The ‘many versions of what women can be’: A retrospective of our first 200 profiles of Rhodes women

By Joanne Cave (Alberta & St John's 2013), Profile Coordinator

The Rhodes Project celebrates an important milestone today – our 200th profile has just been published! The Profile Series has been a labour of love, with much collaboration from past interns and staff at the Project. We have particular gratitude for Zoe Johannes, the first Profile Coordinator for the Rhodes Project, who was responsible for the Series’ inception and for conducting many of the profile interviews.  

The Series started in 2013 as an opportunity to showcase the diverse accomplishments and career paths of Rhodes women. The full list of profiles may be found here, organized by election year. The Profile Series has inspired us to find other means to promote and share the experiences of Rhodes Scholars, such as our recent video series and this widely-shared list of 13 Famous Rhodes Women.

The Profile Series in retrospect

The 200th profile is that of Hila Levy (Colorado & Exeter 2008), the first Puerto Rican Rhodes scholar and a U.S. Air Force veteran, Ironman and triathlon competitor and zoology researcher. Her profile exemplifies an overall objective of the Rhodes Project and Profile Series – to celebrate the many versions of what women can be.

In the Series, Rhodes women from diverse backgrounds have offered candid and thoughtful reflections on their personal lives, professional pursuits, motivations and future aspirations. In these profiles, Rhodes women have reflected on everything from their time at Oxford to their career trajectories; their accomplishments and disappointments; their challenges navigating work-life balance and their hopes for a more equitable, just world.  

Since the beginning of the Profile Series, we have highlighted the different careers, educational pursuits and life choices of Rhodes women. For example, we have featured Melanie Dobson (Nova Scotia & Somerville 1977), a biologist and professor from the first cohort of Canadian women to be awarded the Rhodes scholarship; Regina Yau (Malaysia & St. Hugh’s 2001), an outstanding violence-against-women activist and one of the few Rhodes scholars selected from Malaysia; and international human rights lawyer Menaka Guruswamy (India & University 1998). We have also featured Isra Bhatty (Illinois & St. Edmund Hall 2007), a justice advocate and translator for Guantanamo Bay detainees; accountant and associate director of Standard Chartered Bank Muloongo Muchelemba (Zambia & Harris Manchester 2002); and stay-at-home mother and elementary school teacher Mary Cleary Kiely (New Hampshire & Somerville 1981).

We have also featured the founder of the Rhodes Project, Ann Olivarius (Connecticut & Somerville 1978), who reflected in her interview on the impetus for the Rhodes Project, the most personally significant legal cases of her career and the heroes that inspire her work. 

Constituency and election data: Who are the 200 Rhodes Women?

The data on our first 200 profiles reflects this diversity. The table and pie chart below indicate the proportion of constituencies reflected in the Profile Series – everywhere from Australia to Zimbabwe.


The next data set indicates the proportion of profiles by decade of election. The Profile Series currently features Rhodes women from as early as 1977 and as recent as 2012. 

What’s next for the Profile Series?

The Profile Series is currently in transformation. Current Rhodes women in residence at Oxford, hired by the Rhodes Project, will conduct all future profiles, allowing for meaningful intergenerational exchange. There will also be minor adaptations to the interview style, which will focus on a more investigative, journalistic approach, with questions tailored to each Scholar. We will soon start organizing each profile with “tags”, improving search functions for readers interested in particular profiles based on field of study, career path, Oxford college or constituency.  

The original profiles will remain online, with new versions added from January 2015 onwards. Future profiles will also focus on underrepresented constituencies, such as Bermuda, Hong Kong, the Commonwealth Caribbean and Southern Africa (including Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland).

 The Profile Series also has important parallels to Dr Susan Rudy and Dr Kate Blackmon’s forthcoming book, Leading Women: Female Rhodes Scholars and the Gender Gap in Leadership (Oxford University Press, 2016), which is based on evidence collected by the Rhodes Project.  The Profile Series will address many of the themes highlighted in Blackmon and Rudy’s research, including how they understand the relation between work and personal life, the importance of career networks, and gendered conceptions of “success”. 

The Rhodes Project will always strive to share the “many versions of what women can be” by providing a platform for Rhodes women to tell their own stories, in their own words. We look forward to preparing many additional profiles!

If you are a female Rhodes scholar and would like to be interviewed  for the Profile Series, please contact Joanne Cave (Alberta & St. John’s 2013), Profile Coordinator at