An update on the activities of Athena’s Local Academic Women’s Networks that continue to be active.

Northern LAWN (Leeds and Bradford Universities)

North East LAWN (Northumbria, Newcastle, Durham, Sunderland and Teesside)

Northern Ireland LAWN (Ulster University and Queen’s University Belfast)

ResNet (University of East Anglia, Institute of Food Research and John Innes Institute)

Northern LAWN (Leeds and Bradford)

Since 2002 Northern LAWN has continued to host a series of research seminars to showcase individual women academics’ work. Dr Seonaidh McDonald, Sheffield University Management School gave a seminar entitled ‘Teaching technology and innovation in a business school environment: Experience using a virtual case study’ January 2002, and Professor Beverley Alimo-Metcalfe, University of Leeds and Leadership Research and Development Ltd gave a seminar on ‘Leadership: A masculine past but a feminist future?’.

Northern LAWN’s committee has made a conscious decision to focus in particular on seminars from highly regarded and successful female academics who offer an insight into the more personal side of their careers to date. These inspiring seminars have given more junior members a valuable insight into the idiosyncratic career paths of successful female academics. For example, Professor Sue Cox, Dean of Lancaster University Management School spoke about ‘From Graduate Scientist to Business School Dean: Personal Reflections’, and Professor Grace Alderson, PVC Bradford University, gave a seminar entitled ‘From pit village to PVC’. Professor Lynn Cameron, Leeds University Pro Dean for Research, LESS Faculty recently gave a seminar on ‘Taking the next steps: Reflections on developing a career.’

Other recent Northern LAWN events have included practical workshops sessions on topics such as developing successful grant applications. Others have centred on issues relevant to particular institutions. For example, Bradford LAWN hosted seminars by Janet Jones, Careers Service Bradford University, on ‘Worklife balance for women at Bradford’ and Professor Grace Alderson spoke at Bradford about ‘Developing a teaching and learning plan’.

Adding a Bradford branch to Northern LAWN has allowed the network to attract more members of staff to LAWN events. Many attendees to the Bradford LAWN events have said they had not previously been able to attend events run in Leeds, often because of time constraints or because they felt they might not be as relevant to them directly. Bradford LAWN retains strong links to Northern LAWN.

The network has been very useful in bringing people together and providing the opportunity to meet and learn from others' experiences. At least one substantial piece of research has arisen as a result of Northern LAWN. However, the management of the activities has become increasingly difficult as the distribution list has grown. A key reflection is that Northern LAWN was at its most successful before it 'grew too much'. Perhaps this reflects the nature of most networks.

To counter this, Northern LAWN will focus not on recruiting members, but on consolidating links. Active members in the network value the activities, and although not always in a position to fully contribute, they report that they benefit from the meetings organised thus far. Other avenues for development include some specialist seminars on areas of studies, and continuous discussion on issues related to curriculum and career development.

Athena’s North East Local Academic Women’s Network (NELAWN)

In 2003 North East Local Academic Women’s Network (NELAWN), a regional networking group, based in the School of Informatics at Northumbria, was launched. It now has members from all the Northeast universities – Northumbria, Newcastle, Durham, Sunderland and Teesside Lunchtime seminars are held once a month. The aims of the LAWN are to:

  • develop a network of support and collaboration for female academics and researchers in SET and associated disciplines, within and between participating HEIs and industry, commerce and the professions in the Northeast
  • disseminate institutional good practice relating to gender issues at operational and strategic level within participating HEIs
  • address the gender imbalance at all levels in SET, focusing on female recruitment, retention, participation, progression and promotion
  • promote the work of female researchers of all levels of experience and improve institutional practice relating to research support

Following the launch a survey established what women wanted from the network . The programme that was developed reflected their views. An admin staff appointment was made and email is used to inform/respond to members. The website launched October 2003 has improved communications and publicity for all events. The website registers and provides a platform for new members, supports networking/ informal mentoring and provides information on research, vacancies, special events, articles and issues on SET.

The NELAWN committee includes delegates from each of the NE Universities and regular contacts are maintained with all the relevant HR staff. Members attend conferences etc related to Athena on a regular basis. Each University will continue their own meetings and encourage women to become NELAWN members and involved in its activities. The working committee is firmly established and is working to make further contacts in NE HEIs, industry, and the professions and to develop the NELAWN programme of activities and events. At present they have enough funding to support their programme through to the end of the 2003/04 academic year but need to raise funds to continue their work
Northumbria University Various short meetings have taken place internally to promote networking. They hosted an open event for NELAWN at which Professor Gillian Lovegrove spoke on the importance of Networking for Women in HE and organised a workshop on ‘Auditing your skills, increasing your visibility & raising your profile’ by Sue Hewitt, Milecastle Consultancy for NELAWN event.

Durham University Durham’s first event to introduce NELAWN to Durham’s research and academic women staff, was well attended (45 women) – ‘Speech and body posture as a sign of success’ (Jan04). It was informative and covered the fundamentals of good voice production for better communication: improved confidence and skill in delivery, improved posture and presence, a better vocal tone, useful, simple relaxation exercises, tips to keep your voice healthy, exercises to help overcome nerves.

Newcastle University The event which celebrated NELAWN’s first birthday also introduced the network to the University. It was attended by 60 women with presentations from two speakers ‘A Female’s Perspective on the Challenges to Climbing the Greasy Pole of Success’ by Professor Elaine Martin, Dean of Research, Science, Agriculture and Engineering and .‘Achieving a career as a female academic in Public Health’ by Dr Tanja Pless-Mulloli, Senior Lecturer in Epidemiology & Public Health.

Sunderland University has contributed a presentation by Brenda Elshaw of IBM on ‘The Collaborative Workplace - Fact or Fiction’ which is now on the website. Sunderland had a successful event which introduced NELAWN to 23 women. Jane Embley (Head of HR) presented a seminar on her equality pay audit, a workshop by Janette Blakemore (an independent coaching consultant to senior women academic staff) on ‘Women’s leadership’ was interesting and useful. Some discussion of mentoring also took place. Those who have not visited Sunderland University’s “The David Goldman Informatics Centre” were given a short tour. Overall the event created an awareness among those who attended the session.

Teesside University Teesside will host an event on virtual reality in July 2004.

LAWN in Northern Ireland

The LAWN in Northern Ireland was launched in November 2002. It operates mostly as a collaboration between Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) and the University of Ulster (UU). It was guided admirably through the initial phase by Professor Ruth Lynden-Bell, a theoretical physicist, now retired from QUB. A conference on ‘Work-life Balance’ took place at the Oddessy Centre and another major event of 2003 was the symposium ‘Career paths and role models’ held at UU. Its success was highlighted by comments such as ‘inspiring to see different routes to successful careers’ and ‘useful to see the importance of making opportunities, knowing what you want and doing what you want’.

The programme committee, now under the chairmanship of QUB pharmacologist, Professor Barbara McDermott, has been working hard recently and decided on the topic ‘Research and teaching: developing parity of esteem’ as a focus for the next main meeting which will be held at QUB in September. Invited experts in the RAE and L&T domains will take the keynote positions with a view to exploring the challenges particularly for recently-recruited academics in the approach to RAE 2008 combined with the stringent requirements to demonstrate high quality teaching performance, all this at a time when young women may be dealing with changes in family circumstances.

LAWN meetings are widely advertised, in all university locations in Northern Ireland, and there has been recent recruitment from St Mary’s University College in Belfast. It is intended to make links also with female academic groupings in the South of Ireland. The year 2004 marks the centenary of the admission of women to Trinity College Dublin. There are number of events planned to celebrate the occasion, and the Trinity Week Symposium on ‘Reshaping the Intellectual Landscape: Women in Academe’ in May presented an excellent opportunity for us to get acquainted. Significant outcomes were the connections made with the Office of Science and Technology, and the Gender Equality Unit at the Department of Education and Science in Dublin.

There is a lot more to be done in developing the sphere of activity of the LAWN in NI. One idea on file is to provide a forum to discuss the importance of collaborative working. It was interesting to note, therefore, that the results of a survey presented at the recent American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting highlighted the fact that when it came to academics speaking with colleagues about their research on a regular basis, men were more than twice as likely to do so as women. Perhaps there are issues about self confidence here, which is what the LAWN is about.

ResNet (University of East Anglia with Institute of Food Research and John Innes Institute)

ResNet was set up in 2000 as a network for women contract researchers working in the University of East Anglia, the Institute of Food Research and the John Innes Centre on the Norwich Research Park. With the contract situation gradually changing, in response to legislation, although in different directions in different Institutes and not always to the advantage of CRS, the scope of ResNet has been widened to include academic staff and postgraduates. The ResNet mail-out list now covers around 600 women researchers.

The expansion was ‘enabled’ by the 2002 Royal Society Athena Award Pearson Special Prize. ResNet now produces a printed Newsletter ‘ResNews’ on a quarterly basis. Committee members volunteer to act as Editors on rotation and members e-mail items of interest for inclusion. Copies are also provided for recreation and refreshment areas, as an additional well means of promoting ResNet’s programme. Electronic communication is used as much as possible. Flyers for events are sent to list members, who are asked to put a copy up in their workplace and encourage their colleagues to come along (this works well) ResNet has an active website and most speakers are happy to provide their slides and notes to be archived for future reference. The practicalities of a chat room are being investigated.

Meetings continue to be held at lunchtime as more researchers are able to free themselves from the bench and other duties at that time. A light lunch is provided , 20 minutes are allowed for general networking, followed by one or more speakers. There is a mix of topics from internal and external speakers, and members are asked to submit ideas on what they would like from the meetings.

External speakers during 2003/04 included two editors of international journals on ‘Getting Published’, a local expert on EU grant applications on ‘Mobility Programmes in EU Framework 6’. A local entrepreneur on ‘Setting up a Business’ was supported by short talks from three ResNet members who had recently done just that. The Outreach Manager of the Women’s Employment Enterprise Training Unit, an organisation dedicated to the advancement of women through access to training (supported by the EU Social Fund, DTI and local Councils) talked to members about how they could become involved. In a series looking at alternative career paths, members heard about ‘Clinical Science in the NHS’.

Internal speakers included UEA’s nursery manager on ‘Nursery Provision and Child Care’. The Academic Director (Science) for Continuing Education described a good opportunity for researchers to gain experience in lecturing. The initiative offered an introduction to lecturing and syllabus design. Participants can create their own lecture programmes for short units, with maximum help from the centre, and deliver the lectures, in the evenings, to small groups of students. The Director of the Careers Advice Service described the scope of help available to those wishing to explore career options, within academia and in the larger field. As a result of ResNet’s discussions free access to this service has been obtained for all graduates working at the Norwich research ParkNRP. ResNet is also contributing to discussions on the structure and content of a new programme of training courses being developed for contract research staff.

To coincide with National Science Week ResNet arranged a ‘Double Celebration’. At the first a series of talks covered the history of ResNet and the widening ripple effect it has had via surveys and regular contact with management. This was followed by statistics on the current position for women researchers, taken from the recent EU ‘She Figures’ and the 2003 UEA statistics. The second - a ‘Liquid Lunch’ was an open debate on the concept of ‘Having It All’, led by a some successful women who are managing careers and family commitments. It is important for the network to reconnect with management frequently. Contact is maintained with the VC’s Office and the HR departments of the Institutes. Support from the Centre for Staff and Educational Development is invaluable and provides a Network Co-ordinator (20%), secretarial backup, pooling of ideas and resources, and finance. Progress towards Athena’s goals is slow and gained by small steps, but the influence is spreading. Work will begin shortly on ResNet’s programme for 2004/5 and they are looking forward to playing a full part on behalf of women scientists when the BA Festival of Science goes to the Norwich Research Park in 2006.