Professor Valerie Gibson OBE is head of the High Energy Physics Research Group at the Cavendish Laboratory and the University’s Gender Equality Champion for STEMM.
Building on a long research career at CERN searching for new phenomena in the universe , Professor Gibson is a founding member of the newly-funded Atom Interferometric Observatory and Network (AION) project, which will use ultra-cold atom interferometry to search for ultra-light dark matter and detect gravitational waves in an as yet unexplored frequency range.
On International Women’s Day, Professor Gibson, who was made OBE for services to Science, Women in Science and Public Engagement in the New Year Honours 2021, reflects on her experience and offers some advice to women in any field.
How important is it to inspire young women to aim high?
It is important for all women to be inspired by others. I take a lot of inspiration from my own daughters who follow their own career paths and interests. I have had many small personal highs, such as finishing a book, a calculation, giving a lecture, or hiking a mountain, and I am proud of every one of them.
In recent times I have had the opportunity to reflect on the major highs and those who have helped me achieve them. Role models opened my eyes to what is possible. Mentors were invaluable to provide advice. Sponsors were important to provide support.
What is the one key skill, mindset or characteristic that has enabled you to succeed in your extra-curricular field?
My general tips for empowerment and success are: believe in yourself, have a positive attitude, and strive for quality and not quantity. Other characteristics that have helped me are common sense and an ability to listen. As the University’s Gender Equality Champion, I am passionate about equality of opportunity for all and diversity in all its respects. My life experiences and a desire for the next generations not to have to face any barriers or biases provide the impetus to achieve these goals.
What is the most important thing that other women could learn from what you have achieved?
Life has its ups and downs … enjoy the highs and ride the downs. It is also important to do what you enjoy, whether it is in your education, career or extra-curricular field.
Has your success changed what you will do next?
Success has given me a small platform from which to try and influence, and share my knowledge and experience. I will continue to follow all my passions in the future: scientific research, championing women in science and public engagement. Who knows where they will lead … maybe another high?