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Pembroke Women in Science: Anna

Sunday 11th February is International Day of Women and Girls in Science. We’re celebrating it with a series of interview with our own women in science.

Today’s interview is with Anna Gunnarsdottir (2016), a 2nd year PhD student in the Chemistry Department, working in the research group led by Pembroke Fellow Professor Clare Grey. Once she finishes her PhD Anna is planning to apply for post-doc positions to gain further research experience. Long term she hopes to return to her home country of Iceland, to work in industry-relevant research.

What is your research topic?

My work focuses mainly on lithium metal which is an attractive component for next-generation batteries but suffers from safety problems associated with microstructural growth on its surface. These microstructures or dendrites can grow towards the other electrode inside a battery, causing a short-circuit and a potential fire hazard. I want to understand what causes and influences this microstructural growth and for that I use nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques.

What drew you to this topic?

I’ve always been interested in energy storage and known that I want to engage in research that has practical implications. Finding ways to store energy more efficiently and safely will be vital if we are to be able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and integrate renewable energy into our electrical grid. The relevance of my research keeps me motivated on a daily basis.Web

What do you most enjoy about research?

I love to work with such a diverse group of people as my research group, where we come from different backgrounds and experiences but work together as a team. Research is not always enjoyable, but that’s part of its charm. When you have been struggling to set up an experiment for hours, days or even months and finally it works, that bliss is definitely worth it.

What are the challenges for women in STEM, and how can they be reduced?

Fewer women than men learn STEM for undergraduate, fewer continue to the graduate level and still fewer women end up as STEM professors and researchers in universities. This definitely shapes the culture within the departments. I think it is essential to have women in senior positions within the university as in other spheres of society. As well, it is important to have role models when you are studying and deciding on your career. In my undergraduate degree in Iceland, most of the lecturers and professors were men and I remember being very excited about the few courses taught by women because I found them so inspiring.

Have you had a positive experience at Cambridge?

My time at Cambridge has been very enjoyable. I can’t believe I’ve been here for almost two years. Time flies when you work long hours and when there are interesting lectures or events in the university or college every week. It is interesting how attached you become to your college, and your whole life suddenly happens on this small radius between college and your department (exactly 1 km between Pembroke and the Chemistry department). But I love it. This year I have also started rowing and participating in the Pembroke Orchard (Pembroke’s Green society) and being in contact with the undergraduates is so much fun!

What would you say to girls hoping to study STEM subjects?

Believe in yourself and appreciate what you can do; e.g. don’t doubt your grades and think you don’t deserve them, they are correct and you earned them because you are clever.

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