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28 November 2017

Q&A – Student success at Forward Ladies National Awards

PhD student, Fatima Vayani, from the Department of Informatics, has been nominated for a Forward Ladies Rising Star Award for her work in promoting women in STEM. Fatima won the Corporate Rising Star Award for London and the South region and is soon to find out if she has won an award nationally.

Fatima Vayani
Fatima Vayani

We are incredibly proud of Fatima and the work she has done so we invited her to tell us all about the award and where she’s headed next.

Fatima, tell us a bit about your area of study at King’s College London.

My background is in biology, but I decided to hang up my lab coat and pursue a career in computational biology. My research area falls in the intersection of biology, mathematics and computer science. More specifically, I design algorithms to analyse or manipulate genomic sequences, which includes error correction during genome assembly, sequence alignment and DNA motif discovery.

What was your role in KCL Women in STEM (WiSTEM) and what did it involve?

I joined the society in its infancy as Events Officer and after a few months decided to nominate myself for the role of President. I managed a committee of 20 wonderful women, divided into teams for events, activism, finance, outreach and social media.

During the year, we organised several large events with inspiring women in academia, tech and physics; as well as smaller social events, not only for students but for academic and professional services staff too. The event that I was most proud of was BMEWiSTEM, an evening of lightning talks and acts by black and minority ethnic women in STEM at King’s. We had an incredible variety of talks about research, study, personal and work experiences, as well as poetry recital and stand up comedy! Hosting the evening is something that I will never forget.

Apart from events, we were kindly given the opportunity to be involved in departmental and faculty-level equality and diversity committees within the Faculty of Natural & Mathematical Sciences (NMS), by whom decisions are made on matters such as the application process for the Women in Science scholarship offered by the faculty.

Due to the tremendous amount of support we received from NMS, the university, KCLSU, and the wider community, we were able to get involved in many amazing opportunities  This included hosting outreach events at schools and the university, and giving presentations at other universities.

I plan to continue to be a part of WiSTEM in an advisory capacity, and hope to host BMEWiSTEM 2018!

Which award were you nominated for and why?

Forward Ladies National Awards, sponsored by HSBC, recognises and celebrates women in business in the UK. Upon my nomination for the STEM Rising Star Award, I had to submit an application detailing why I may have been nominated. The judges who reviewed my application decided to move me to the Corporate category, and to my surprise, I was shortlisted for the Corporate Rising Star Award for London and the South region. The judges recognised that managing a committee of 20 women, alongside doing my research, was (almost) like running a small business!

I was honoured to be shortlisted amongst incredible, and much more deserving women, including Jennifer Stevens (Senior Learning & Development Manager at LEGOLAND Windsor Resort), Louise Mackin (Head of HR at Roper Rhodes Ltd), Maria Ursu (HR Business Partner at Vodafone Group Services Ltd) and Farzana Faz (Consultant Family Solicitor at Saracens Solicitors). 

In September, I found out I had won!

What happened next?

A few weeks ago, I was invited to an interview day in HSBC’s commercial centre in Manchester. I was interviewed for half an hour by Jan Flawn CBE (Founder of PJ Care), Rachel Hannan (an angel investor) and Mandy Garner (Head of HR for HSBC UK) for the next round of the awards, in which a national winner will be decided from all of the regional winners. The awards ceremony is taking place on Friday 1 December - wish me luck! I must say, however, that in my mind, I had won more than I could imagine the day I was shortlisted. 

What inspires you to work in this area?

I have been extremely fortunate to have parents who have encouraged and supported me to pursue my passion since a young age, despite this being an exception in my culture and wider family. They put me in a position where I had absolutely no barriers to achieve my goals. My undergraduate studies were in biology at Queen Mary, University of London, where my class was diverse in both gender and ethnicity.

It was not until I switched to computer science that I noticed a problem. I vividly remember my first conference, the Symposium on Experimental Algorithms in Paris, and being both the only female presenting a paper and only one of three females and two people of colour in the audience. When I brought this up during the conference dinner, I was told this was normal, and that did not sit well with me. Upon my return, I got in touch with Dr. Liz Black in the Department of Informatics whilst she was helping to set up WiSTEM, and the rest is history! Though I have a less formal role in WiSTEM itself now, I am actively involved in similar initiatives through social media - check out my Instagram profile @PhDomics to find out more!

Fatima added:

‘I am honoured to be in the midst of women who I look up to and who are much more deserving of recognition. I would like to thank the person that nominated me anonymously - it is because of you that my hard work has been recognised on a larger scale than I could have imagined and I have been able to meet accomplished and inspiring women.’

We congratulate Fatima on her award and wish her luck in the next round.