Professor who escaped life of drudgery wins Asian award

A 51-year-old Chinese scientist who fought her way up from the assembly line of a bus factory to become a respected professor at a British university last night won the Outstanding Asian Woman of Achievement Award.

Xiangqian Jiang ­ known as Jane in the UK ­ was taken out of school aged 15 and sent to work as a chassis assembly worker during the cultural revolution in China. She said she resigned herself to the mindless graft for two decades but never gave up on her ambition to become a scientist.

She taught herself at night school, studying for up to five hours every evening to become proficient in engineering, maths and science until she was finally able to go to university. "I had a strong scientific curiosity and I was determined to go to university so that I could contribute more to society," she explained.

After finishing her PhD at the age of 40 in China, she was persuaded to move to Britain in 1995 to work as a research scientist at Birmingham University, and later Huddersfield.

At the same time, she brought up her daughter, who is now a 24-year-old Cambridge graduate and biochemist. She is thought to be the first woman from the Chinese mainland to become a full professor in Britain in any subject.

Based at Huddersfield University's Centre for Precision Technologies, she researches topics ranging from the depth of wrinkles in human skin for the beauty industry, to how to improve the working life of artificial hip joints.

The Asian Women of Achievement Awards, held at the Park Lane Hilton in London, recognised the talents of women whose work in eight categories, including science, business, arts and the humanitarian sector, has made a significant impact in the UK.

Chief Inspector Parm Sandhu, of Sikh origin, the highest ranking Asian woman in the Metropolitan Police, was presented with the Public Sector Award for playing a high-profile role in reassuring communities after the 7 July bombings in London last year. The 42-year-old, who brought up her two sons with the help of her extended family, has worked in the Met's department for counterterrorism since the July bombings. Out of a total of 492 chief inspectors, 38 are women and she is the only Asian.

"There were a lot of negative stereotypes after 7/7 and people began to look at Asians in a different way," she said. "But when they saw a police officer who was Asian, it reinforced the message that it was not about colour but about people working together after the atrocities last year."

When she joined the force in 1989, aged 24, it was "just white men" . She was once told by a senior officer, who has since left, that she would have to choose between motherhood and police work. "He told me: 'You have to make a choice between being a mother and being a police officer. The two don't go together.' That kind of comment would not be allowed to go unchecked today," she said.

Chief Inspector Sandhu said it was now "a changing environment", but still: "Often I will go to senior meetings and I will still be the only woman and the only black woman."

Winners ranged from Shaheen Khan, the actress who played a Punjabi mother in the film Bend it Like Beckham, to Humerah Khan and Sumerah Ahmad, co-founders of Club Asia radio station, and Professor Nazneen Rahman, a researcher in childhood cancers.

Honoured

OUTSTANDING WOMAN OF ACHIEVEMENT

Professor Xiangqian Jiang: Academic who escaped oppression under Mao's cultural revolution.

THE PUBLIC SECTOR AWARD

Chief Inspector Parm Sandhu: Met's highest-ranking Asian woman.

ENTREPRENEURS

Humerah Khan and Sumerah Ahmad: The sisters co-founded Club Asia.

YOUNG ACHIEVER

Damini Kumar: In 1999, the 29-year-old invented the world's first non-drip teapot.

MEDIA PROFESSIONAL

Fareena Alam: Managing editor of Muslim magazine Q-News.

ARTS & CULTURE AWARD

Shaheen Khan: The actress who played a mother in the film Bend it Like Beckham.

PROFESSIONAL

Professor Nazneen Rahman: Researcher in childhood cancers, 38.

BUSINESS WOMAN

Anila Wickramasinghe: Founder of ReOrient Legal, which provides Shariah consultancy.

SOCIAL AND HUMANITARIAN

Celine Samarasinhe: Founder of two community nursing services in Sri Lanka.

Aysin Yilmaz: Turkish Philanthropic Association.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Facilities Coordinator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Facilities Coordinator is required to join a...

Recruitment Genius: Project Manager - Software House - PRINCE2, PMP

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A dynamic, customer oriented Pr...

Recruitment Genius: Relationship Sales Advisor

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an inbound relationship...

Recruitment Genius: Electrician - Based in Petersfield

£19600 - £25800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in the South, based in ...

Day In a Page

Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate