Emily Yarrow: An unequal opportunity? Female academics’ experiences of research evaluation in the UK

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”

(Yarrow, 2020)

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:
To Keep up with Dr Yarrow’s work, see:

https://emilyyarrow.co.uk/
https://twitter.com/EmilyYarrow1

A full recording of the event is available below

Dark Academia, Gender, Intellectualism

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.

For more information abut Dr Sarah Burton’s work, please see: https://www.city.ac.uk/people/academics/sarah-burton#profile=overview

A full recording of the event is available below.

Ovarian Cancer Awareness

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:

You can watch the recording of the full event below:

Rattle Snake screening review

On 6th December 2019, NU Women participated in a campaign to show a recorded performance of Open Clasp’s gut-wrenching and game-changing production, Rattle Snake, to as many people as possible. Why? Because despite living in a country where discussions about domestic and sexual violence are happening more frequently, over one million women still experience some form of domestic or sexual violence per year – and these are only the figures we know about. 

Open Clasp is a charitable organisation placing theatre at the heart of transforming lives of disadvantaged women and girls through acts of collaboration. They campaign for change on an international, national, and personal level. They’ve won awards for their work, but most importantly they’ve reached out to and impacted the lives of 107,764 people to date.  

They’re incredible.  

From 25th November – 10th December 2019, Open Clasp made their live recording of Rattle Snake available online to demonstrate the signs, effects, and emotional upheaval caused by coercive control in personal relationships.  

Open Clasp performance of Rattle Snake

They bring to the stage the reality of women experiencing the often-hidden nature of domestic abuse through the emotive and powerful performance of two actors. In fact, I couldn’t believe there were only two women on stage – the emotion they put into showing the multifaceted reality of the women they represented was breath-taking. And when I say reality, I mean these are performances based on collaboration with women who have experienced the trauma of coercive control. Trauma that won’t  end unless we, as a society, are willing to look for the signs of such abuse and have a system that puts an immediate stop to it.  

The need to recognise these signs was further emphasised by Catrina McHugh, the Artistic Director of Open Clasp and playwright of Rattle Snake, as she discussed why she made the performance available for all – because there’s a need for further empathy about such situations as a society and within the judicial system. What really impressed me about the evening was the supportive and welcoming environment it invited in discussing the issues raised in the performance – it was inspiring to hear everyone’s response and engage with the production directly. 

Numerous letters and feedback by those who have been impacted by the performance are posted on Open Clasp’s website, showing just how important a role this performance plays in initiating discussion about coercive control. Not only that, but the play has been used in police training to make officers aware of, and recognise, the signs of domestic abuse, as well as to understand that you need to know the full story before judgement can be passed.  

Before we expect the situation around domestic abuse to change, we need to be willing to talk about it, and Open Clasp runs ahead of the crowd in working within communities to represent real experience and put it out there to campaign for change.