Frances Saunders

DAME Frances Carolyn Saunders. Last week, the Queen’s Birthday Honors List was released and among the big “winners” was Dr. Frances Saunders, a physicist and engineer who’s dedicated much of her life to advocating for increased diversity in STEM.

Saunders studied physics at Nottingham University (one of only 10 women out of 70 in her year) and took an electronic engineering apprenticeship at a company where she was the first female graduate engineer (and it showed – she had to put up with harassment in order to simply carry out her day-to-day work). She then went to work for the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment (RSRE), improving the liquid-crystal display (LCD) technology used in signboards and instrumentation displays, while simultaneously studying for a PhD.

She went on to serve the Ministry of Defense’s Defense Research Agency in a number of leadership positions including chief executive of the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory. She worked in the Department of Trade and Industry’s Office of Science and Technology from 2000-2004 where, among other accomplishments, she helped establish the Diamond Light Source, the UK’s national synchrotron facility (a particle accelerator with many uses – and users).

In her managerial positions, she has always bee careful to take her employee’s needs into consideration, advocating for flexible work arrangements and increasing recognition for scientists and engineering at each step of the scientific journey including the scientists and engineers who build the technology, not just those that use that technology to make discoveries.

She took a prestigious management position as Director of Research Councils at the Office of Science and Technology before becoming President of the Institute of Physics (IoP), where she initiated and oversaw a number of projects aimed at increasing diversity – not just in physics, but in all of STEM, hoping to use her position to “lead the way.”  She served as President of the IOP from 2013-2015.

As a trustee of the Engineering Development Trust, she has championed for better science and engineering education for all youth, and as a member of the UK’s Space Agency Steering Board she has helped influence Britain’s space exploration policies.

Her Previous honors include election as a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering (2011) and Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) (2011). 49% of this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honors List awardees are women (and 41% of the highest-level awards). The awards recognize people’s public service to Britain in any sector of society (from actresses to astronauts) and we are so excited to see Saunders and other female scientists among the honorees. Congratulations!

Photo credit: IoP

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