Interning for NU Women

After two years as an intern for NU Women, Caroline Rae reflects on her experience with the Network through an interview with current intern, Maia Almeida-Amir.

Maia: Why did you decide to intern for NU Women?

Caroline: I am really interested in issues of gender equality – as reflected in both my Ph.D. research where I look at representations of the environment through a feminist lens, and in my other job as an editorial assistant for the journal Feminist Theory. Working for NU Women seemed like an opportunity to make a real, lived difference and champion equality, diversity and inclusion in the very place I work and study. And I am so glad I did as it’s been a really good opportunity to see how change can be instigated within the institution and understand the impact a network like NU Women can have for all women working across the university.

Maia: What has been your favourite event during your tenure at NU Women?

Caroline: Reflecting now, I would definitely say the Christmas Social 2019 was one of my favourite events – it was the last in person event we ran before the pandemic and it was lovely to meet and connect with our members in a social setting. 

I would add, however, that the events we’ve ran in the last year virtually have been an amazing way of connecting with our members in what has sometimes felt like an incredibly isolating and difficult year. I really enjoyed Emily Yarrow’s discussion of female academics’ experience of research evaluation and Barbara Read’s talk on failure and casualised staff. The topics resonated with me as I’m about to submit my thesis and enter the job market and, while it can be hard to hear about how these issues are impacting women in academia, it has been beneficial to hear about other people’s experiences of casualisation and REF and how female academics are advocating for change through their research.

Maia: What has been your favourite piece of work you’ve done for NU Women?

Caroline: In 2020, not long after lockdown started, I was involved in curating the blog series on living and working in lockdown. The stories we collected gave an insight into how our members were coping with the challenges lockdown brought – whether that was moving home, maternity leave or even just trying to stay connected with colleagues – the stories really resonated with me and so many others and highlighted how NU Women can provide a sense of community and comfort for its members that extends beyond the walls of the institution.

Maia: What do you think you’ll take forward from your time at NU Women?

Caroline: Certainly, that sense of community – we are fortunate to have this network at Newcastle that connects women working in all roles and across all levels. I will definitely continue to act as an ambassador for the network and I’m looking forward to returning to in-person events.

Maia: Finally, what advice would you give to incoming interns?

Caroline: You’re as much a member as you are an intern so think about what you would like to see from the network and advocate for it; if there’s a particular speaker you’d like to invite or a project you’d like to lead on, then go for it! The more suggestions and ideas we have coming from women across the university, the more diverse and inclusive the events and activities the network runs will be!

NU Women Charity Collection 2021

NU Women is pleased to announce that in 2021 we will once again be collecting hats, scarves, mittens and gloves to donate to N.E.S.T. If you have had a Lockdown ‘clear out’ and have found yourself with any of these items spare, then please hold on to them; we will shortly be announcing a central location on campus where these can be dropped off!

In 2019, NU Women amassed over 2500 items of winter clothing to donate to refugees and asylum seekers via N.E.S.T and hope to build on the success of this with our 2021 drive. North East Solidarity and Teaching (N.E.S.T) is a multi-award winning and internationally-recognised student-led project at Newcastle University Students Union. N.E.S.T empowers the refugee and asylum-seeking community in the region through a variety of formats such as one-to-one English teaching, group English classes, sports, creative arts and trips into the local area. Through N.E.S.T, learners (refugees and asylum seekers) gain confidence in their language skills, find new friends and family, and become better integrated into the community. N.E.S.T runs every day, providing up to 13 sessions each week for people of all ages.

Over 2500 items were collected for N.E.S.T in 2019

This year’s charity collection drive also follows on from the success of our pre-lockdown collection for Vision Aid Overseas, where over 400 pairs of glasses and sunglasses were donated. The donated glasses will be recycled, and the proceeds used to support the fantastic work being conducted in providing brand-new glasses and eye care services overseas. Glasses cases were passed on to charity shops in the local area.

Our pre-lockdown collection was for Vision Aid Overseas

NU Women would like to say thank you to everyone who has shown their support by donating either glasses or winter clothing to each of our charity collections; these drives  demonstrate our commitment and our goodwill to supporting local and global issues of equality, diversity and inclusion.  We welcome suggestions on future collections!

Carly Jones MBE: Autism in Women

On Wednesday 14th October 2020, NU Women welcomed Carly Jones MBE at a virtual event where she spoke on the experiences of autistic women and girls.

Carly Jones MBE is a British Autism Advocate who has worked for the inclusion of autistic women and girls since 2008. She has spoken on news channels, at universities, and in Parliament, and was the first British autistic woman to address the United Nations on autistic women’s rights. 

Carly was publicly appointed a member of the UK Honours Committee, is an independent panel member for the Ministry of Justice and works for the Heathrow Accessibility Advisory Group.

Demystifying Autism in Women and Girls

Being diagnosed with autism can be a difficult and conflicting experience. Carly spoke to the importance of diagnosis: the access to support that a diagnosis provides, the assurance that you are not alone in your diagnosis, how it can help with family understanding, and how it can provide self-protection.

Carly spoke of the hurdles that women and girls can face in getting diagnosed – autism is often seen as something that is only recognised in boys, and as such, diagnosis tools are often predominantly male-based, leading to women and girls risking being under-diagnosed and left behind, leaving them vulnerable.

There are numerous consequences of being undiagnosed or misdiagnosed – misdiagnoses can lead to the incorrect medication being prescribed, or incorrect diagnoses remaining on medical records. People with autism are often not included in drug trials, so there is a lack of understanding as to how various medications might work (or not work). Carly noted that annulment of prior misdiagnoses is vitally important, as past diagnoses may be raised in family courts.

Carly spoke to the way that people with autism might respond to pain and articulate it – it is important to ask direct and clear questions about an individual’s pain, and explain why they are being asked this. An app has been developed by Carly that can be vital in helping those who struggle to communicate their pain – the app provides images of what pain may “look like” so as to help define and describe what kind of pain is being experienced. The app can be downloaded here:

Carly also noted the importance of understanding that an individual’s position on the autism spectrum is never fixed – your position can move depending on the context or on your emotions at the time.

Strategy to Safeguard and Flourish

For the second half of the talk, Carly moved on to discussing approaches, ideas and tactics for safeguarding and supporting autistic women and girls.

Carly noted that it can be hard for people with autism to ask for help: it can be difficult to know when you need help, or people might “mask” as a desire to fit in.

Pre-emptive safeguarding is one way to provide support: asking clear and explicit questions everyday – such as “what was the best/worst thing that happened to you today” – can help to ensure that an individual will know that they are able to talk with you when needed, and to draw out the nuances of their daily experiences. The Visual Pain Images app mentioned above can be a useful tool, and it is also important to ensure that people understand their bodily rights and boundaries early on in life.

Emergency plans are also important to put in place: implementing a “get me out of here” emoji that can be sent if someone is in a situation they are uncomfortable with, or using the “Uncle Kev” trick – if someone notices that they are being followed, a potential way to get out of the situation is to wave at the nearest house and shout “Uncle Kev”. This can deter the person following you, as they will assume you are with an older family member, and can give you a chance to make a call or knock on the door of the house until the coast is clear.

Carly finished her talk by looking at a selection of case studies, emphasizing various situations in which people with autism might be taken advantage of, and ways to help avoid this.

NU Women thanks Carly for her important and informative talk. Carly’s website can be accessed here:

Her Twitter handle is @CarlyJonesMBE

Moving into lockdown after maternity leave as a PGR

As part of our blog series where we share experiences, tips, and tricks of living and working during lockdown, Philippa Carter a third year PhD student in Geography studying landscape, sense of place and intergenerational memory in North East England, discusses the challenges of returning to her PhD after maternity leave shortly before lockdown began.

I tend to work from home a lot of the time, so when the announcement of lockdown came in March it might not have seemed like such a big change for me compared to many others. Except of course, that my ‘office’, which already doubles up as the family dining room, then also became my husband’s office and my two-year-old daughter became our only other co-worker (unless you count the cat)!

I had my daughter in the second year of my PhD and getting back into the project after a year of maternity leave was tricky. A month before lockdown started, I drafted my first full findings chapter and I felt like I was finally finding some momentum and getting into the flow of the thesis. Six months on that is certainly not how I’m feeling.

In some ways it has been an anxious time for me, particularly before I had my extension confirmed; getting that sorted out was a massive weight off my mind. But whilst there have been a whole host of worries and stresses, it has also given me a different perspective on my research. My work focuses on the small details of family and community life and how these things impact on our sense of place and identity; spending so much time with my immediate family and getting to know my local area so much better has helped me think about this differently and realise again just how important place can be.

Overall, I’m sure when I look back on this time, I will think how lucky I was to have spent so much time with my daughter and we have had some great times, but at other times it has been hard to keep that perspective. I have missed immersing myself completely in my work (which is difficult even in normal circumstances with a young family). My daughter is back in nursery now and in the next few weeks my husband will be spending a couple of days a week back in the office so hopefully over the coming months I will begin to get more space – both physical and mental – for writing as I get closer to my completion date.

NU Women listening workshops: Understanding the concerns of colleagues and PGRs

NU Women invites women colleagues and postgraduate research (PGR) students from across the University to join us in online listening workshops aimed at addressing any questions and/or sharing concerns they have around returning to campus and/or  the University’s adjustments as a result of COVID-19.  These listening sessions aim to help address any questions. There are individual sessions for colleagues and for PGR students, reflecting the different concerns and needs of these groups.

Colleague session:

Date/Time: 8th September, 12.00 noon – 1.30pm

Delivery: Online via zoom (link to follow)

Duration: 1h 30min

[book now]

PGR session:

Date/Time: 17th September, 10.30am – 12.00 noon

Delivery: Online via zoom (link to follow)

Duration: 1h 30min

[book now]

Attendance at the sessions will provide colleagues and PGRs with an opportunity to share confidential views and opinions in a safe space, with a view to driving change and better support for colleagues and PGRs.

Session format

  • In part one you will hear from colleagues from Health and Safety, Occupation Health, and People Services who will answer any questions you might have relating to campus reintegration or adjustments being made in response to COVID-19.
  • Part two of the session will be in a ‘safe space’ format and led by some members of steering committee of NU Women. It will provide individuals with an opportunity to confidentially share their concerns and thoughts in the current climate. The notes from these sessions will be anonymised and used to inform change and provide better support for colleagues and PGRs at the University.

Ahead of attending the session, attendees will be given the opportunity to send in questions they may wish to explore.

We are aware that the times may not be suitable for everyone. If you are unable to attend a session, but still have issues and concerns that you would like to raise, please send your questions to the Organisational Development email address below, and we will ensure that these are answered during the sessions.

If you require any further information, please email

Moving (and working from) home during lockdown

As part of our blog series where we share experiences, tips, and tricks of living and working during lockdown, Rachel Pattinson, who manages digital research programmes in Open Lab in the School of Computing, reflects on moving and working from home during COVID-19.

Like many of my Newcastle University colleagues, I’ve been working from home since the middle of March. And along with 27 million others, I watched Boris Johnson announce the UK’s lockdown live on 23rd March. But I was one of the few who listened to the Prime Minister tell us all to ‘stay at home’ – the night before I was due to exchange and complete on the purchase of my first house.

Last autumn, when I’d had my offer accepted on my new home, Coronavirus didn’t exist. And I was working full-time in the Urban Sciences Building. So beginning an indefinite period of working from home, during a pandemic, and attempting to buy and move home at the same time, caused a number of unforeseen events:

  • I spent the first couple of weeks of lockdown pretty stressed out. Because it’s difficult to ‘stay at home’ when you’re not really sure which home you’re going to be living in…
  • I ended up on the front page of BBC news. Which made my colleagues, friends and family laugh quite a lot!
  • I spend the first of the University’s ‘pause Fridays’ in April exchanging and completing on my house purchase. I was so grateful to the University for giving me the time to get everything finalised!
  • I couldn’t get essential furniture (like a fridge) delivered to my new home during lockdown. So, I had to delay my move and arrange to stay and work in my old house for an extra couple of months.
  • About 75% of my stuff was in boxes for three months. Including some of my work files. And it meant my working space looked very minimal during March, April and May…
  • In June, the internet moved house (a while before I did). And promptly stopped working. So for a few days, I had no internet in either house. I completely used up my mobile phone’s data allowance, I bought a top-up, I bought another top-up…
  • … and I had a day or so where I had to work mostly offline in the new house while I waited in for essential furniture to finally arrive. I did my best, but I definitely attended a few meetings where I’m told that I sounded much more dalek than human(!).
  • I eventually got internet in the new place, but I was still staying in my previous home, so I spent a week commuting back and forth between the two locations.
  • And then I finally moved house! Since moving, I’ve been redecorating and unpacking whilst working full-time. I’ve now worked in four or five different spaces in my house, so my colleagues have collectively seen an interesting tour of my new home.
Rachel ended up on BBC News as a result of her move during lockdown.

It’s not what I planned. But living through and working during a pandemic wasn’t something any of us predicted.

And, looking back on lockdown, I really appreciate the support I received from my colleagues and from Newcastle University to make a major life change like this during a time when the UK stood still.

Balancing Working from Home and Working for Home

As part of our blog series where we share experiences, tips, and tricks of living and working during lockdown, Sathya GunasekaranSenior Developer/ Analyst with NUITshares her experience of juggling childcare and work during lockdown.

If I look back at the last four months of working from home, it was not as easy as I initially thought it would be.  I prepared a to-do list in the beginning of April, which included things like exercising and learning a new skill.

Though I had a proper workstation set up at home, having my husband also working from home and having to home school my 8-year-old daughter were very new to me. I neither had a syllabus to teach her nor the skills needed to be a good teacher! The long list of links to various resources sent by her school was a bit overwhelming. I had to sit with her for her online homework every day. She even had her weekly cello lessons on zoom which meant we couldn’t take any calls during that time (not even from the back garden!). We ordered some books and subscribed to Disney+ and did not know what else to do to keep her engaged while we were busy working. I felt guilty about either having to leave her on her own or at times not being able to concentrate on work as much as I wanted to.

Despite saving 2.5 hours every day by not travelling to work, I did not learn a new skill, I did not teach my daughter much and I could not exercise enough! My to-do list lies somewhere untouched. So, if you have not done an awful lot during the last four months and just managed ticking along so far, it is okay, you are not alone.

Finding a routine in lockdown

As part of our blog series where we share experiences, tips, and tricks of living and working during lockdown, Claire Hutton, Research Technical Team Lead, explains how she overcame some of the initial anxieties of lockdown by establishing routine and connecting with people.

I started as Research Technical Team Lead in January, and like everyone else I had lots of plans for the next few months. I really wasn’t prepared for working from home – I didn’t expect the University shutdown to happen as quickly as it did – and I felt like I’d been swept along in a bit of a tidal wave in that last week at work!

Luckily I have a work laptop, but doing everything on a small screen is challenging, and working via RAS (the remote working tool) isn’t ideal! I found the first couple of weeks really stressful – lots of emails from people looking for answers that I didn’t have. I’ll also admit that the idea of getting used to new software like Zoom and Teams made me pretty anxious! I have 2 boys aged 13 and 14 who were also suddenly at home and having to get used to doing work remotely. It all felt a bit too much.

I decided that having a routine would help, so we get up at a set time every morning and start work at 9am, with regular breaks through the day. I have meetings or “coffee time” with colleagues most days, as keeping in touch makes me feel less isolated – I’m a Zoom and Teams expert now!! I go into work once a week to flush taps, check on equipment and make sure there are no issues with the buildings – it’s strange that a trip into work feels like an outing these days!

One of the main things that is helping me is taking part in regular gym classes via Zoom, doing some exercise gives me a lift, and doing it via Zoom means that I get to see my gym buddies as well. I’m also decorating, cleaning and gardening to stay busy.

Flexible Working as a Senior Academic in Lockdown

As part of our blog series where we share experiences, tips, and tricks of living and working during lockdown, Nicola Curtin, Professor of Experimental Cancer Therapeutics, shares an insight into how she has restructured her day to meet the demands of work while being at home.

Firstly, let me say I am in the very fortunate position of : 

  • Being a research academic who is no longer tied to the bench and loves just thinking  
  • Being over 60 so I don’t have to manage home schooling or cooped-up teenagers,  
  • having a house that is big enough for my husband and me to work in separate rooms (a necessity when we are both having Zoom meetings) and  
  • Having a garden to go out in when it’s fine. 

I am finding the lockdown fits pretty well with the way I work, allowing me the freedom to structure each day according to the weather to a large extent. Other than Zoom meetings there is no defined structure or length to my day. It makes no difference whether it is a weekday or a holiday my day will be a mixture of academic work, domestic work (pretty limited – I hate housework) and either gardening or having a post-prandial snooze in the sun (got to keep up my vitamin D levels). This is my favourite time of the year, when the trees at last have some lovely fresh green foliage and everywhere is looking so much more colourful. It has been lovely to have the opportunity to watch the birds – who’d have thought that a tiny wren could be so deafening.  

It isn’t all snoozing in the sun though, I have 3 PhD students and an MD student in their final year so they are busy writing theses and papers and 2 post-docs who are writing grant proposals and papers. We continue to exchange documents and have weekly progress meetings. I really enjoy sharing thoughts about the data, what it means, and how to make it an interesting story for examiners and reviewers. The zoom meetings are largely successful and sharing our screens means it’s actually not so different from our face to face weekly meetings. Without the distraction of getting the next experiment done it has allowed them time to really think hard.  We have been surprisingly productive so far with several papers completed and in various stages along the publication route. 

We have always had fortnightly lab group meetings with a presentation from one member of the group. Rather than 10 of us trying to squeeze into a meeting room these are now zoom meetings from each of our homes where other family members make an occasional (sometimes regular) appearance. It is rather nice actually, so I do hope that in the future we have a much more flexible approach to meetings and tolerate the odd interruption. Of course, it doesn’t always work and sometimes my husband has cut me off by sending a large document when I’m in the middle of a meeting. 

Meetings with groups outside of the University have continued too. Now at least I don’t have to get up at an ungodly hour to get to a 10.00 am meeting in London, so definitely a plus there. Scientific meetings have been cancelled, but they have been rescheduled as virtual ones – it will be interesting to see how that goes. If it works, it will be a lot less draining than travelling to America for a 3-day meeting, although the networking opportunities will be lost. 

On the domestic front, I do miss seeing my daughter and her family, particularly darling Freddie who is 2 and a half and just so delightfully entertaining. Thankfully, we have video calls several times a week. Our neighbours have a WhatApp group and share a lot of information (including photos of the postman, who is dressing up for the occasion) and the Thursday evening Clap for Carers has become an opportunity to reconnect and share seedlings etc. I miss my Zumba and dance classes too but our teacher has put them online. It’s not quite the same as being in class as I miss my weekly catch-up with friends there too but it still puts me in a good mood.  

I do miss seeing my students and staff face to face though and the casual contact for spur of the moment discussion of an idea or problem solving, or even just a good laugh (although we do manage a few of those in zoom meetings, particularly with the family interruptions). I also miss my daily walk to work across the Town Moor, the sky is so big and the sound of the larks is so cheerful. I don’t miss the cows though. I am so looking forward to walking in to see everyone. And getting my hair cut, but isn’t everyone? 

So to sum up, what has worked for me is: 

  • Scheduling meetings according to need, of appropriate length and at a convenient time of day. Enjoying the interruptions from children and pets, it’s an opportunity to understand others different circumstances as well as to support and motivate. 
  • Working according to my own schedule as far as possible. As long as the work gets done it really doesn’t matter when, it might be working furiously all Sunday or late into a Wednesday evening. 
  • Getting outside as much as possible and taking pleasure in looking at the environment. 
  • Having some quiet time just to think (not worry) and maybe re-evaluate priorities. 
  • Staying in touch with friends and family and making new friends with the neighbours. 
  • Thinking how great it will be when the lockdown is over, even if it won’t be the same as before.  

Maintaining positivity and connectivity in Lockdown

As part of our blog series where we share experiences, tips, and tricks of living and working during lockdown, Linda Robinson, Organisational Development Lead and NU Women Committee member, shares her story of neighbourly support and celebrating VE Day.

What are your memories of the Covid-19 pandemic back in 2020?  In years to come if I’m asked this question my response will be: ‘although it was a dreadful time for many, for me it was a time when I discovered I was surrounded by a wonderful group of neighbours’.

A few days after it was announced we needed to stay at home, I discovered a note through my door from one of my neighbours asking if I would like to join a neighbourhood WhatsApp group so we could keep in contact with each other.  Having this group has certainly helped us get to know each other – after 20 years of living at the coast in Cullercoats I now finally know the names of all my neighbours.

Since lockdown we have all been vigilant about staying at home but have been actively looking for things to do to keep us all from going stir crazy.  One neighbour made pom poms to hang from her garden tree, within a space of a few days she’d made some for every neighbour to hang outside – we’ve heard our street is now being referred to as the Pom Pom Street.

On Saturday evenings we all gather in our gardens for an ‘isolation disco’.  At 9pm Pride Radio play 3 songs for those having an isolation disco – so now on a Saturday evening there’s lots of bad dancing in our gardens and lots of laughter too. 

We held a ‘Stay in your Garden’ street party to celebrate VE Day on the 8th May.  We all dressed in 1940s style, organised a picnic, and played a few party games – all while remaining safely in our own gardens.  On the day we raised over £100 that we now plan to donate to the residencies of a local care home in Cullercoats.

Celebrating VE Day with a ‘Stay in your garden’ party

When this is all over, I will miss the pom poms and dancing with my neighbours in our gardens on a Saturday evening, but hopefully will be learning some new crafting skills… One neighbour has offered to start a ‘Street Craft Club’ in her new garden shed – which she’s managed to build since lockdown!

Linda Robinson, Organisational Development Lead