Women in Mathematics – Putting the = into equality

Celebrating Women in Mathematics day

All of the women who have contributed to this article work in the Data Science team for NIHR CLAHRC Wessex. They are based at the University of Southampton and the city’s General Hospital, but their expertise comes from across the globe – making our research truly world class


Marion Penn – Research Fellow in Operational Research in our Data Science team

I’ve always enjoyed maths, I like the feeling when I get to the answer and that there is a correct answer. I have mild/moderate dyslexia, so language based subjects were harder work for me at school, increasing the appeal of maths.

Marion on Coll
This was me on the Hebridean Island of Coll in the late 1980’s, very close to where Mari Hederwick wrote the Katy Moorag books.

When I came to choosing my degree subject it took me a while (I also enjoyed History and Biology at A-level), but once I’d thought about it maths was the obvious choice as I enjoy it and I’m good at it!

One of the positives of a degree in Maths is that there are lots of career options open to you – the down side for me was that I didn’t know which one to go for.

After a couple of jobs that weren’t right for me I found out about the Masters in Operational Research (maths applied to organisational problems) at Southampton, which covered topics I’d enjoyed as an undergrad.  So I did the Masters partly for ‘fun’ and partly to get some direction.  In fact I enjoyed the course so much that I stayed on to do a PhD and I’ve stayed since.

My current research area is applying Operational Research in Healthcare, I appreciate particularly the motivation of applying research to real problems.  I’ve found the other researchers that I’ve met in the field to be very helpful and supportive which makes a big difference to job satisfaction.

SHARON picture1

Dr Sharon Xiaowen Lin – Statistician at the Data Science Hub, NIHR CLAHRC Wessex.

My current work involves providing statistical support to health service interventions and leading a funding application for integrated health and social care projects.

My job content is interesting and varied. For example I run quantitative models to extract information embedded in data, speak at conferences to disseminate research outcomes, liaise with colleagues both internally and externally to pull funding application(s) together.


From a very young age, I loved books and wanted to be an academia, and it was during the last 5-10 year that I developed my interest in modelling integrated social and health systems after observing real-life intricacies of medical statistics.

Alex RS

Dr Alex Recio-Saucedo Research Fellow

I am an informatician, a profession that is becoming more relevant in health care service research each day.

Informatics uses Maths and Computer Science as tools to identify and solve information problems. Questions like: What kind of information does a patient diagnosed with breast cancer need to make a decision regarding their treatment? How should the information be presented in order to support those decisions? What staffing factors affect the outcomes of patients attending A&E? 

I search answers through empirical research as well as systematically searching literature, analysing and weighing available evidence.

Four key computational thinking skills required to be an informatician (described beautifully in the blog of professor in biomedical informatics, Todd R. Johnson) are: decomposition, when you break a problem into individual steps (think about making a cup of coffee and all the steps required from thinking about making one until the coffee is in your hands); pattern recognition: make predictions and models to test (are there repetitive steps? can you predict the time of day when you usually drink a cup of coffee? Or how many cups can you make with a 250g jar? –you need to make sure there’s coffee in the cupboard at all times!); pattern generalization and abstraction: what are the principles or laws that cause the patterns? (would it be useful to tally the cups of coffee you make to ensure continuous supply of coffee?); imagesalgorithm design: develop the instructions to solve similar problems and repeat the process with the use of data (think that instead of cup of coffee you transfer the process to cup of tea, or hot chocolate).

Personally, my most favourite computational thinking skill is algorithm design –my undergraduate tutors always used my algorithms as examples in class and I guess that biased my preference for them!

Information is everywhere. Because of the nature of my job I’ve had the opportunity to work with a large number of incredible people, patients of all ages, academics of multiple disciplines, health care professionals, all sharing the goal of creating or improving health care services. And that is one of the best aspects of my work.

They say that knowledge is power. I am sure that the information used to create knowledge is the fuel of that power.

Rudabeh Meskarian_NOV15

Dr Rudabeh Meskarian – Research Fellow

I am an Operational Researcher working on development of tools that can help maximise efficiency while reducing cost specifically within healthcare systems. These mathematical tools can play a major role in policy making through modelling of healthcare systems helping decision makers in thinking through the consequences of potential changes in advance.

I think I have always been fascinated by the power of mathematics, how almost everything can be defined in mathematical terms. But most significantly, I think the realisation that mathematics is unquestionably the only universal language we have, motivated me in pursuing a career in this field. Moreover, nothing compares to the feeling you have when after spending hours on a problem, you finally get it.

I should acknowledge that I probably owe some of my love for mathematics to the line of enthusiastic and dedicated teachers I had during my school years and my parents’ love of mathematical puzzles. Finally, I chose Operational Research as my specialty as it allows me to work and have an impact in decision making in real world settings.


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