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Careers are not like ladders: Female academics talk complexity

Women academics at the University of St Andrews talk openly and honestly about the highs and lows they have experienced in pursuing their careers, in a new booklet to be launched next week (Monday 5 February).

academic-women-mainbody‌‌‌‘Academic Women Here! On being a female academic at the University of St Andrews’ reveals the diversity of possible paths through academia. The booklet highlights the variety of routes women have forged to take their careers in academia forward and emphasises the fact that there is no such thing as an archetypal female academic.

Illustrating the diversity of pathways and experiences is an important counter to the familiar rhetoric that, by conceptualising women’s careers in terms of linear ‘ladders’ or ‘pipelines’, may have the effect of marginalising or demotivating those whose careers do not fit a perceived stereotypical ideal pattern.

‌The University hopes that sharing these diverse stories will suggest role models for early career academics, and stimulate further conversations about the shape of women’s careers in academia.

The challenges negotiated by women in this booklet include:

  • Going part-time
  • Caring for children and elderly relatives
  • Long-distance relationships
  • Balancing personal and professional lives
  • Gaining recognition for academic activities other than research
  • Prioritising the competing aspects of academic life.

One academic admits self-doubt used to be a struggle: “I suffered from imposter syndrome, and was convinced from my first year as an undergraduate onwards that I was not going to make it to the next step.”

A leading biologist recalls: “As one of only eleven women in science and the only woman in my research area and building in 1995, I found academic life in St Andrews very isolated.”

But another colleague observes: “Times are definitely changing and now the University recognises the diversity of mechanisms by which an academic can contribute to the success of our institution.”

Principal and Vice-Chancellor Professor Sally Mapstone, the University’s second female Principal, said:

“In St Andrews, as in other UK higher education institutions, there are still fewer women the further you go up the academic tree.

“We are working to change that: through revisions to our promotions structures; through a new mentoring programme for senior women; through expansion of our childcare provision. But a great way to infuse change into our culture is to encourage women academics to speak for themselves.

“Reading these honest and thoughtful reflections on their career paths by a generation of women makes me proud to be at St Andrews, and the more determined to do all we can to enable women’s fulfilment of their potential here.”

Academic Women Here! On being a female academic at the University of St Andrews will be launched by Principal Mapstone at a reception from 11am to 12pm on Monday 5 February to be hosted in the School of Chemistry Common Room, Purdie Building, North Haugh, St Andrews. Professor Sharon Ashbrook (School of Chemistry), Professor Ineke De Moortel (School of Mathematics and Statistics) and Professor Aileen Fyfe (School of History), who developed the booklet, will also be available.


Notes to news editors

Media are invited to attend the launch event on Monday 5 February from 11am to 12pm in the School of Chemistry Common Room, Purdie Building, North Haugh, St Andrews.

The booklet is available to view online.

Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office, contactable on 01334 462530 or proffice@st-andrews.ac.uk.

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