Here we speak to Shaked Bader (2023, Mathematics), current MCR Women's Representative.

Could you introduce yourself to the Women's Network?

Shaked Bader

I am currently studying for a Maths PhD in Topology. I studied for my undergraduate and Master's degrees at The Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology. I decided I wanted to study for my PhD abroad, after living for six years at the same place. My Master’s advisor encouraged me to apply for Oxbridge.

My research is in geometric group theory. I look at the relationship between different geometric properties of spaces and algebraic properties of their symmetries. Outside my studies, I like to climb and hike. When I was looking at university choices for my PhD, I realised Oxford had pretty bad climbing facilities (Cambridge wins in that regard!), but despite that Oxford, was still a better fit on a professional level - I liked the research group here more.

How long have you been MCR Women’s Rep and what made you run in the first place?

I started as a Women’s and Gender Minorities’ Rep in Michaelmas 2023. I had some ideas about events connected to Women’s health to which I hoped College would agree. I spoke with Dr Zuzanna Olszewska, the College Fellow for Women, about them. She said it would be easier to implement them if I myself were the Women’s and Gender Minorities’ Rep as it was a vacant position, and the rest went from there.

What are your top priorities for your time as Women’s Rep and how do you hope to achieve these?

The position is only for one year, so it is not a very long time. I want to focus on having more talks on female medicine and health, particularly on ‘women’s pain’ which is invisible. There is a lot that is not talked about or not known. We also have the Women's and Gender Minorities’ Lunches every two weeks during term times. They are joined with the JCR and serve as a great opportunity for women in College to meet and interact.

As there was no Women’s and Gender Minorities’ Rep last year a lot of the work is spent on keeping afloat the regular events that are part of the calendar, and only after then we will organise more events with more content.

Do you think College needs a Women's Rep?

As a woman in Maths, I can feel quite alone sometimes. The College focussing on Women and Gender Minority representation is very comforting. Just knowing that there is a Women and Gender Minorities’ Rep or that College hosts a Women and Gender Minority dinner is great. It has been wonderful to get to know the women of the JCR and MCR. There are lots of things that make a difference. For example, recently we started providing the option to wear a badge which includes pronouns on them in MCR social events. This is fantastic and a small thing that allows everybody to feel more comfortable here.

We need a Women’s and Gender Minorities’ Rep for two reasons. Firstly, to combat what I would call ‘non-apologetic sexism’. This is just plain sexism, for example, talking down to women in the workplace. We also need them to combat what I would call ‘apologetic sexism’, which is more subtle and includes subconscious biases. For example, if a woman gives a bad talk, people would say she is a bad speaker, but if a man gives a bad talk - people would just say he gave a bad talk. Women are characterised by their actions by society and men are not. We need a Women’s and Gender Minorities’ Rep because being aware of those inherent biases is a first step in combating them.

Is it a good time to be a female student at SJC?

Sue Black is a role model. She gave a great speech in my Freshers’ Week (last year) encouraging us all to remember that the most important thing is to treat each other humanely and be good to each other.

I am impressed by the amount of women I see in college life and in Maths. Previously, I was studying in an engineering school where the vast majority of students were men.

What is it like being an international student at SJC in 2024?

I came from Israel to study here and I found St John’s very welcoming. There is a high percentage of international students in the MCR, and I found everyone very friendly. SJC is a traditional college, but it is not overly formal, which I like.

I did have some cultural clashes. For example, I have found it hard not knowing how to dress or act in certain situations - at one of the formal dinners another student commented that I was not dressed formally enough. English is not my first language and sometimes I struggle to understand certain accents, but I feel comfortable asking the MCR Reps to speak slower in committee meetings if needed.

What are your ambitions for after you graduate?

Currently, I wish to stay in academia. However, who knows, by the time I finish my PhD I may want that less. In any case, I will have a PhD in Maths from Oxford in the end, so I am not worried about the future.