Two Oxford academics have won “Women in Science” Fellowships, awarded to some of the most promising and talented female scientists from around the world.

From among 400 applicants, mathematician Dr Maria Bruna and paleobiologist Dr Sam Giles were two of the five selected for the prestigious fellowships, sponsored by L’Oreal and UNESCO, worth £15,000 for any purpose related to their research.

Dr Bruna’s won the award for her work studying group behaviour. She creates models that predict how particles interact, which can then be scaled to understand how tumours form, how animal flocks interact or how people act collectively.

On the other hand, Dr Giles studies evolutionary history using 3D renderings of brains and the bones that protect them. This allows her to research evolution through novel and modern techniques, helping illuminate the history of vertebrates dating back millions of years with limited fossil remnants.

The timing of the award could not have been better for Dr Bruna. “It comes at an ideal time for me, as I’m on maternity leave for the birth of my first son, and I will use the Fellowship to kickstart my research on my return from that”, she said.

Like her fellow award winner, Dr Giles sees the fellowship as a way of pushing forward with her research, but now with a bit of added flexibility that may allow her to pay for years of childcare or travel to international conferences to present her findings and learn more from colleagues across the world.

The ways in which they intend to use the award points toward struggles which often afflict women in science: balancing career and family. Both of them have expressed hope that fellowships like this will help correct gender imbalances at the university and across the sciences in general.

“Awards like this one are very important to raise awareness of women in science and to help redress the gender imbalance in most sciences”, Dr Bruna said. “While we have a lot more women in the University now than 50 years ago, I feel that in some sense the culture in academia (with long hours, more administration, scarcity of jobs) is becoming harsher, especially for women and people with young families.”