“Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.”
Occupation: Professor of Climate Physics & Joint Dean for Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Reading.
Academic Interests: Particles in the atmosphere and their effects on climate and climate change.
Personal Interests: History of women in science; diversity and inclusion; crocheting.
Childhood and Education
Ever since her school days Eleanor Highwood has had a keen interest in science. As a child she excelled in the subject and used to believe it had well defined answers, something she now knows is certainly not true. Growing up in Kent, Ellie attended a very non-diverse small village Church of England primary school. She then experienced one of the loneliest times of her school life, when she attended a comprehensive for two years and was bullied by other students, largely for being academic. Whilst there she was told by her science teacher that “girls’ don’t do physics”, but Ellie used that as motivation rather than a barrier to achieve success. Ellie’s family was quite academically focussed, and after two years at the comprehensive she passed the 13+ test and spent the rest of her school days at the girls’ grammar school. It was here where she took her GCSEs and then A-Levels in physics, chemistry, maths and further maths. Throughout her childhood Ellie was very much into music, playing musical instruments and singing in choirs from the age of 8 to 18. A highlight was the opportunity to go to Malaysia with one of the orchestras when she was 18, a brilliant experience. Following her A-Levels, Ellie went on to the University of Manchester and did an undergraduate degree in physics. After taking an optional module in atmospheric physics, which she really enjoyed, Ellie decided that she wanted to pursue a career in meteorology.
In 1993 Ellie came to the University of Reading to do a PhD in meteorology, during which time she published what is now her most highly cited paper. She then held a couple of postdoctoral research positions in the meteorology department, where she moved towards working on climate change and greenhouse gases. Subsequently she managed to win her own funding for a NERC postdoctoral fellowship for three years, working on aerosols. Ellie secured a lectureship at Reading in 2000, and was the director of the undergraduate programme for a time. She then progressed to be a senior lecturer in 2005 and a professor in 2011. Shortly afterwards, from 2012-2015, she became head of department with responsibility for academic, teaching and research staff. Ellie’s current (2017) research group looks at particles in the atmosphere and their effect on climate and climate change, with a particular focus on aerosols. As well as her meteorological research, Ellie now holds a university-wide role of Dean for Diversity and Inclusion. She is passionate about this and the role of women in science and reads a lot about it during her spare time. Ellie is also heavily involved in outreach activities, visiting schools, cubs and brownie packs to promote science. On top of this she is the current president of the Royal Meteorological Society.
Awards and Achievements
- Ellie was awarded the L F Richardson Prize from the Royal Meteorological Society as a younger researcher for a paper that she wrote during her PhD.
- She has authored around 72 papers in peer reviewed journals which have been sited over 2400 times altogether.
- Ellie has led two international aircraft campaigns looking into the properties of aerosols and has been involved in several others.
- One of Ellie’s main hobbies is crocheting and she recently did a global warming blanket with 100 years of temperatures represented as different colours, which caused a lot of activity on twitter!
- As a child Ellie was part of several very local “feminist” campaigns including: persuading the school to allow the girls to take the same number of GCSEs as the boys at the comparable grammar school (partially successful – done by having French classes before school every morning); persuading the local church to allow girls to sing in the choir (successful); getting the same study leave as the boys prior to A-levels (successful).
For more about Ellie and her list of publications: http://www.met.reading.ac.uk/userpages/sws00ejh.php