Women in Academia

I recently attended the launch of a new report by the Institute of Physics jointly done with the Royal Astronomical Society, Gazing at the Future.  The report looks at the experiences of male and female physics and astronomy researchers during their PhDs and their expectations of whether or not they will enter academia after the PhD.

The stats in the report make pretty depressing reading: female doctoral students rate the overall experience of their doctorate lower than their male peers; and the proportion of female doctoral students happy with their doctorate is on average 7% lower than for male doctoral students.  Only just over 55% of female doctoral students across all years of study agree that they would make good research scientists (70% of male students overall would agree).

Particularly stark was the finding that 48% of female students, in their final year, envisage that they might have a university role in 3-5 years’ time, compared with 65% of male students.

The report suggests reasons behind these stats, including the issue of a lack of role models (thus reinforcing unconscious bias amongst recruiters and setting an unconscious bar on ambition on the part of candidates).

It doesn’t seem to me, though, that physics and astronomy are particularly alone in these findings.  While efforts such as Athena SWAN and the Equality Charter Mark, as well as the fantastic photos of female professors in the Strand building, all help to promote academia as a welcoming place for women, the conversations I have with female researchers across all Faculties point to structural issues around the competition for grants and working culture that are off-putting.  In fairness, they are often off-putting to men looking for work/life balance too.

What to do?  Find resilience, set examples, seek good advice, take opportunities.  Find a mentor, find a ‘supporter’ [someone who actively looks for opportunities for you], and don’t be pigeonholed.  Think about protecting your self-esteem and promoting your self-confidence.  And retain a love for research.


Athena SWAN successes across the Health Faculties

This month three faculties: the Dental Institute, the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience and the Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing & Midwifery have been conferred Athena SWAN Silver awards by the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU). A further four Divisions in the Faculty of Life Sciences & Medicine have been granted Bronze awards.

The Divisions: Cancer Studies, Genetics & Molecular Medicine, Health & Social Care Research, and the Randall Division of Cell & Molecular Biophysics join the five existing award holders in the Faculty of Life Sciences & Medicine that received awards last April.

The awards recognise commitment to advancing women’s careers in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, medicine and mathematics) subjects.

The faculties who received Silver awards carry out a range of impactful activities that support gender equality for both staff and students. Some of the activities for postgraduate students and postdoctoral staff include:

In Nursing & Midwifery, male staff and student ambassadors are encouraged to participate in recruitment events and outreach activities. The Faculty has seen an increase in male students on PGT pre-registration programmes by 5% since 2010/11. Read the full Athena SWAN Silver application here.

At the IoPPN, the submission noted initiatives such as a PGR parenting network launched in 2014, and a post-doc network to help staff with making the transition to lecturer posts. Read the full Athena SWAN Silver application here.

In the Dental Institute, online promotion of work by women researchers through their Women in Science campaign, is used to celebrate success internally and to make the Dental Institute more attractive to female job applicants. Read the full Athena SWAN Silver application here.

To achieve Athena SWAN awards, applicants sign up to the Athena SWAN Charter and undertake a thorough self-assessment of their practices, and develop measurable action plans to further good practice and address areas for improvement within three years.

The ECU commented that: ‘It is the highest number of awards [across the country] presented to date, with the success rate increasing in this round’.

Throughout 2015 and 2016 Health departments across the university that do not currently hold an award, or which hold a Bronze award, will continue to work towards progressing to Silver status.

International Women’s Day 2014

International Women’s Day (IWD) is a major day of global celebration for the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.

IWD is celebrated annually on 8 March, and this year the College will be holding its flagship event to celebrate IWD on Friday 7 March under, the theme “Inspiring Change”.

This is a free event, open to all and details are:

‘Inspiring Change’
Friday 7 March 2014, 13.00–16.00
Henriette Raphael Function Room, Guy’s Campus
Register at: kingsiwd.eventbrite.co.uk

The College is delighted that Professor Paul Walton, University of York, and holder of the first ever Athena SWAN Gold award, will be delivering the keynote speech, covering his experience of leading significant organisational change, the trials and tribulations and lessons learnt.

A panel of dynamic speakers, from King’s and elsewhere, will also share their own experiences of leading inspirational change in a number of areas, and attendees will be the first to view the photographs taken at the Female Professors photo-shoot held on 24 February – the first in a series of events to capture an archive of images and stories from all 155 women professors at King’s.

To find out more about this event, and a number of other College events to celebrate IWD, please visit: http://www.kcl.ac.uk/aboutkings/governance/equality/athena/iwd.aspx