numbers of women who drop out their science career, and the amount of women entering STEM is increasing but slowly. How does this happen? Professor Donald said there are many different reasons,

“I always believed it’s likely to be a lot of small things which people find significant, but something just felt far more trouble than they were. I think it’s partly difficult balancing career and family, but also the feeling that you are not taking as seriously as a man, such as you are not suggested to give a talk about some papers, or one of your professors chooses someone else, all of these little things may not matter, but many women think it’s just not worth it.”

She mentioned that the amount of women start doing STEM subjects is increasing but slowly, “we will see more women succeeding in particularly in a subject like mine, which is physics.”

Professor Donald suggests women who want pursuing their career in science should workout what is the most important enjoy, and then try to able to progress it. “I think the important thing is to work and work out the importance of enjoyment.”

Professor Donald currently enjoys her spare time in writing blogs about women in science. Athene Donald’s Blog (

Photo credit: The Institute of Physics on Flickr

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