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International Day of Women and Girls in Science

International Day of Women and Girls in Science

To celebrate International Day of Women and Girls in Science (11 February), we asked Nina Chhita, who was recently featured in a BBC article for her illustrations of women working in STEM, to create an illustration for the Rhodes Trust! Nina uses illustrations to publicise the work of women working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. She showcases the images on her Instagram and Twitter pages. "I hope scrolling through the images underscores that you can't narrowly define women and there is no set 'type' of person that should pursue STEM," she says.

The illustration features Joy Buolamwini (Tennessee & Jesus 2013), Pamela McElwee (Kansas & Wadham 1993), Sara Khalid (Pakistan & Oriel 2008), Bethany L. Ehlmann (Missouri & Hertford 2004) and Bonolo Mathibela (South Africa-at-Large & New College 2009).

Here’s what these inspirational Rhodes Scholars are up to!


Joy Buolamwini is a computer scientist, and digital activist who uses art and research to illuminate the shortcomings of artificial intelligence (AI). She founded the Algorithmic Justice League to create a world with more equitable and accountable technology. Her TED Featured Talk on algorithmic bias has over 1 million views. Her MIT thesis methodology uncovered large racial and gender bias in AI services from companies like Microsoft, IBM, and Amazon. In addition to advising elected officials during US congressional hearings, she serves on the Global Tech Panel to advise world leaders and executives on reducing AI harms.

Joy has written op-eds on the impact of AI for publications like TIME Magazine and New York Times. Her spoken word visual audit "AI, Ain't I A Woman?" which shows AI failures on the faces of iconic women like Serena Williams, Oprah Winfrey, and Michelle Obama has been part of exhibitions ranging from Ars Electronica to the Barbican Centre, UK. A Rhodes Scholar and Fulbright Fellow, Joy has been named on notable lists including the Bloomberg50, Forbes Top 50 Women in Tech (the youngest on the list), and Fortune Magazine (40under40) named her "the conscience of the AI revolution. As a former pole vaulter, she still holds Olympic aspirations if not realities.


Pamela McElwee is an Associate Professor of Human Ecology at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ. She is trained as an interdisciplinary environmental scientist, with a joint Ph.D. in forestry & environmental studies and anthropology from Yale University. She has authored more than 60 scientific papers, book chapters, and policy reports, as well as an award-winning book, Forests are Gold: Trees, People and Environmental Rule in Vietnam (U of Washington Press, 2016).

Pamela’s research primarily focuses on vulnerability of households and communities to global environmental change, including climate change, biodiversity loss, and deforestation, as well as the impact of policies for conservation and development, including land-based mitigation to climate change and management of ecosystem services. Her research has been funded with grants from the National Science Foundation and MacArthur Foundation, and in 2019 she was named an Andrew Carnegie Fellow. She has served as a lead author for both the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on Climate Change and Land (2019) and the Global Assessment of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (2019).

Previously, McElwee was an assistant professor of global studies at Arizona State University, a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University, confidential assistant for Legislative and Public Affairs at the White House Office of Environmental Policy, a staffer for Senator Al Gore of Tennessee, and as a special assistant at the US Environmental Protection Agency. Pamela holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Kansas, where she was KU’s first female Rhodes Scholar, and an MSc degree in Forestry from the Department of Plant Sciences at Oxford University. She grew up in eastern Kansas on a small farm, and currently lives in Metuchen, New Jersey with her husband and daughter.

“Attention to environmental issues like climate change has never been higher. As someone who has worked in the environmental field my entire life, I’m gratified to see people are genuinely concerned about how we care for our planet. The scale of the challenges we face to rein in greenhouse gas emissions and stop significant biodiversity loss are very significant, and we need to be doing much more, and doing it immediately, in order to reverse these trends. We scientists in this field have the advantage of working on problems that are urgent and necessary, which gives me a great deal of hope and inspiration everyday."


Bethany Ehlmann is a professor of planetary science at Caltech and research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Her research focuses on the mineralogy and chemistry of planetary surfaces, remote sensing techniques and instruments, astrobiology, and science policy and outreach. Her primary focus is unravelling Mars' environmental history; she is a member of the science teams for the Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity), the CRISM imaging spectrometer on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, and the upcoming Mars 2020 rover. She is also on the Dawn orbiter team exploring the largest asteroid and dwarf planet Ceres, the EMIT space station-based imaging spectrometer to explore dust source regions, and is working to propose mission concepts for Europa, Venus, the Mars moons, asteroids and Earth.

She is a 2013 National Geographic Emerging Explorer, a former Mineralogical Society of America Distinguished Lecturer, a recipient of the American Geophysical Union’s Macelwane medal, the American Astronomincal Society Planetary Science Division Urey prize, and COSPAR’s Zeldovich medal, as well as NASA Group Achievement Awards. Originally from Tallahassee, FL, She earned her Ph.D. and master’s in geological sciences as a National Science Foundation graduate fellow at Brown University, earned Masters degrees from the University of Oxford in Environmental Change and Management and Geography as a Rhodes Scholar.


Bonolo Mathibela is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Robotics in the Division of Surgery and Interventional Science at University College London (UCL). She transformed an ordinary powered wheelchair into an autonomous robotic wheelchair, and is currently developing learning based shared autonomy robot navigation algorithms. The robotic wheelchair will afford independence to people who, as a result of motor impairment, are unable to accurately operate a wheelchair joystick drive interface.

Dr Mathibela's passion for robotics started in high school where she learnt to code and became fascinated by the animatronics technology used in the movie industry at the time. She is driven by a conviction to build technology that changes peoples’ lives for the better. She also started idorobotics.com, a robotics and computer vision blog.
She previously worked on developing scene interpretation algorithms for situational awareness in autonomous driving (during her DPhil at Oxford University). She subsequently joined IBM Research where she built an IoT platform for autonomously optimising road traffic congestion in severely resource constrained environments.
“Working in robotics is very exciting!”


Sara Khalid leads the Machine Learning and Big Data Analytics branch of the Musculoskeletal Pharmaco-epidemiology group in NDORMS, which she joined in 2016. She was previously based at the Institute of Biomedical Engineering (IBME) as a postdoctoral researcher in the Biomedical Image Analysis Lab, and in the Biomedical Signal Processing and Computational Health Informatics Lab. Her research extends into conservation research. She is a National Geographic Early Career Explorer having secured a grant for using machine learning and remote monitoring for tracking plastic pollution from land to sea.

Sara's thesis explored Bayesian methods for providing early warning of patient deterioration, using time-series physiological data, and developed machine learning methods for multi-class classification of patient abnormalities using vital-sign data acquired from a large study with collaborators in the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre. Sara led the data collection and statistical analysis of the multi-phase Cancer Hospital Study undertaken in the Cancer Hospital in Oxford, UK.
Sara completed her DPhil in Engineering Science at the IBME, University of Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar. Prior to that she received a Distinction for her MSc in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Oxford in 2009, as a Qualcomm Scholar.

Her research interests include signal processing and machine learning, with applications in health informatics such as patient monitoring, telehealth, and observational research.

About The Rhodes Scholar Blog

The Rhodes Scholar Blog features the excellent research from our Rhodes Scholars and their insights into important topical issues. If you would like to contribute, please contact sophie.crowe@rhodeshouse.ox.ac.uk