I think I promised to write these notes up yonks ago. I attended an event called Pathways run by my university that is aimed at giving careers advice to post-grads looking to move outside of academia. I have to say, it was pretty damn good. The format of the event was a series of parallel panel Q&A sessions with former University post-grads at various stages in their careers from all sorts of different fields.
I attended “It’s okay to change your mind”, “Industry versus Academia”, “Using a Medical/Life Sciences PhD”, ” What do employers look for in PhDs?” and finally, “Marketing Your Skills!”. After being made to feel utterly incompetent and rubbish at just about every soft skill PhDs are supposed to develop during the introductory lecture, with absolutely no clue what I want to do with my life, I wasn’t expecting to get much out of the event. Fortunately, my expectations were far exceeded.
The general gist of “It’s okay to change your mind” was “it’s okay to change your mind”! Funny that. We heard from people who had done Business/Finance as post-grads and found, after several years working as Analytical Quants for Big BankingTM, that actually they disagreed with the morals of the whole system. We heard from someone who had started out as a forensic scientist, working as one for several years before the UK government decided it was a fantastic idea to outsource and downsize UK Police forensic departments. He now works as a course manager for the NHS Clinical Biochemists Training Programme, after going through the course himself and doing time as a Clinical Biochemist. Continue reading
I went to fascinating seminar the other week that was organised as part of my University’s programme for International Women’s Day. It was led by Professor Louise Ackers from the Law School, who has been studying race and gender equality issues for nearly twenty years. Ackers has published many articles and reports for international organisations, and has interviewed researchers and academics, male and female, across Europe. Her talk covered various aspects of the ‘leaky pipeline’ in academia, especially in the sciences, and looked at one issue in particular – the requirement to be mobile, that is, the ability to move between institutions and from country to country. Unfortunately, the pressure on academics to demonstrate ‘mobility’ has been growing in recent years because the Research Councils took it up as a metric for allocating grants. In terms of the issues that affect mobility, having a relationship is more of a concern than having kids or caring for relatives. One of the key findings of the research is that many academics think relationships have a bigger impact on mobility and career decisions than children do, and that the response to this gender-specific difficulty ought to be a reconsideration of the mobility metric.
First off, the ‘leaky pipeline’ refers to the declining numbers of women in academia the further up the career ladder you look. At the Undergrad and PhD levels in the Biosciences women significantly outnumber men, by as much as two-to-one in some Universities. At the transition from PhD to Post-doc however, fewer women than men express an interest in an academic science career, and over the course of the post-doc years the number of women staying in academia drops steadily. The end result is a senior academic body that is predominantly male; In the UK for example, just 20% of Professors are women and that statistic hides situations where women are almost entirely absent, such as in Mathematics where 94% of Professors are men!
Obviously, this is an issue, and it doesn’t take much searching on the Guardian UK website to find any number of articles decrying the situation and asking, “But whyyy?”