There are different committees at our School and many welcome PGR representation.
Over the last two years I have been part of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion committee, which aims to create a culture that values everybody and tries to develop a research and work environment that is fair, transparent and accessible. The committee currently meets once a month and consists of members from our three different departments at different stages in their career. There are many advantages to joining a committee like this one.
Firstly, it made me aware of the running of our School and how much more there is to academia than research and teaching. It helped me to appreciate the complexity of organisational processes and policies and their impact on our learning and work culture. For example, I learned that the many surveys we seem to get bombarded with at certain times of the year (such as the Work Culture Survey) do actually get translated into actions and policies. So next time you get asked to complete one, please consider taking some time to do it.
Secondly, and most importantly of course as PhD students on the committee we have the chance to highlight matters that affect us as Postgraduate students and push for changes. In the past there was a strong focus on getting silver accreditation with the Athena Swan Award. Athena Swan reviews progress made in relation to gender equality, transparency and fair opportunities in Higher Education. The School was awarded Silver in 2017 and the process involved a lengthy submission and review of existing practices and developments in the School. This included a section on the PGR community and involved work on:
- Improving access to skills and career development courses, such as the Creative Futures program for 3rd and 4th year PhD students, which we are currently lobbying the School to run again
- The promotion of network events and social opportunities for students and staff to meet
- Transparency in allocation of internal opportunities, such as changes made to the School’s tutor allocation process. The allocation process is now centralized and open to everyone, which has resulted in fairer and more transparent opportunities to all PhD students.
So the committee is about a lot more than just male and female representation and more recently the committee has started to try and engage further with issues of power imbalances. Topics that we discuss include paternity/maternity leave and support available after a leave of absence, career progression, how to link in with other existing groups, what available data from surveys tell us about our work environments and how to translate it into action points to improve opportunities for all.
Of course there is always more scope for development. The results from the Work and Culture Survey suggest that one of the main concerns for PGR students is the progression to a successful career after the PhD and we would like to look into this more with the help of the committee. Furthermore, we feel that the support provided to tutors, particularly those whose first language is not English, could be more consistent. And we would like to find a better way to highlight internal opportunities for training, resources and to make students aware of research centers and committees, which are there and open to all but which seem to be unknown to many. How to improve the School’s communication about opportunities and resources for PGR students is a future main aim for us.
I think we could do a lot better in working more closely with the PGR reps and the whole student community and we would like to hear from you about your concerns, your questions or ideas. We are also looking for new members for the committee, so if you would like to join or have some suggestions please send me an email!!
Joining School committees allows us as PGR students to share our experiences with others in the School. I believe that our PGR community is exceptionally diverse, multicultural, but also social and incredibly engaged and I hope that we can continue to carry some of it into the wider working of the School.