Advice for aspiring professors and managers

This post was contributed  by Bryony Merritt from Birkbeck’s Department of External Relations.

For those looking to take the next step in their careers, learning about the experiences of those already in the roles we aspire to can be both encouraging and enlightening.

TRIGGER‘s latest event enabled staff from across Birkbeck and other Bloomsbury colleges to hear first-hand from four women (Sarah Winmill, Director of IT for Professional Services, UCL; Sarah Hart, Professor of Mathematics, Birbkeck; Simona Immarino, Professor of Economic Geography and Head of Department, LSE; Eleanor Mongey, Head of Student Servcies, Birkbeck) who have achieved professional succes as academics, professional services staff and academic managers.

Dr Belinda Brooks-Gordon, Assistant Dean for Equalities in Birkbeck’s School of Science, chaired the panel and began by asking the four women about their idea of what success looks like, mentors they’d had, and what advice they would give to their younger selves.

Being true to their values, bringing the best out of people and being seen as a role model were all cited as markers of success for the panel. Eleanor Mongey reflected that earlier in her career path she had measured success by promotions or securing a permanent contract, but feels now that her focus at that time was too narrow and she failed to recognise other types of achievement.

All of the women could identify individuals who had contributed to their professional journeys, whether as supportive managers or through mentoring. Professor Hart (who was one of only five female mathematics professors under 40 in the UK when she was made a professor two years ago) said that nearly all her promotions had come as a result of a manager suggesting she apply for the post. Now, as managers, the panelists recognised that they have a responsibility to identify talent within their teams and to encourage and reward it.

Failure was also a theme in the discussion, but in a surprisingly positive way. Learning to accept failure was seen as important, as was creating an environment where is is safe to fail, so that staff feel empowered to be creative and push their own boundaries.

An audience member asked the panel to identify one policy that would have helped them earlier in their careers. Professor Immarino was emphatic: we need culture change. The other panelists’ examples certainly fitted in with with this assertion. Sarah Winmill said that it is beholden on all of us to work our hours and only our hours, and not to put meetings in the first/last hour of the day so that those with caring responsibilities can attend. Professor Immarino said that academic promotions should rely less on metrics as women are substantially penalised on citations and impact metrics. Professor Hart said that workload modelling was an important tool to demonstrate where women are spending their time and ensure that they had time for research and weren’t carrying a disproportionate percentage of teaching and administrative work. The fact that the need for culture change extends beyond the workplace was also clear, with discussions on the fact that women often carry a significant ‘mental burden‘ related to domestic duties.

The event was encouraging in that these women have been able to achieve success despite the barriers that they identified and because it is clear that there is a body of women at senior levels within universities who are acting as role models and providing practical and moral support for the women who aspire to follow in their footsteps.

Further information

  • TRIGGER
  • Birkbeck Astrea – network for women in professional services roles
  • Athena SWAN at Birkbeck
  • WHEN – speeding up equality in the workplaceProfessor Sarah Hart was recently filmed speaking about her career path and why she chose a career in STEM
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