Grace Exley


I joined the School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science in 2021, having completed my BA and MSci degrees in the Natural Sciences (specialising in the History of Science) at the University of Cambridge. 

Whilst studying for my undergraduate degree, I undertook a summer internship at the Cavendish Laboratory, where I catalogued and researched objects in the Laboratory’s Historical Collection. It was during this project that I became interested in the images of the Laboratory’s (usually nameless) female research students, which led me to pursue women’s history in my MSci studies. This culminated in a dissertation examining girls’ opportunities in the sciences in 1950s Britain through careers resources, drawing on comic books as an unusual source material. 

Continuing the themes of women’s history in the sciences and collections-based research, my doctoral research examines the activities of women in nineteenth-century geology, working in partnership with the Oxford University Museum of Natural History to take the University of Oxford as my central case study. 

From 2019 to 2021, I was Co-President of Cambridge Hands-On Science (CHaOS), a science outreach society. The society aims to show children, particularly those with low science capital, that science can be interesting, exciting, and accessible by working with museums and schools to organise hands-on events. I continue to be involved with the organisation in the capacity of Fundraising Officer.

Research interests

My doctoral project focusses on the changing activity of women in nineteenth-century Oxford geology. Although the history of geology in Oxford – and in Britain more generally – is dominated by male actors, such as John Phillips, the first Director of the Museum, and William Buckland, the first Reader of Geology, many of these figures depended on the invisible labour of women in their work. Both Buckland’s wife, Mary, and Phillips’s sister, Anne, were two of Oxford’s many active, but overlooked, female geologists.

Using both written sources from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History’s archives and material culture from its collections, my project aims to restore the long-overshadowed women of geology to visibility. The project will interrogate objects and collections to understand and contextualise the increasingly public geological activities women undertook. As well as piecing together women’s roles in Oxford geology, I hope my work will also yield insights into the shifting opportunities and roles for women in the sciences more broadly. By comparing women’s activities in geology to other field sciences, such as botany and astronomy, I hope to begin to analyse the changing roles of women in science in Victorian and Edwardian Britain.

Outside of my PhD project, I have a more general interest in the history of women’s participation in the sciences. In particular, I am interested in the presentations of careers in science to girls of school age in the twentieth century and the interplay between the history of education, science, and women’s history this represents. Additional interests include the history of physics (with particular reference to the Cavendish Laboratory in the twentieth century), and science communication.


  • MSci Natural Sciences, University of Cambridge
  • BA Natural Sciences, University of Cambridge