The RCSA Prize

Try as we may, we just couldn’t separate the two wonderfully talented RCS women that were our top nominations for the prestigious 2023 ‘RCSA Prize‘. So, as has happened on three previous occasions, BOTH candidates were awarded the prize.

At a brief ceremony in front of Queen Victoria’s statue on Commemoration Day, Professor Richard Craster, Dean of RCS (or Dean of FoNS if you want to be terribly modern), and Mike Munroe, President of the RCSA, shared the officiating duties and presented Bilgesu Aydin from Physics, and Vanessa Madu from Mathematics with their their framed certificates and with cheques for £300.

The occasion is captured in the photograph above and you can see, from left to right, Mike Munroe (RCSA President), prize winner Vanessa Madu, Professor Richard Craster, (Dean of RCS), prize winner Bilgesu Aydin, and Oscar Farrell (RCSA Hon Sec).

Our members will recall that the RCSA Prize was instigated in 1997 and awarded annually at Commemoration Day to a student “who has excelled academically and made a great all-round contribution to the College“ and Bilgesu and Vanessa certainly fit the requirements. To give you a flavour, here are a few extracts from the award citations…..

Bilgesu Aydin was amongst the cohort who’s first year at College was abruptly cut short by the pandemic but she quickly assumed a leadership role amongst her peers, ensuring all physics students were provided with the appropriate level of care. In her second year, with the pandemic still raging, Bilgesu became President of the Physics Society and ran a variety of academic, wellbeing, social and careers events for her fellow students. She was also involved with founding the Imperial Physics Review, organised online social events for those experiencing major isolation issues and took part in student-staff committee meetings and in RCSU general meetings.

Over the entirety of her four-year course, Bilgesu has been a driving force behind her department’s Open Day events, showing her dedication to prospective students and offer holders. Starting with taking part in information sessions, answering questions and offering tours to visiting students, Bilgesu has quickly assumed a leadership role in these events. When the pandemic moved Open Days and Offer Holder events online, Bilgesu worked closely with staff and played an instrumental role in organising and delivering them in the new format.

Bilgesu was also an Outreach Ambassador throughout her undergraduate years whereby she has mentored physics offer-holders who were asked to defer a year, contributed to videos and interviewed professors for the departmental podcast series Beyond the Fourth Floor.

Academically, Bilgesu was part of a team of researchers in the Physics Education Research Group in 2022, conducting a study of the teaching preferences and motivations of women physics lecturers. And she completed two UROP projects, one in the summer of 2021, on observational cosmology (where she simulated Lyman Break Galaxy detections with the Astrophysics group) and the second in the Signal Processing and Communications Group of the Department of Electrical & Electronic Engineering (using new image processing techniques to make cryogenic electron microscopy, cryo-EM, image reconstruction more time efficient. Finally, Bilgesu’s academic work has been recognized by an award for her popular science article on Quantum Chaos and, together with her team of five other students, she also won the award for Best Research Proposal amongst her cohort in 2023, on the development of high harmonic generation based petahertz current generation, as part of the Research Interfaces course.

Vanessa Madu is a talented science communicator who is driven by the vision that everyone can enjoy and understand science, regardless of their background, and is also a keen advocate of equality, diversity, and inclusion.

Vanessa won the RCSU Science Challenge for 2022 with a talk entitled “How do we know that humans are causing climate change?” and, as the RCSU Science Challenge Chair, was responsible for organizing the competition in the following year.

Vanessa previously represented the College as a President’s Ambassador and has been very prominent in College digital promotion materials using her skills to reach out to a more diverse group of future students. Vanessa participated in the STEMettes mentoring programme in 2019, leading her to give STEM advocating talks at the House of Commons and the Guildhall, as well as events such as STEMettes Futures Summit, and What Career Live. She was selected from the programme to the Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing in Florida, and won a Women of the Future Award in 2019.

In 2020, Vanessa gave a talk at the Women in Finance Summit and Awards on “How do we empower educators to make a difference in young children’s career?”, and was awarded the 2020 Booking.Com Technology Playmaker Award for a Rising Technologist.

As the only female black student in her year group at Imperial College has took it upon herself to raise the concerns of black students to the Department and the College. She has organised a survey of students on the aftermath of Black Life Matters movement and has gathered results from about 250 students and is producing a report based on this. She has reached out to the HoD and Dean of FoNS to raise her concerns and met with the Diversity Champion of the FoNS to discuss things the Faculty could do to improve College’s inclusivity with respect to race.

Vanessa has also shown an excellent academic trajectory, making the Dean’s list in 2023 and is currently studying for a PhD in EPSRC CDT in Modern Statistics and Statistical Machine Learning in the Mathematics department.

So many congratulations to Bilgesu Aydin and Vanessa Madu, our exceedingly worthy 2023 winners of the RCSA Prize.