Annual Rosalind Franklin Women in STEM Conference

With the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve all been facing questions about the role of science in society. Each year, the Rosalind Franklin Women in STEM Conference brings together sixth-formers and scientists to discuss some of the biggest scientific issues for the world. And, with the 2020 participants distributed across the UK and meeting via webinar, this year we addressed the topic of Artificial Intelligence. 

The usual residential conference was cancelled this year. Instead, organisers Lucy Rogers (Newnham SLO) and Prof Roisin Owens (Admissions Tutor for STEM subjects), faced the challenge of creating an online event which could in some way replace the planned 3-day long residential! Eventually, the team designed a 2.5 hour long webinar, incorporating many speakers, and designed to be as interactive as possible.

On the day, we had almost 60 students attending, from across the UK. The event began with a warm welcome from Newnham College Principal Alison Rose, who spoke about her own university experiences, and about Rosalind Franklin herself.

Prof Owens then provided a brief introduction to the different uses of Artificial Intelligence, followed by the first presenter, Dr Felix Steffek. Dr Steffek, a lawyer, discussed the different ways in which AI might be used to help with his area of expertise, dispute resolution. Despite not being able to see or hear the attendees, we used polls to get a sense of students’ opinions on this somewhat controversial topic, and the session ended with a Q&A.

After a short break, Prof Fiona Gilbert used the same structure to talk about the potential uses of AI in medicine, in particular within her own field of radiology. Finally, philosopher Dr Karina Vold presented all the way from Canada, giving an overview of the ethical issues that might be associated with our increasing use of AI.

The session finished with a Q&A on applying to Cambridge, and to Newnham and STEM subjects in particular.

“We were extremely impressed with the very insightful questions asked by those who attended the conference, and their participation in the interactive aspects of the event,” Lucy Rogers explained. “We hope that this event proved helpful and inspiring, and we are looking forward to running more online outreach events in the future – watch this space!”

This free annual conference aims to encourage Year 12 (S5) students to confidently engage in academic conversations about Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) topics. We hope that our 2021 conference will once again take place in Newnham’s beautiful college environment.