Branch committee participation is helping me break down barriers

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I joined the IOP as a first-year undergraduate student at Lancaster University in 2003, but my volunteering experiences are very recent, mostly being involved on the committee scale in the past six months.

Following a MSc at Durham, I returned to Lancaster in 2008 for a PhD in particle cosmology, completing that in 2013 and staying on as a teaching assistant, which has involved teaching seminars for the Universe As An Art course, running a cosmology-themed project, and, lately, getting back into some research. It’s the latter that I’m hoping to do full time, alongside continuing my disability- and diversity-support work.

The outreach-related work I undertook at a department level was very satisfying, and helped me overcome some of my own confidence-related issues, which stem from being very self conscious and anxious about having epileptic seizures in front of people during my teens, and developed social skills that I have found useful in my studies, such as those needed for research presentations and for things such as teaching. Becoming involved in the IOP branch committee is already expanding these skills even further.

I used to be involved with running adapted-access tours on open and interview days for the department for people with disabilities (both the potential student or their accompanying guests), something I originally started running myself informally after noticing it would be useful. I would offer this for a full range of disabilities, both mental and physical, using my own experiences as a student with disabilities and as someone with friends with a range of disabilities to provide guidance and advice.

It was through running these tours for several years, as well as being involved in the physics department’s meeting for the report on disability diversity inclusivity in June 2016, that led to me joining the Lancashire and Cumbria Branch’s committee in December 2016. I was co-opted specifically as the diversity representative, drawing on my experiences as a woman with disabilities in physics, as well as being dual national British–Italian.

I am in general very open about my own disabilities, in the hopes of encouraging more people to feel able to discuss their own, and, if need be, find the necessary support. I received a lot of support from my department from the moment I started university, and the positive experiences and attitudes that I was met with really shaped my own with regard to wanting to get involved in the support side of things, and pay things forward a bit.

I have borderline Asperger’s syndrome, petit-mal epilepsy (now thankfully in remission), chronic eczema, and in October 2016 was identified as having a high risk of developing acute angle glaucoma, so had to have surgery for that. I’ve encountered, via friends, a mix of disabilities from autistic spectrum disorders, dyslexia, dyspraxia, fibromyalgia, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, severe scoliosis, and numerous others. I try to listen, learn, and support as best I can, which in turn helps me support current and prospective physics students.

Joining the committee was something suggested to me by a friend, who’s the current branch secretary, and it was one of those lightbulb moments for me. It was a logical next step for me, enriching and supplementing the work I do within the physics department, as well as now trying to reach a wider audience as to why encouraging more women and people with disabilities to pursue a career in physics.

Anyone can study physics if you’re interested in it. It doesn’t matter what gender you are, whether you have a disability, what the colour of your skin or ethnic background is, or what religion you follow. There are, sadly, still a lot of stigmas in different areas, which really should be banished. If education, understanding, support, and encouragement are provided and spread, then these barriers can finally be broken down.

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Francesca Doddato

Francesca Doddato

Francesca is a teaching assistant at Lancaster University and a member of the IOP Lancashire and Cumbria Branch committee
Francesca Doddato

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