40 years of coeducation at Trinity

The annual Trinity Weekend for college alumni had a special theme this year, marking 40 years since women were admitted to the college in 1979.

As part of the weekend’s events, a series of lectures and talks showcased the work of some of the college’s female fellows, Old Members and postgraduates, exploring the impact of Trinity women and some of their journeys while at college and since leaving.

Saturday 21 September saw a full day of varied academic and professional talks and activities, with featured lectures by Professorial Fellow Dame Frances Ashcroft and Tutorial Fellows Charlotte Williams and María Blanco.

Professor Ashcroft gave a wide-ranging lecture about her decades-long work on diabetes, particularly her seminal discovery of the missing link of electrical impulses in pancreatic beta sells connecting an increase in blood sugar levels to secretion of the hormone insulin. She touched on the role of teamwork in any major scientific discovery, the excitement of seeing her work making a concrete impact on people’s lives in her own lifetime, and made a powerful case for the Royal Society motto Nullius in verba (‘take nobody’s word for it’) – do not assume something doesn’t exist or cannot be done until you have tried your own investigations and looked at the evidence.

Professor Williams gave an impassioned talk about her work with polymers and trying to derive plastics from renewable sources. In her lab work and through her spin-off company Econic Technologies she is using catalysts that allow carbon dioxide to be used in polymer materials ranging from building insulation foam to the soles of shoes. She spoke passionately about the need to decarbonise the energy sector and the processes that produce polymer materials, as well as integrating the production of bio-based plastics and packaging into food production itself.

Professor Blanco gave an overview of her work looking at fin-de-siècle Latin American periodicals and the depictions of progress and ageing in Spanish America. Her work argues that the period represented a crisis of age and ageing in culture, and the interest in popular science and the development of technologies (such as the emerging field of geriatrics on the one hand and the innovation of baby incubators on the other) also represented a critique of Northern cultures and a dark side of progress itself.

Left to right: Dame Frances Ashcroft, Professor Charlotte Williams, and Professor María Del Pilar Blanco

Another series of micro-talks later in the day featured a mixture of Old Members and current postgraduates talking about their work, and featured a wide array of insights about topics from the declining proportion of women in the Royal Navy to the challenges of working at the interface of law and mental health in forensic psychiatry.

Old members Sarah Oakley, Claire Grogan and Harriet Hunt Grubbe talked about their career trajectories after studying at Trinity, from rising up the ranks as one of the Royal Navy’s most senior female officers to researching the gendering of literary genres and working with mentally disordered offenders within a prison system in need of reform, respectively.

Current doctoral students Kome Gibinigie and Tinashe Chandauka gave presentations about their work in healthcare science, investigating alternatives to antibiotic prescribing to reduce resistance; and identifying strategies to improve patient safety – particularly maternal mortality rates – in South African obstetric hospitals.

Finally, Professorial Fellow Marta Kwiatkowska gave a fascinating lecture on her work in computer systems and model checking, applying it to the question of when to trust a self-driving car and the systems integral to intelligent vehicles.

The weekend also featured professional development sessions in presentation skills and mastering the art of negotiation; a lecture by Tutorial Fellow Bryan Ward-Perkins on his work researching the development of the Christian Cult of Saints; and informal activities for Old Members and their families.

Around 150 Old Members plus guests attended the weekend, including more than 80 female alumni.

Posted: 23 September 2019