Rachel Cowen, BSc, MSc, PhD


Personal profile


I am Professor of Inclusive Researcher and Academic Development, School of Medical Sciences, Faculty of Biology Medicine and Health, and University Lead for Equality Diversity and Inclusion (Gender and Sexual Orientation)

My work within and outside the University aligns with my vision and commitment to create an inclusive work and study environment at Manchester and across the UK HE sector such that diverse people feel they belong, have equity of opportunity to thrive and achieve their full potential.

  • As Founder and Director of the Centre for Academic and Researcher Development I have ensured that the Faculty and University offers a continuum of professional development for early career postgraduate researchers through to senior academic leaders. I have developed and delivered high quality programmes, mentoring and coaching, supporting research excellence, inspirational teaching and learning, enhanced leadership capability and career reward and advancement.
  • I play a leading role in addressing researcher inequalities and the development of an inclusive research culture challenging and reducing systemic biases. I am institutional project lead on a Wellcome/University of Manchester match funded Inclusive Research Transformation Programme. I also influence and shape researcher development and research culture nationally and internationally working with leading institutions, funders and network groups.
  • As gender equality lead I chair the University Athena Swan self-assessment team providing governance, monitoring and evaluation of impact of policies and initiatives to drive gender parity throughout the student and staff career pipeline and address barriers to access, progression and attainment.
  • I promote accelerated intersectional progress through alignment of concordat, charter marks and standards action plans and I have led an “Inclusive Manchester” Campaign promoting inclusive leadership and collective action for all staff and students. This includes development and leadership of an interdisciplinary undergraduate credit bearing unit “Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: Your role in shaping a fairer world” open to all students at Manchester.


I gained my undergraduate Honours degree in Biochemistry in 1992 from the University of Leeds followed by a Masters degree in Information Technology in 1993 from the University of Nottingham. I then embarked on a research career in the field of oncology beginning as a Research Assistant for CRUK, Christie Hospital, Manchester and then in private R&D at Pfizer Central Research, UK (1993-1997).

I returned to academia in 1997 and embarked on a BBSRC/AstraZeneca sponsored PhD studentship and was awarded my doctorate in Cancer Gene Therapy in 2000 from the University of Manchester. I amassed 7 years postdoctoral cancer research experience as a Research Fellow in the School of Pharmacy, University of Manchester leading on novel adenovirus delivered gene therapy treatments for solid cancers.

In 2007 I transitioned into my current area of academic expertise and was appointed as an academic and researcher development educator. This role quickly grew into a centre and under my leadership CARD now deliver 5 large scale educator and researcher development programmes (Academic Clinical Fellows, PGR, Research Staff, NAP and Pedagogy Development Programmes) providing high quality, accredited professional development for our clinical and non-clinical community.

CARD also have a large portfolio of consultancy with leading international organisations, funders and institutions.

In 2019 I was appointed as University of Manchester Academic Lead for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion leading on gender equality and in 2021 my remit expanded to include sexual orientation equality. I am the Aurora institutional national women's leadership programme champion and in 2021 I was appointed as one of only 21 national panel chairs for the transformed Athena Swan Charter.


  • 2022 - Principle Fellow of the Higher Education Academy
  • 2020 - Team Coach, Certified
  • 2015 - Executive Coaching and Mentoring Level 7 Award, Institute of Leadership and Management
  • 2015 - Senior Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy
  • 2012 - Coaching and Mentoring Level 5 Award, Institute of Leadership and Management
  • 2009 - Certificate in Training Practice, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development
  • 2000 - Ph.D in Medicine, University of Manchester.
  • 1993 - M.Sc in Information Technology, Nottingham University, Nottingham UK
  • 1992 - B.Sc Hons in Biochemistry, Leeds University, UK

Memberships of committees and professional bodies

Membership of External Committees and Professional Bodies

  • Network of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Academic Leads invited member (NEDIAL), national network involved in designing, implementing and sustaining EDI interventions across higher education institutions
  • Association of Commonwealth Universities Gender Equality Committee
  • Aurora institutional champion and national role model facilitating action learning and providing mentorship to female academic and professional services colleagues across the UK
  • GM4Women coalition member, a network of change makers committed to actions to create a better future for women and girls across all sectors in Greater Manchester.
  • Researchers14 Invited Member (national researcher development group representing 65% of UK research staff) advising UKRI and UUK on research culture and research staff concordat implementation.
  • N8 Research Partnership University Representative on Postdoctoral Careers Working Group
  • Vitae Researcher Development Member and Advisor for “What do Research Staff Do Next?” an international investigation into the career destinations of Research Staff.
  • Corporate Member of the Association for Coaching
  • Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development
  • Staff Development Forum (Supported by the Leadership Foundation)

Chairing of University and Faculty Committees/Strategy Groups

  • University Gender Equality Committee/Athena SWAN Self-Assessment Team (Chair since 2019)
  • Faculty Race Discrimination Task and Finish Group (Co Chair since 2020)
  • Faculty Research Staff Representatives Network (Chair since 2012)
  • Faculty NAP Committee (Chair since 2016)
  • School of Medical Sciences EDI committee (formerly Athena SWAN Self-Assessment Team (Co Chair since 2020)

Active Membership of University Committees/Strategy Groups

  • University EDI Governance Group (Lead for Gender Equality since 2019)
  • University Social Responsibility Governance Group (since 2019)
  • University Race Equality Charter Self-Assessment Team (2021)
  • University Gender Pay Gap Working Group (since 2019)
  • University Staff Survey Working Group (Research Staff Lead since 2017)
  • University Research Staff Strategy Group (Faculty Lead since 2008)
  • University New Academics Programme Committee (Faculty Lead since 2014)
  • Faculty Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee (Professional Development Lead since 2012)
  • Faculty Researcher Development Group (Research Staff and New Academic Lead since 2016)
  • MRC and BBSRC Doctoral Training Management Committee, Equality Champion (since 2019)
  • NIHR ARC-GM Stakeholder Advisory Group (2021)

Further information

Expert Reviewer

  • Athena SWAN Gender Equality Awards Review Panels, Advance HE
  • National Teaching Fellowships and Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence Reviewer, Advance HE
  • Gender Equality Grant Reviewer, Association of Commonwealth Universities
  • Expert Review Panel for the “International Research Leaders Award” (a partnership project with Wellcome, Pasteur, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, MRC, BBSRC and Open University)
  • Foundation and UG Degrees External Examiner, Lancaster University
  • Peer Reviewer for Journals of Cancer Research; Gene Therapy; British Journal of Cancer, Clinical Cancer Research, Cell Science, Expert Opinions on Biological Therapy
  • Research Grant Reviewer for Association of Commonwealth Universities Gender Equality Grant Scheme, .Breast Cancer Campaign, Association for International Cancer Research, Netherlands National Health Council

Recent Invited Presentations and Workshops

My leadership and expertise in EDI and academic development is recognised by a series of invitations to present or deliver workshops at (inter) national level 

  • Empowering and inspiring HE students to shape a fairer world, Advance HE EDI Conference 2022
  • Embedding EDI in Research Practice and Culture, UK Research Integrity Office Conference Invited Talk 2022
  • Putting Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at the centre of research and innovation practices and culture, UK Catalysis Conference Invited Talk 2021.
  • Student SPIE Chapter Women in Science Event, International Society for Optics &Photonics Invited Talk, 2021.
  • Gender Equality Workshop - Advanced Biomedical Materials Centre for Doctoral Training Invited Talk, 2021.
  • Gender Equality at University of Manchester, Women in Science and Engineering, Society Invited Talk, 2020.
  • Celebrating Diverse and Inclusive Leaders, N8 partnership event organiser, speaker and chair 2020.
  • Research Culture in the UK, Life Beyond the PhD: Supporting PhD students to work collaboratively across disciplines and promote social progress, Cumberland lodge, Windsor, UK 2019 (invited plenary).
  • Enhancing PGR employability. Quality in Postgraduate Research Conference, Adelaide, Australia 2016 (plenary).
  • An Institutional Perspective: New Developments and Remaining Challenges in Research Staff Support, Vitae Researcher Development International Conference, (invited plenary) 2015.
  • Internationalisation of researcher development: applying the Researcher Development Framework in the West African context, Vitae Researcher Development International Conference, 2015 (selected workshop)
  • Sharing Good Practice in supporting and advancing higher education careers, Women and Change in Higher Education: Culture and Careers Conference, University of Durham/ Newcastle 2014 (selected workshop).
  • Is coaching the way to unlock female potential in Higher Education, Vitae South West and Wales Hub Annual Good Practice Conference 2014 (invited workshop)

Recent/Relevant Outputs


  • Teaching Excellence Award, Institute of Teaching and Learning, University of Manchester, 2022
  • Pandemic Pedagogy Teaching Awards (Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health), 2021
  • Making a Difference Awards  Team Member 2019 and 2020
  • National Nic McNally Radiation Research Prize, British Institute of Radiology, 2007

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality
  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities

External positions

Aurora Advisory Group Member , Advance HE

May 2022 → …

Athena Swan national panel chair, Advance HE

1 Jul 2021 → …

External Examiner, Lancaster University

Jul 2016 → …


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