On the 13th of December 2019, our disappointment with the results of the general election was tempered by our excitement at the prospect of what that particular day had in store for us; the White Rose Doctoral Training Partnerships first ever Women in Academia conference. The gathering together of an accomplished, animated, and diverse panel of women academics alongside an equally ambitious and dedicated audience of early career scholars was both a tonic for the disheartening political news, and a call to action reminding us all of what we can do to platform one another and pursue rigour and excellence in our work.
The event started as a conversation between five members of the WRDTP’s student forum (https://wrdtp.ac.uk/student-forum-new/), Alex Ricketts, Tamara Satmarean, Sophie Phillips, Alice Wilson and Danielle Beaton. The student forum is a platform which provides a direct link between students at each of the seven affiliated Universities and the WRDTP managerial team. Here, we discuss ideas for training and conferences as well as implementing ‘champion’ role initiatives. Champions are members of the student forum who take up the mantle for specific student interests; Alex is our Women’s champion, Tamara is our Careers champion, Sophie is our Disability Champion, and Danielle is our Wellbeing champion. The ‘leaky pipeline’ problem, referring to the drastically diminishing number of women in senior leadership roles is not a problem that is unique to academia, nor is the comparative absence of women of colour or disabled women and non-binary people. And so, strategising and planning began for the first event of its kind run with the WRDTP to address these issues and more in an inclusive and energising day of knowledge sharing, best practice discussion, and focused workshops on specific issues facing women in the context of the often harmful or unethical practices of the neo-liberal university.
Whilst organising the event we were all keen to ensure that we kept a healthy work/life balance. Often organising events like this can result in your life being dominated by the event, which as PhDs, we were really keen for that not to happen! Alex had previously worked as a project manager, so the first thing she did was to implement a scrum system to manage the events (scrum is a type of project management that is often used in the IT sector). This helped to identify all of the tasks which needed to be done, both on the day and the run up to the day.
In order to get all of these tasks done, whilst maintaining a work/life balance we regularly checked in with each other. At every meeting or whatsapp conversation we discussed the tasks to do and asked each other if the workload was manageable. This created a supportive environment, as we were often better at assessing if each other was taking on too much, than assessing ourselves. This was a crucial part of our organising, as at different points over the organising period each of us needed to take a step back, either relating to personal or work priorities shifting. We strongly believe that it was through this open communication about our schedules and pressures, which created an environment where everyone was comfortable to say that their workload was getting too much, and that they needed to step back.
We were really passionate about making the event as inclusive as possible, not only within the sessions, but throughout the entire day. During the sessions, in order to ensure those living with disabilities and social anxiety felt comfortable attending and engaging, we implemented a red post-it note policy. This was suggested and implemented by Sophie, our Disability Champion. The red post-it note is placed by an individual on the table in front of them, and enables people to signal that they don’t feel comfortable talking but that they want to listen to conversations.
We also wanted to ensure that every aspect of the event was inclusive, including the toilets. We worked with the Octagon team to ensure that some of the toilets at the venue were gender neutral. This was something that the Octagon team had not been asked to do before, so it just goes to show, if you don’t ask, you don’t get!
Overall we all had a great experience of creating, developing, running and attending this event. We would recommend any PhD to get involved in the forum or work with us to develop an event in the future. The PhD journey can be as little or as much as you choose, so go for it!
(Our panelists on stage left to right: Professor Anna Lawson, Dr Muna Abdi, Dr Nadena Doherty, Dr Martina McGuinness, Professor Kate Reed, Professor Ruth Blakeley)
(Left to right: Tamara Satmarean, Alice Wilson, Sophie Phillips, Alex Ricketts)