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Celebrating International Women's Day 2022

Reading Time 7 minutes
Date 7 March 2022

Which women have inspired you?

This is the question we put to staff from the University of Dundee for International Women’s Day 2022. We were both amazed and humbled by the response. We hope you are inspired by these stories and that it encourages you to think about all the women who have had a profound impact on your own life. #BreakTheBias #InternationalWomensDay2022

Dr Margi Vilnay

Dr Margi Vilnay
Lecturer in Structural Engineering and Director of Public Engagement and Outreach for the school of Science and Engineering at the University of Dundee.

Margi has enjoyed a varied career to date having been the programme leader for the BSc(Hons) in Civil Engineering at Abertay University, a specialist consulting engineer in the oil and gas industry and an EU funded researcher into protection of historic structures amongst others. Margi is a Chartered Engineer, is on the local Institution of Civil Engineers committee, is the Vice Chair of the Council of Military Education Committees and is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. In her job, Margi enjoys lecturing and bringing theory to life with practical examples and tasks. Margi’s research focuses on using advanced numerical methods for finding structural response during events, such as earthquakes, blast and impact. Margi is committed to increasing the number of young people engaging in STEM, in particular, the number of women entering the engineering profession. She has led a number of initiatives in those areas, including the first International Women in Engineering Day events in Dundee and female mentoring schemes.

Who Inspires you?

Hertha Ayrton (1854 – 1923).

Hertha Ayrton
Portrait of Hertha Ayrton by Héléna Arsène Darmesteter, Girton College, University of Cambridge; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

There are so many inspiring trailblazing women who, with tenacity, persistence and fortitude paved the way for all of us to thrive in our chosen paths. For this International Women Day, I’m going to choose an engineering-related role model; the inspirational British engineer, mathematician, physicist and inventor Phoebe Sarah Hertha Ayrton (1854 – 1923), known as Hertha Ayrton. Despite her father dying when she was seven and having to help take care of her eight siblings, she was able to develop her passion for science and mathematics with help from extended family. Hertha attended Girton College, Cambridge, where she studied mathematics and although she passed the Mathematical Tripos in 1880 she was not granted her academic degree because, at the time, Cambridge gave only certificates (not full degrees) to women!! Hertha passed an external examination at the University of London, which awarded her a Bachelor of Science degree in 1881.

Throughout her life, Hertha published papers, registered patents and was a trailblazer for other women. In 1899, she was the first woman ever to read her own paper before the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE) and was the first female to be elected as a member of the IEE. Hertha was also the first woman to win a prize from the Royal Society, the Hughes Medal, however, as a woman she was not allowed to present her paper before the society and a male colleague had to present on her behalf.

Her contribution to science is widely recognised and led the British Association for the Advancement of Science to allow women to serve on general and sectional committees.

Professor Kim Dale

Professor Kim Dale
Professor Kim Dale is Assistant Vice Principal International for the University of Dundee

Professor Kim Dale is Assistant Vice Principal International for the University of Dundee, Associate Dean International and a research scientist in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Dundee. Kim is also a guest professor at Taylors University. She did undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in England and then did a postdoc in France and the USA before coming to Dundee to establish her own research group in 2005 as a Royal Society University Research Fellow. Kim is an internationally renowned leading scientist in the role and regulation of the Notch signalling pathway which plays essential roles during vertebrate development, and which also underlies many diseases. Kim’s lab studies the molecular mechanisms that underlie and regulate how the vertebrate body plan is established during very early stages of embryogenesis using a variety of different animal models. One aspect of this is how we build our skeleton.

Who Inspires you?

Professor Marysia Placzek
Professor Marysia Placzek.

Professor Marysia Placzek. She was my PhD supervisor who has an electric enthusiasm for science, a love of life and is a wonderful caring and personable supervisor. I was her first PhD student as she was setting up her lab. She developed in me a love of and respect and yearning for robust critical analytical approaches to doing good science - she taught me that asking clear and important questions is the key to success. She became mother of 4, a school governor, Deputy Director of an MRC centre and still remained very humble and ready to promote and support her lab past and present. She attended every school event for her children. She left at 4 to be there for them and oversee homework. She took 2 weeks holiday with the family without fail every summer. She made a true work life balance that worked. She remains to this day my science hero.

Professor Iain Gillespie

Professor Iain Gillespie
Professor Iain Gillespie is the Principal and Vice Chancellor of Dundee University.

I am the Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University, graduating with a PhD in Microbiology from Edinburgh in 1986. During my career I have worked in the biotechnology industry, the UK and international civil services, the UK research councils and four different universities. My work has taken me to all continents of the world; however you define them, and over 60 countries. Perhaps my major contribution was to coin the concept of a “Bioeconomy”, which has had wide impact across the world in helping frame how the biosciences remain pivotal to our common future.

Who Inspires you?

Professor Joyce Tait440
Professor Joyce Tait

Professor Joyce Tait is Funding Director of the Innogen Institute at the University of Edinburgh. She brings an incredibly rich interdisciplinary background to all that she does and amongst her many, many accolades Joyce has just stepped down from her membership (the only Scot) of the P rime Minister’s Council on Science and Technology – the country’s leading advisory committee on science. I have worked with Joyce over the past almost thirty years in my various roles. Joyce has been my biggest supporter throughout. She has given me confidence when I doubted myself (often!) and rekindled my enthusiasm whenever it has waned. She has inspired and supported me and I can say unequivocally that I would never have achieved a professorship, Fellowship of the RSE or my roles as PVC and VC without her confidence in me and support for me. In her 80s and still incredible active, Joyce continues to help me see that there is always that little more we can achieve if we set out mind to it!

Professor John Rowan

Professor John Rowan

I have long standing interests in the natural world and the role of humans as agents of planetary change. I have collaborated with research partners and taught with multiple generations of students over the past 30 years examining the effects of climate change and land use pressures on environmental systems - especially in context of issues like soil erosion and water quality. Many of my best postdoctoral researchers and postgraduate research students have been women.

Who Inspires you?

Professor Joy Tivy
Professor Joy Tivy.

As an undergraduate in Geography at the University of Glasgow I had wonderful opportunity to do my dissertation project in the 1980s (ahem) under Professor Joy Tivy, a world renowned biogeographer and charismatic and compelling evangelist for geography. She was best known for her leading textbooks (see photo) and support for her students - she was the second female to be awarded a professorship in the University of Glasgow in 1976. In recognition of her achievements the Royal Scottish Geographical Society established the 'Joy Tivy Medal' in her honour for 'recognition of an outstanding contribution to geographical education'. She is much missed.

Professor Esther Sammler

Professor Esther Sammler
Professor Esther Sammler

I am a clinician-scientist and my work focuses on Parkinson's disease. I love my job because as a clinical neurologist I can have a direct impact on people's lives by treating their conditions or offering clinical trial opportunities. As a scientist, I work as part of a dedicated team in the MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit at the University of Dundee to understand the causes of Parkinson's disease and translate this knowledge from bench to bedside to develop biomarkers and identify novel targets for disease modification. I have 2 daughters who go to primary school and I hope that they can be inspired to be passionate about STEM and medicine.

Who Inspires you?

Professor Hannah Monyer
Professor Hannah Monyer

Professor Dr. Hannah Monyer is an influential neuroscientist at the University of Heidelberg and Gottfried Willhelm Leibniz price recipient, which is the most important research award in Germany. Her research focuses on studying specialised cells in our brain, GABAergic neurone and their role in controlling synchronous neuronal network activity, a prerequisite for most higher brain functions, in particular memory. I was fascinated by her work and started my first job as a newly qualified junior doctor in her lab rather than in the hospital. She has been an inspiration ever since because of her curious intellect, her all-encompassing passion for art, music, science, different cultures and languages, her efforts to make science accessible to lay audiences and for her kindness. I find particularly appealing that she has a medical degree and that despite her versatility she is an incredibly focused and successful scientist.

We hope you enjoyed these stories from Dundee Science Centre's International Women's Day 2022 Celebration. For more information relating to female achievement in science see our Women In STEM page.

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Also see more postings at in the Dundee Science Centre Blog.