Last month, the first session of My Journey: Conversations with… took place. This event gave us the privilege of listening to the journeys of Muzz Haniffa, Newcastle Professor of Dermatology and Immunology, & Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow, and Dapo Ajayi, Vice President of Manufacturing and Technical Operations at Janssen. These two truly inspiring women guided us through their impressive career journeys and provided valuable discussion on overcoming external and internal barriers to personal and career progression.
Any member of a marginalised group could likely tell you an experience they’ve encountered with the daunting Leaky Pipeline of STEM. There is a real problem with underrepresentation and a lack of diversity in the community. The problem isn’t necessarily just on an individual level, however: it’s systemic, which makes it much harder to solve.
Muzz pointed out the problem that far too often, the responsibility of highlighting these representation issues falls on the marginalized. She herself didn’t raise the issue until she felt she had the voice and platform to do so – lack of representation is often disheartening, and hard to address. Whether conscious or unconscious, many privileged groups don’t want to change the system because it benefits them. Often, unconsciously, this comes in the form of “we’re just hiring the best candidates” – but the candidate selection field is far too often largely male and white. So how do we combat this?
Muzz and Dapo gave a number of insights. Firstly, diversity has to come from top down to be effective. For real, significant change and stronger representation, systems must be put in place to ensure your selection processes are geared towards diversity. The beginning of this process, says Dapo, is making sure you measure how diverse your workforce is and challenge why your recruitment selections are such a narrow margin. Creating an inclusive environment takes a lot of reflection on how your organisation runs things currently, and has to be based on real belief and commitment, not just lip service.
Secondly, suggested by both Muzz and Dapo: make sure you’re investing in unconscious bias training! Some individuals on a personal level will not feel as though they have an unconscious bias and will pin the problem elsewhere. It’s important to have people acknowledge unconscious bias exists close to home for every one of us, and ensure it is being reflected on when beginning the recruitment and selection process.
External Barrier: Language and Culture
Dapo gave advice on overcoming language and cultural barriers when working globally – something that not all of us will have experienced, but insightful nonetheless! Dapo discussed two main philosophies that helped her while working abroad in unfamiliar environments.
One: Focus on the universals, rather than what separates us. No matter the place, language, or culture, leadership values remain consistently important. You want a leader that inspires you, supports your development, and is interested in helping you succeed. Dapo says she kept this overwhelmingly in mind going into working globally
Two: Make the effort to really understand the culture and its history. This greatly helped Dapo adapt when moving to new countries for work. It is important to invest time in getting to know people and the place you are in to help ease your journey.
Internal Barrier: Impostor Syndrome
Impostor syndrome is another old friend of anyone from any marginalised group. Muzz and Dapo felt it a lot as women in their respective careers; and Dapo recalled when she first became site manager, in large meetings with predominantly men, she was quiet at first. Dapo’s predominant piece of advice is to put yourself forward and give it a go.
Alongside this comes with retraining that doubtful voice in the back of your head and building your self-confidence. Think of what you have achieved! You owe it to yourself and your organisation to feel as though you are able to contribute. Sometimes this takes time, but it is a worthy journey to embark on.
To end this post is a quotation from Dapo towards the end of the event when discussing the feeling of imposter syndrome, that sums up a lot of what My Journey: Conversations with… is about, and is an important mantra for everybody.
“I have a seat at the table. I deserve to be at that table. I have something to say that is relevant and important.”
Thank you so much again to Muzz Haniffa and Dapo Ajayi for taking the time to speak to us. The next My Journey event with new speakers will be taking place in the new year – we hope to see you there!
Earlier this week, the University joined WISE’s #1ofTheMillion Day campaign to celebrate over 1 million women working in STEMM roles in the UK for the first time ever. On our Twitter we shared insights from some women in the Faculty about working in STEMM, including from PhD student Ana-Madalina Ion. Ana wrote this blog about a special woman who inspired her to pursue a career in STEMM…
Hello! My name is Ana Madalina Ion (on the right) and I am a final year PhD student in the Faculty of Medical Sciences, Mitochondria Research Group. I come from Romania. I have a bachelors in Biochemistry from the University of Bucharest, and a masters of research from Radboud University, Nijmegen (Molecular Mechanisms of Disease). I did my master thesis in Bordeaux as an Erasmus student, on mitochondria protein degradation, and I liked mitochondria so much that I decided to pursue a PhD in this area. I would like to introduce you to my inspiring woman in STEMM.
The STEMM woman who has inspired me the most and has always encouraged me when I was feeling down is my mother (on the left). Her name is Carmen Angela Ion and she is an aeronautical engineer. She graduated from the Polytechnic University in Bucharest, the Faculty of Aeronautical Engineering, the specialization engines. She graduated in 1986, at a time when my country was still communist, and when the number of graduates was strictly correlated with the number of open positions. People were not allowed to go abroad and there were no private companies where to find jobs, so one could only work in the public sector. Therefore, each year, only a small number of students were accepted in a faculty, a number approximately equal to the number of opening positions. So, not many students were accepted at a faculty each year, and even fewer of them graduated.
My mother was one of them. She went for a ”men-oriented” university, and chose an even more ”men-oriented” specialization: engines. She recalls how when she would go to classes, she would count how many women she could see. My mother always loved maths, so when she went to the university, people advised her to go study mathematics and become a teacher. They would say that teaching is a more female-friendly job, that gives you more time for kids and a family; engineering was too tough for a woman.
My mum didn’t care. I wish I could say I am proud of her, but as I have no contribution to her graduation, I can only say I am happy she did. It was tough, very tough, but she made it. She didn’t give up, she graduated, and now she works as an aeronautic inspector at the Romanian Civil Aeronautic Authority from Bucharest.
She did take a break to raise me and my sister. She started working again when I was 15. Being a mum at home was another fight for her, because everyone was expecting that she start working immediately after her maternity leave was over. She was judged for not giving me to be raised by my grandparents, for deciding to have another baby even if she didn’t have a salary. She didn’t care.
She was also praised by some intellectual women, which did not help me. One teacher from secondary school told me how grateful I should be to my mum, because she sacrificed her career for me and my sister. My teacher’s words haunted me a long while, because it implied that a woman can only choose one of the two: career or children. Growing up, I struggled understanding that women can have both. And when I grew up enough to talk to my mum about her choice, she told me that she simply didn’t want to miss us growing up. It was never a sacrifice, she never regretted it. She became a full-time mum for 15 years because she decided to.
My mum didn’t follow patterns that others have created for her. She did not give up when she was judged. And that is very inspiring.
As a funny ending, I would like to share with you a story. My mum has a female friend from the university, an aeronautical engineer in another city. One night, her friend was called in at her home because one of the passenger planes had a fault and she and her team had to go repair it. When she arrived close to the plane, the flight attendant lady, seeing a woman, asked her, “Oh, are you the catering?” (apparently the flight attendant had ordered some food). “No, madam”, my mum’s friend replied amused, “I am the aeronautical engineer. I came to repair your plane.”
I hope this made you smile. Women in STEMM are strong, smart and stubborn. Very, very stubborn. Thank you for reading.
Thank you to Ana for sharing her wonderful story with us – if you have a story to tell about an inspirational person in your life, we’d love to share it! Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s back – FMS is holding its second Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Week, and we hope to see you there!
After last year’s success including the celebration of our Athena SWAN Silver Award, we are holding the Faculty’s second EDI Week for staff and students! We have a range of events lined up and listed below so that you can hear about the progress and ongoing work around EDI, and learn more about current issues that might be relevant to you.
Don’t miss out – take a look at what we’ve got lined up and book yourself in! We hope to see you at one of our events!
Monday 24th February:
The EDI Strategy & Our Day-to-day Roles – 10-11.30am, FMS Boardroom To launch the week we’ll be hearing from a number of panellists within the Faculty and beyond, talking about how they would like to interpret and translate our EDI strategy in their day-to-day roles. Read more and register.
Multicultural Event – 12:30-2pm, David Shaw Foyer Organised by the Dental School, this event aims to celebrate our staff/student community by sharing presentations about the various cultures, faiths, traditions and foods within FMS. All are welcome to attend!
Tuesday 25th February:
Imposter Syndrome with Rachel Tobbell – 12-2pm, Leech L2.4 This interactive workshop will explore the experiences of ‘Imposter Syndrome’: how it affects us, how societal pressures can exacerbate the problem, how such internal doubts impact on our lives and what we can do to manage those feelings. Read more and register.
Wednesday 26th February:
LGBT Lives – 12-2pm, Ridley Building 2, Room 1.58 As part of celebrations for LGBTQ+ History month as well as EDI Week, come along and listen to a panel discussion with members of the Rainbow LGBTQ+ staff network as they delve into the day-to-day experiences of working and being LGBTQ+ at Newcastle and in HE. Read more and register.
Thursday 27th February:
Breakfast with Athene Donald – 9.30-10.30am, FMS Boardroom Join the Master of Churchill College at the University of Cambridge, Athene Donald for this session, aimed primarily at ECRs and Fellows, in which you can discuss reconciling the risks of a contract-based research career with a long term vision of making a difference in academia. Breakfast included! Read more and register here.
Plenary with Athene Donald: The Art of Survival – 12.30-2.00pm, David Shaw Lecture Theatre As a longstanding champion of women in academia, Athene Donald will talk about her experiences and strategies developed during her career to help her succeed, and the value of passing on such knowledge to help others survive within institutions. Read more and register here.
Personal Resilience: A taster session, with Lisa Rippingale – 12-2pm, Leech L2.4 This workshop aims to provide participants with a range of tools and techniques to develop their personal resilience. Read more and register here.
Our previous student intern, Georgia Spencer, interviewed Dr Ruth Valentine as part of our Demystifying Leadership blog series to learn all about what the role of Deputy Dean of Undergraduate Studies entails.
What are your main responsibilities in your role?
I’m the Deputy Dean of Undergraduate Studies, meaning I support the Dean of Undergraduate Studies in shaping, developing, and enhancing the Undergraduate programme in FMS.
The most important part of
my job is quality assurance, meaning I must ensure the programmes that we
deliver are of the standard that they should be. A large part of my role is
also strategic; developing new programmes, making decisions, and leading
projects, so I often need to approach tasks with a business head. I also work
with the learning and teaching staff to ensure a culture in which they feel
fully supported and recognised.
The Deputy Dean position is my second role, and has been somewhat of an add on to my other job within the School of Dental Science. There, my research is in nutrient gene interactions, with a specific focus on zinc and fluoride.
What does an average day look like for you?
As I’m sure many others in
roles such as these have said, there just isn’t an average day. As I
essentially have two roles, my days are a mix of both, which has been
difficult. I try to do two days a week in the Faculty Office, but I’m often
juggling my commitments in each area.
Since stepping into the role, I’ve dropped some of my research, and officially I now just do teaching and scholarships, I’ve found that my responsibilities as Deputy Dean of Undergraduate Studies fit better with teaching than research. However, I do still feel like I do research, as my role is often like market research; investigating how to develop a great program through methods such as student surveys and reviews.
What do you enjoy most
about your role?
I love this role as it
allows me to have influence at a University level, not just in Dentistry. I’m
very passionate about widening participation and inspiring the next generation,
and as Deputy Dean of Undergraduate Studies, I have been able to push for this
across the whole Faculty. For example, considering how take home exams will
work for those without internet access at home, and how the University can help
to fund trips. I feel very proud of this and our widening participation
I also like that I’m able to check everything and be very thorough. I can look across the whole Faculty and see how certain areas can be improved. I can make sure I’m questioning everything, and asking the right questions, such as why we’re assessing students in a certain way, or if they like it. I find this really interesting, as I can be inquisitive about everything. The job also gives me a real sense of satisfaction when new programmes I’ve helped design are rolled out to students.
What do you feel you get
out of your role?
Firstly, I feel like it
gives me a platform to fight for the students and ensure that they’re being
prioritised. I love that we can support them through schemes such as the Intu Scheme,
for students who aren’t quite ready. This means we never have to compromise the
quality of our degree programmes, and can be proud that they’re really good,
but we can still give extra support to the students who need it to make sure
everything is still fair.
What do you think is your
biggest achievement in your role?
In the long term, I feel
that championing widening participation and helping to eradicate the elitist
attitude that has existed in Universities historically has been my biggest
achievement, simply because I feel so strongly that this is very important. My
role has given me a bigger arena to make a difference, which is such a special
position to be in.
I’ve also loved introducing a new program, Dietetics, which starts in 2020. I feel that I got it through the Faculty and got it to the place where the DPD can create a fantastic course. It will be in the new building, with new kitchens and sensory booths, which is just great.
What made you want to
apply for the role?
When I applied, I was doing
an Associate Postgraduate Taught role and really wanted to learn more about
Undergraduate, as well as expanding my influence to create change. Really, I
just saw this role as a progression from my Postgraduate Taught role. As Deputy
Undergraduate Dean, I still look after the quality assurance of Postgraduate
Taught, so I continue have elements of my old job incorporated into this one.
Before I applied, I chatted
informally with the Dean of Undergraduate Studies about the role and how it
would impact my career development, which gave me a clearer view of whether the
position was right for me. I was also helped to apply by my close colleagues.
They encouraged me, supported me, and gave me the confidence to put my name
Have you had any prior
leadership roles or training opportunities that helped prepare you for this
I did the Leadership
Foundation Programme for the Directors of Excellence in Learning and Teaching,
where I found out a lot more about leadership. I was then put forward for the
Academic Leaders Programme by the Faculty, which was a programme run in
cooperation between Durham and Newcastle. I found this programme really helpful;
especially elements such as the 360 feedback, and the small leadership sessions
on coaching, which was a really useful technique that I’ve used since. I also
was able to make valuable links with people in other Faculties and at Durham,
including more senior people who were able to advise me. I also had mentorship
from NU Women when I first took on my prior role.
In my interview for my previous
role, I had to do a five-minute presentation about my vision for the role. No
prompts. No PowerPoint. But I’d say this was a great learning experience, as it
helped to show me that I can speak up and champion causes.
What have you learnt
since starting your role?
I think a key thing its
taught me is that I’m more of a strategy person and I don’t want to manage
people so much. This has helped to confirm for me that I’m in the right role
and on the right path. I’ve also reduced my research, which I never would’ve
seen myself doing three or four years ago. This has really helped shape the
direction of my career.
My position has also given
me a lot of insight into the wider University as a whole. I never realised when
I applied that I’d be involved with Kings Gate, for example. It’s allowed me to
branch out and make a difference both across other Faculties, as well as
externally at a national level.
What have you found more
challenging in your role?
I’ve found time management difficult, because I’ve tried to do it all. But I’ve learnt from this that you simply can’t. Something has to give; you can’t do it all. But I feel like I’ve got the balance right now. I’ve accepted my own capabilities and I let go of my previous admissions responsibilities, which has given me more time. I’ve gained more confidence in saying no and have learnt to delegate.
I initially dreaded working
on appeals. But I’ve learnt that I’m not that bad at them, and I’m proud that
I’ve shown others and myself that I can do it.
How do you balance the
role with your other commitments?
With two small children, it’s
been important to have a really good attitude towards work-life balance. Even
though no academic role is 9-5, really good time management during the day, as
well as delegating to others, has helped give me my evenings with my family.
I’m also very strict on not checking emails during holidays and there’s very
little travel involved in my role, other than the occasional conference in
My line manager has also been very aware and very understanding of my family commitments. For example, with the University Education Committee which starts at 8am, she’s very understanding if I’m not able to get there for it. Sometimes, you just have to decide you’re spending time with your family.
When it comes to my family, my husband is very supportive, and we share everything completely. I’d like to be a good role model to my daughter by being successful in my career while balancing it with my outside commitments.
Thank you to Ruth Valentine for taking the time to speak to us about her role! We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the roles and responsibilities involved in being Deputy Dean of Undergraduate Studies (and a special thank you to Georgia for giving us such a wonderful series!).
October was Black History Month, a month dedicated to celebrating black people in the UK. Through this Personal Histories blog series we hoped to honour our own staff and students at Newcastle by speaking to them about their interests, likes and dislikes and aspects of their culture, to learn more about their stories and histories.
For our fourth and final blog in the series, we had a very interesting chat with Dental Sciences Teaching Fellow, Adetunji Otemade to find out more about his interests, perspectives and career.
How did you end up in Newcastle?
When I saw the job application I was in the process of relocating to New Zealand actually, to work in New Zealand and well… things changed! I’ve always wanted to go into academia and obviously how I applied was a last minute thing, but I got the interview, got the job and it’s been great since then. I’ve always been around in the North East because I did my bachelor’s degree at Teesside University and went on to do my masters at Teesside as well, so I would consider myself a Northerner.
How did you become involved in your
I trained as a Dental Hygienist and Therapist and after my first degree I worked in practice for a while, then worked within communities. I’ve always felt a keen interest and a spark when it comes to research, so I went ahead and did a master’s in Public Health. When I finished my master’s degree I worked down south in London with an NHS Trust where I was involved with various dental outreach projects which include dental care for the elderly in care homes, dental care for the homeless and primary school visits. After my master’s degree I wanted to do a PhD which was a reason why I was looking to go abroad, but then this job came up and I just feel it’s a perfect fit.
When it comes to pursuing a PhD degree or research in general, in our profession as Dental Hygienists and Therapists, we don’t necessarily have lots of people going ahead and doing PhDs – we do have a couple staff around here that have got their PhD and it’s actually following their footsteps and doing something worthwhile, but at the same time doing something that you enjoy and contributing to the profession as a whole. So yeah, it’s been a long journey; I actually started as a dental nurse back in 2007 which was when I moved up to the UK from Nigeria.
What are your main hobbies and
interests outside of your role?
I love photography, and I do a blog – a men’s style, men’s fashion blog, just taking photos and writing about how to dress and stuff. Hopefully it’s still working because I can’t remember the last time I posted, with my workload and trying to balance that. I enjoy photography as well, grabbing my camera, going out and taking shots and pictures. But yeah, my main hobby outside of the University is basically fashion photography and blogging.
I love music as well and I’m trying to combine my love for music with the kind of research that I’m doing in terms of music therapy, or how music affects our brains when it comes to managing anxiety in patients.
What would you
regard as your proudest achievement?
On a professional level I would say getting to where I am today; it’s been a long journey considering the background that I came from. I’ve always been in an academic environment as my dad taught at a higher institution before he retired, and my mum as a primary school teacher and eventually as a head teacher before she retired. However, it’s not been an easy journey. I had to leave university during the first year of my animal science degree back then. My reason for leaving was because I was young and dumb; however, the constant university strike that was rampant in the country back then did not really help either. I was lucky to have my aunty who happened to come over to Nigeria from the UK on a visit and thought the environment was not really ideal or working for me and made plans for me to come over, all of which only took about 4 months. So finding myself in this environment from somewhere where you’ve struggled in the past and it’s taken you loads to actually get to know yourself, to get to a place where you have a master’s degree and hopefully start your PhD… It’s a great achievement.
Aside from my work and academics I would say it’s having a family, having my kids.
biggest challenge you have faced?
It’s a difficult one, you know. In terms of challenges I would say looking back it’s been very difficult to climb the career ladder, so to speak, and I think it depends on the level that you are, for example if you’re starting from scratch.
In terms of my profession, being a dental nurse back in the day used to be mainly dominated by females so I’ve experienced sort of, like, discrimination along the lines. Things are changing now but we still have a long way to go in the UK and the world generally when it comes to making things equal for men, women, people from different races and backgrounds, sexual orientation and everything. Sometimes it’s very difficult to cope with the fact that you’ve lectured, you’ve taught students here, you’ve mixed with lots of people, and on your way home you still get racially abused. In 2019. So yeah, so that’s a very big challenge.
What inspires you?
Life. Knowledge. And self. I just see life as a journey, and I feel we need to appreciate knowledge and cherish it. Once you’re knowledgeable – well, you can’t know everything – but once you’re more knowledgeable it makes you much more informed and when you know your rights and you know what’s right for you then that can be moved through life, knowing that you know. And in terms of life, as we all live on this planet, we are all human beings regardless of where you’re from, your sexual orientation, religion and everything and as long as other people are happy then you can be happy. So that’s what inspires me, and seeing everyone achieving their full potential is something that I cherish a lot. I think that that’s what brought me to this role because you want to inspire knowledge and inspire the next generation of young kids who will go ahead and do greater things.
Can you give me
a selection of your favourite things from your culture, favourite music, films,
food, literature etc?
Food! Being a Nigerian man, we don’t joke with our food. So local food, I know lots of people talk about jollof rice and stuff like that, but personally for me, a food called iyan which is yam flour meal, pounded yam, or you have eba (made from cassava). I think they now call those types of food swallow – that was something I heard recently – I went to Nigeria last year but it’s been a while and things have changed since moving over here, emergence of these new things. So swallow is any food that is made like maize meal, cassava meal, those types of foods and you eat them with spicy sauce, vegetables and stuff with meat, fish; that’s a big thing. So food is very important and special. Then it’s just the culture, the music and swag; I don’t know if people are aware of it but African music is poppin’ right now. The likes of Burna Boy, Davido, Wizkid, Runtown, just to mention a few, are popular at the moment. So yeah, definitely the food and the music.
What do you think about when you
hear “Black History Month”?
Obviously because my early education is not from the UK I don’t really know much about Black History Month, whereas if you ask my son or my children they will know as they’ve been taught. But having lived in the UK for quite a while now I understand that from a Western perspective Black History Month is basically to celebrate the achievements of black people in the UK, to look back and see how far they’ve come, the struggles and how far they still need to go as a community.
In terms of the context of Black History Month here it’s all
about the achievements of black people through the Windrush and I think that’s
the lens that we normally use. But as Africans, or western Africans we have a
different history even compared to the Caribbean and everything. For example,
as far as I’m aware in my family we’ve had great great grandparents or family
members who migrated to the UK around the 1920s and there is little that we
know about it – what I’m trying to say is that there’s lots of different
‘black’ history and I don’t know… To try and pull everything together and
celebrate a month, I don’t think that works. But having said that, if that’s
something we need to do for the purpose of equality which includes every race,
then we just have to do it and keep working with it.
As a Nigerian I would say I don’t see myself as black and I
have never seen myself as a black man until arriving in the UK. I am a human
being who is fortunate to be born in the part of the world I was born. I just
feel I’m now in an environment where we have these labels and systems. However,
this is where we are now and in order to make a change and spread the message
that we are all human then I need to make my voice heard. We have blacks, Caucasians
– we’re all human beings. I think I’m at that stage where I’m still trying to
understand why we have to have this month – what about people of Chinese origin,
Asian origin – are we going to have history for everyone? But this is what
we’ve got now so we’ve got to work with it.
Thank you so much to Adetunji for doing this interview with us – we are so grateful, and really enjoyed hearing his perspectives. And the music recommendations have not gone unappreciated!
That’s one of the best parts about celebrating one another and sharing our stories or ideas with others – you never know what you might learn, or the impact that a fresh perspective could have. We hope that you’ve enjoyed our Personal Histories blog series, and we would encourage you to get involved…
If you would like to speak to us about yourself, a topic you’re interested in or maybe even an event you’re involved with, we would be more than happy to share it on our blog. The more interactive the better, so don’t hesitate to contact us.
Talking Equality, Diversity & Inclusion in the Faculty of Medical Sciences and at Newcastle University.