Prestigious awards honour Imperial community


Woman smiles at camera

Dr Emma Watson was one of the winners of the Julia Higgins Medal and Awards

Staff and students at Imperial College London have been celebrated in a range of prestigious awards at the College.

Winners of the Provost’s Awards for Excellence in Health and Safety, the Provost’s Awards for Excellence in Animal Research, and the Julia Higgins Medal and Awards were announced in a virtual celebration event attended by Imperial’s President, Professor Alice Gast, and the Provost, Professor Ian Walmsley.  

Professor Ian Walmsley said: “I would like to congratulate all the winners of this year’s Provost’s Awards and the Julia Higgins Medal and Awards. Every year I am in awe of the work carried out by our community in the areas of health and safety, animal research, and support for women in academia. I am particularly impressed this year by everyone who has kept up a pace and calibre of activity that has maintained such high standards even during the pandemic – it is no mean feat. We are honoured to have such dedicated people making up our community.” 

We spoke to winners from each award stream on their recognition.  

Ben Lancaster: “This award inspires me to remain vigilant towards health and safety”  

young man smiles at cameraBen Lancaster, Research Postgraduate in the Department of Chemistry, was one of two winners of the Provost’s Awards for Excellence in Health and Safety. He was noted for showing outstanding safety leadership, consistently supporting his colleagues, challenging unsafe practices, and working with the Faculty of Natural Sciences’ (FoNS) Safety team to communicate procedures and protocols clearly.  

Ben was nominated by Olga Kuzmina, Faculty of Natural Sciences Safety Manager. Olga wrote: “Apart from his own research, Ben is consistently supporting junior colleagues in the group, training them in risk assessment techniques, conducting safety inductions, and reviewing procedures.   

“Despite being in a junior position Ben challenges unsafe behaviours and volunteers to help the FoNS Safety team in clarifying safety procedures making them more practical and understandable for the laboratory researchers. Ben goes the extra mile in ensuring safety is a top priority not only in his own research group but in the whole research environment.” 

Ben says he was not expecting to win the award and feels “honoured” to be recognised. He commented: “Being recognised in this way is incredibly validating. This award inspires me to remain vigilant towards health and safety and continue to critique my own, and others, working practices to create a safer environment for us all.  

“Although working from home has been challenging, it has certainly given me time to reflect on my laboratory work and how it can change for the better. I want to continue challenging potentially unsafe practices within the department and would like to be a voice for research students regarding any safety concerns they may have.  

Ben is planning on becoming a certified first aider. He added: “I think it's very important for us to be prepared for the worst, particularly in a research environment where much of our work is conducted in laboratories surrounded by hazards.”  

Tamoxifen team: “We would like to thank all the staff in the CBS for their support, enthusiasm, and encouragement” 

The Provost’s Awards for Excellence in Animal Research was set up in 2014 to celebrate good practice by researchers and Central Biomedical Services (CBS) staff at Imperial. 

This year, a team of researchers from the Department of Metabolism, Digestion and Reproduction, led by Dr Andrea Pollard, won the team award for their work to reduce the number of animals scientists need to use when working with the drug tamoxifen.

Researchers sometimes modify cells to express a specific gene, for example to understand how different diseases affect the body and to explore potential treatments. When working with animals whose cells have been modified in this way, researchers can administer tamoxifen to them and the genetically modified cells will start to express the specific gene.   

However, tamoxifen is difficult to use with animals, and often the experiment results are inconsistent, resulting in using a larger number of animals. The Imperial team optimised a way to use tamoxifen so that it can be safely used with genetically modified animals in order to bring about the expression of specific genes at a specific moment. The new protocol makes the use of tamoxifen more even, which reduces the number of animals that need to be used for each experiment.  

In a joint statement, the team said: “We are delighted to receive the Provost’s Award, which came completely out of the blue. It is important that teamwork is highlighted in this way as it benefits both animal welfare and the quality of research at Imperial. By highlighting this kind of teamwork, the Provost’s Awards scheme also ensures that advances and benefits to animals are shared as widely and quickly as possible, accelerating further improvement.  

“Most importantly, we would like to thank all the staff in the CBS for their support, enthusiasm, and encouragement, particularly throughout the pandemic.” 

Dr Emma Watson: “It’s invaluable that the College recognises the importance of women’s health” 

woman in swim suit with cap and goggles reaches for sanitary pads in a shop
Dr Watson (above) was photographed in 2017 as part of her #WaitingForTheCall campaign to raise awareness of endometriosis. As part of the campaign, Dr Watson swam in the English Channel.

Dr Emma Watson, Department Operations Manager in the Department of Earth Science and Engineering, was one of the winners of the Julia Higgins Medal and Awards. Named in honour of Professor Dame Julia Higgins, these awards are given annually to recognise individuals, groups, and departments that have made a significant contribution to the support of academic women at the College. 

Dr Watson was nominated for her work to develop a series of interactive workshops for staff and line managers around women’s health and menopause in particular. The Menopause 101 workshops have become a key online resource for the College. 

"I am pleased that Imperial supports women and will not perpetuate the taboos around women’s health, particularly related to menopause." Dr Emma Watson Department Operations Manager

Dr Watson was nominated by Claire O’Brien, Director of Occupational Health, who said: “Emma is an advocate for women in the workplace. She approached me with a fully formed idea of running a series of women’s health workshops which she has developed in collaboration with external consultants. These interactive sessions for staff and line managers around women’s health and menopause were oversubscribed, highlighting the prevalence of issues that can significantly impact a woman’s confidence in the workplace.  

“By creating an environment where people can understand that they are not alone, that it is possible to effectively manage these problems and ask for help if necessary, participants found it empowering and managers felt better equipped to have conversations and to provide support.” 

Dr Watson said: “I didn’t expect to win at all, and it was such a lovely and extremely humbling surprise. I worked with an incredible team of individuals to create the workshops and had support from senior leadership across the College. Having their support alone was a great accolade, but to be recognised with a Julia Higgins Award is simply wonderful. 

“It’s invaluable that the College recognises the importance of women’s health and the difficultly of bringing sensitive issues to the forefront. I am pleased that Imperial supports women and will not perpetuate the taboos around women’s health, particularly related to menopause. 

“I hope to continue celebrating women’s health and helping to remove the stigma around it, and plan to continue supporting equality within the department, faculty, and the College. I was recently appointed as an Advance HE Athena SWAN reviewer, so will continue to work on gender equality across higher education.” 


Martha Salhotra

Martha Salhotra
Communications Division

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