Thank you to Stacey Wagstaff, the Girls Network North East Manager, for joining us last week to start off our summer events.
The Girls Network is a national charity, operating in eight regions across the country with a mission to “inspire and empower” girls aged 14-19 by connecting them with hand-picked mentors in a variety of career paths.
The mentoring programme is designed to respond to the systemic social and educational failings for teenaged girls, particularly those coming from poorer homes.
To illustrate the difficulties faced by teenaged girls today, Stacey shared with us a video of girls sharing their concerns.
As shown in the video, the pressures from social media, bullying, body image, pornography, and exams are immense. This is compounded by educational difficulties and worries about the future: at sixteen 50% of girls from the poorest houses get no GCSE passes; less than 6% make it into higher education; and only 2% reach the most selective universities.
As Stacey explained, many of these girls had high aspirations, but didn’t believe they could actually achieve them.
Here is where the mentorship programme is designed to intervene.
The programme connects women from a variety of professional and life-experience backgrounds with girls for a series of one-to-one mentoring sessions delivered over the course of a year.
The aim is to be an ally for teenage girls, offering them experience, confidence building, support networks, and a space to think about their future.
Beyond this, the Girls Network offers workshops and work experience placements, and the girls who participate have lifelong access to their Ambassador programme, providing them with long-term support.
The programme clearly has a big impact on mentees. Of the over one thousand girls mentored each year 96% reported improvements in their confidence, and 98% said they felt more positive about their future.
If you’re interested in becoming a mentor for the Girls Network, please apply at https://www.thegirlsnetwork.org.uk/become-a-mentor
There’s online training sessions coming up over the summer months, with mentor-mentee matchmaking events in the next school year. Participating in the programme requires a commitment of 2-3 hours a month.
If you want to get involved by fundraising, offering work experience placements, or delivering workshops – get in touch by emailing email@example.com
Just a week before International Women’s Day, Professor Muzlifa Haniffa kickstarted NU Women’s March event season with her talk titled The celebration: diversity, unconscious bias and research culture.
Nicola Curtin, who chaired the event, listed Professor Haniffa’s many accolades as a clinician scientist; Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, The Foulkes Academy of Medical Sciences medal winner, ACTERIA prize in immunology and allergology from the European Federation of Immunological Societies. At Newcastle University, she is a Welcome Trust Senior Research Fellow and Lister Institute Research Fellow as well as a consultant and clinician Dermatologist.
Alongside mapping her journey towards success in medical research, Professor Haniffa’s talk detailed raising awareness about diversity in such cultures, explaining her own experiences and how this may apply to a wider context. Professor Haniffa aimed to dismantle the ways diversity is often talked about, namely in the context of equality.
Defining diversity as an equal representation and opportunity for all groups, Professor Haniffa believed we shouldn’t stop here because there is more to the conceptual framework. Stopping here raises the question: Does diversity compromise quality if you don’t select the best?
Professor Haniffa explained that it was in her writing an article for Nature Medicine that she highlighted how that people who have been taught in the same way will always approach things in a singular fashion. Unfortunately, this is an inevitable consequence of specialisation and she personally felt that if you really want innovation in research, you need collaboration, equality and diversity. Pausing here, Professor Haniffa stated:
“I am not an anomaly, I was unpromising ten years ago and there are many more people like me”
To illustrate why diversity is positive and not just about making everyone equal, Professor Haniffa introduced an analogy in The Loudest Duck (2009) by Lauren Liswood:
“The loudest duck in China gets shot but the noisiest weasel in the U.S gets the grub”
In other words: you need to know the context and culture around you in order to gain a full perspective. Coupling Liswood’s ideas with Matthew Syed’s Rebel Ideas (2019), Professor Haniffa encouraged us to imagine a triangle as a research problem or idea space. What you want are individuals who occupy different areas of that triangle so you have a diverse group of people with a necessary skill set, creating an intelligent team to take things forward and innovate.
Conversely, if you have narrow selection process, hiring intelligent individuals but of the same backgrounds you get a team of clones occupying a small space. It is through this homogeneous way of thinking and narrow scope of operations that a team may not perceive threats, provide alternate solutions, and miss important information within the idea space.
Diversity is not just about skill set but respective of gender, age, culture and a different set of perspectives and experiences. With this understanding, diversity matters and it enhances quality. In her career, Professor Haniffa believed it was important for her to have mentors who were successful women, had a different mentor style, different leadership style, and were from all walks of life.
However, she explained that there are many barriers that can influence diverse representations, such as the lack of role models and stubborn structures or dialogues that exist within marginalised or under-represented groups. In addition, research selection criteria can be too narrow and a lack of opportunity is often mistaken for lack of ability.
Referencing her own experience, Professor Haniffa explained issues surrounding sponsorship, conflict of interests and evidencing sponsorship or mentorship throughout her career. One may ask why Professor Haniffa did not raise issues of diversity and unconscious bias sooner, but she explained that she did – intersectionality and panel dynamics silenced her questioning. By Professor Haniffa raising awareness of diversity issues within her research culture, she has in the past, been forwarded to psychological assessment rather than her boundaries being recognised.
As a result of such treatment, Professor Haniffa now raises awareness, promotes positive solutions and nurtures diverse talents in Newcastle and elsewhere in the UK and she believes she is not the first nor last.
It was an absolute pleasure to welcome Dr Emily Yarrow to conclude NU Women’s February events.
Emily’s talk was anchored in previous PhD research which looked at women’s lived experiences of REF2014, bringing these endemic issues forward to the present day. Emily talked us through the impact of gender and women’s inclusion in impact case studies regarding gender more broadly in relation to the study.
Coming from a corporate governance background, Emily used a theoretical model which explored the relationship between governance, gender and the wider higher education context. In turn, she argued that informality and the subversion of formal practices, processes and elements of governance, such as the REF, serves as a real catalyst for inequality. Dr Emily Yarrow’s analytical framework was not only qualitative study that was built around one touring case study, but a progressive one.
In this sense, the study subverted existing notions, and explored how female research evaluation affects female academics’ careers. Moreover, the study investigated female academics’ perceptions of research evaluation and its career effects, whether this is gendered, and how this plays out in female academics’ career trajectories.
Dr Emily Yarrow shared her key findings from this research, firstly stating that the REF contributes to the maintenance of a regime of gendered inequality, primarily because of the ways it is implemented and its implicit reliance on informal networks, such as recruiting panel members within the university and REF submission readers.
“The importance of networks is argued further increased for recruitment and selection, if an individual was not included however, overall ‘the hustle’ still matters immensely”
Extending these findings, Dr Emily Yarrow found that research evaluation contributes to an increasingly individualised way of working. Further, it is modelled on idealised notions of the unencumbered worker because of it ineffectively accounts for time taken out of a REF cycle, which disproportionately affects women.
From this, we learned that the REF functions as a control mechanism over the work that is produced. For example, in some disciplines, such as Law and Business, certain types of conservative research are becoming more valued due to the level of risk associated with submissions.
“I no longer aim for lower ranked journals; I just can’t afford to do that! So I no longer consider certain journals that otherwise I would love to publish in”
(Lecturer, participant 35)
By the end of the talk, Dr Emily Yarrow demonstrated a lack of transparency in the processes surrounding the REF, with particular emphasis on recruitment, the selection of material evaluators, and final submissions. These appear to act against gender equality in the experience of the REF process at the individual level.
Moreover, the REF’s orientation towards time meant that care and parental leave had a significant gendered impact on academics’ careers. As a result, although research evaluation has the potential to be used as a career path clarification tool, it imports gendered measurement issues that contribute to precarity. Emily paused on this to add that the creation of a quasi-marketplace further drives the need for the ‘right type of publications’, and, in turn, precarious working.
Overall, REF frameworks contribute to furthering the notion that the unencumbered (disproportionately male) scholar is ideal, which continues to entrench gendered marginalisation within academics’ careers.
Further reference material for the presentation can be found here:
Last week, NU Women welcomed Dr Sarah Burton, a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow from City University of London’s Sociology Department to deliver her paper on Dark Academia, Gender, and Aesthetic Practices of the Intellectual.
Rooting her work in Nirmal Puwar’s work on Space Invaders, in which certain bodies fit into spaces where others are read as alien or inappropriate, Dr Burton uses Dark Academia to consider how academic spaces are (re)built, embedded, and contested over time.
Specifically, she examines how this is enacted on and through aesthetic portrayals of the intellectual and scholar as a cultural figure. In this research paper, Dr Burton discusses the encounter of Dark Academia on her sociologist colleagues by asking: “What are intellectuals? What does intellectual life look like? How do you know if you’re an intellectual?”
“Just as Puwar has tracked this powerful whiteness from Eaton, to Oxford, to Westminster, I’m going to embark on a sort of return journey following the intellectual from Dark Academia, to popular culture, to its possible inception.”
Arising from social media such as TikTok, Tumblr, and Instagram over the last few years, the Dark Academia aesthetic trend is characteristically recognisable by its vintage dress reminiscent of 1930s-40s Oxbridge fashions: tweed jackets, plaid skirts, knit cardigans, brogues. Think Withnail and I, Dead Poets Society, and the kind of thing you see on Morse.
As a lifestyle the Dark Academia trend advocates for learning for learning’s sake, encouraging such things as translating Ancient Greek and Latin for fun, visiting museums and art galleries, and letter-writing by hand. It’s a romantic view of scholarly work, that takes a pleasurable view of writing and researching.
Dr Burton points to Dark Academia’s explosion in popularity amongst Generation Z during the pandemic. Isolation from school life, has led to an uptake in wanting to ‘feel’ scholarly through adopting this aesthetic.
Its call back to vintage fashions amount to cosplaying as an intellectual, embracing the quiet solitude of lockdown as a lifestyle choice. Its return to pre-digital simplicity is a response to the uncertainty and chaos of the current moment.
“It’s enticing and alluring and escapist, reminding us of putatively simpler times before REFs and TEFs…but it also works to demarcate and exclude. Outside of thin, white, Europeanness there is little scope to legitimately imagine yourself into this aesthetic.”
Most notably, this aesthetic framing of the intellectual is rooted in conservative, Eurocentric, elitist ideals.
Dr Burton notes that within its aesthetic and lifestyle markers, there’s no space for “most women, working class, people of colour, fatness, people with low economic or cultural capital, disability, caring and domestic activities and labour (especially the enjoyment of these), motherhood, queerness, and the mundanity of academic life.”
The fabric of Dark Academia as a look and lifestyle is woven from a preference towards whiteness, masculinity, and Eurocentric cosmopolitanism. Dr Burton’s research participants show that this exclusion is felt as imposter syndrome. It presents an unrealistic view of academic work that ignores the real demands and pressures of university life.
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: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.app.visualpainimagesuk
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’s latest session was on ovarian cancer awareness, delivered in conjunction with Ruth Grigg from the charity Ovacome, Hillary an ovarian cancer survivor, and Dr Yvette Drew from Newcastle University’s Centre for Cancer.
Ruth is part of the Ovacome charity who supply emotional support and information to anyone who’s been affected by ovarian cancer and opened the session. As the charity has been run since 1996, Ovacome has spoken to a lot of women and have gained progress in promoting women’s knowledge of ovarian cancer.
Ruth shared this knowledge with attendees of the NU Women lecture stating that typically there is little known or understood about ovarian cancer. As ovarian cancer is uncommon, with 7,000 diagnoses each year (in the U.K. the chances are 1:52 ), it is not represented as loudly in the cancer community because the chances of other cancers such breast are much higher (1:7 in the U.K). Moreover, ovarian cancer usually presents late as a Stage 3 CD (there are 4 stages), so by this time the cancer has spread to the abdomen and other organs before a GP or any other services become involved.
The delay of spotting the cancer is due to vague signs and symptoms which don’t seem significant in the context of day to day life. Ovarian cancer is most common in people who are postmenopausal which means 83% of cases are diagnosed in those aged 50+. Regardless, the cancer can present in younger people too which is why it was so important for Ruth to go through the BEAT campaign, outlining the specific symptoms:
B is for BLOATING (this is new for you and is persistent)
E is for EATING DIFFICULTIES (you are eating less and experiencing reflux)
A is for ABDOMINAL PAIN (this is new for you and is getting worse over time)
T is for TOILET HABITS (unusual urinary or bowel movements)
Treatment for ovarian cancer requires a major hysterectomy surgery, followed by chemotherapy.
A survivor of ovarian cancer, Hilary followed on from Ruth and gave a personal account of her journey from being diagnosed in April 2006 at the age of 48. Being a Chemist, with a long experience the pharmaceutical industry, BP and civil service, Hilary explained she was very used to being tired and stressed, especially when she switched between two jobs around 2006.
Notably, she remembers getting a smear test but the nurse couldn’t get a good enough sample as the process was too painful, she was told she would be contacted by the GP and thought nothing more. As life went on Hilary started developing bladder urgency but put this down to menopause. The turning point was when Hilary experienced persistent abdomen pain so severe she physically had to pull off the motorway as the pain was unbearable.
After going to hospital, the CT scans showed a 15cm cancerous cyst which grew to 17cm two weeks after. Hilary explained how her fallopian tubes, uterus and omentum were removed, which was followed by chemotherapy at the end of June. Between starting her chemotherapy in June and her treatment finishing in November 2006, Hilary worked part time with a supportive employer which helped her greatly- emotionally and mentally.
Hillary has now been discharged from her GP, reaching her 5 year remission mark and says that she is in good health but has experienced the side effects of surgical menopause such as brutal hot flushes, memory loss and depression. After 6 months Hilary began HRT and felt much better and is still on a low dose patch for the rest of her life.
After Hilary’s moving account, reminding us that sometimes the session moved from the personal to the scientific. Dr Yvette Drew gave us a flavour of what the gynecology team are exploring – such as the challenge of developmental therapeutics in ovarian cancer, as well as the lack of effective screening. Dr Drew explained that there has been significant barriers to progress in developing new treatments, shockingly stating that there has been no new treatments approved between 2006-2013 despite other cancers seeing developments.
However, we learned that this was due to the difficulty finding where the cancer originates. There is a common misconception that the cancer begins in the ovaries but in fact ovarian cancer starts in the fallopian tubes. Sadly, scans fail to show this. Nevertheless the management of ovarian cancer lies with the revolution of PARP inhibitors moving forward to PARPi combinations including immune checkpoint inhibitors.
Dr Drew stressed the importance of needing to recognise that epithelial ovarian cancer is many diseases in cancer drug development (High-grade serous, clear cell, low-grade serous, endometrioid, mucinous) and that programmes for drug development, design of clinical trials, and approaches to systemic treatment need to reflect this knowledge and focus on targeting the sub types of EOC.
With additional thanks to the chair, Nicola Curtin, Professor of Experimental Therapeutics at Newcastle University , this session addressed this challenging topic in an approachable way. Identifying the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer as well as discussing recent developments at Newcastle and beyond, hoping to reach as many women as possible.
For further information about Ovacome and the BEAT campaign please visit the following:
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 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.
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.
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.
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)
deliveredto 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
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.
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
As part of our blog series where we share experiences, tips, and tricks of living and working during lockdown, Sathya Gunasekaran, Senior Developer/ Analyst with NUIT, shares 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.