Interviewer and Transcriber: Raphael Hofaecker
Dr. Frances Knight is a researcher and lecturer at the Institute of Education in UCL. Her current field of work involves investigating the effects of disturbed sleep on the learning and behaviour of children with ADHD.
Raphael: Why did you chose to start a career in academia?
Frances: Actually, I wanted to become a clinical psychologist to begin with but the courses are very competitive and some ask for a PhD as a requirement. So I got offered a PhD off the back of my master’s degree in clinical neuroscience and thought that would help me. But I actually found research to be really fascinating. The theoretical side of performing your own research can be a very interesting thing. Then I saw this job at the Institute of Education which was working with children with ADHD and looking at their sleep patterns. So for me that kind of ticked the boxes of both clinical and academic.
Raphael: Why did you chose to become a lecturer?
Frances: I had always enjoyed teaching. During your PhD you usually do a bit of teaching along the side and I had always enjoyed the teaching aspect so I was really pleased when the lecture job came up.
I started at the IOE as a Postdoctoral researcher so I did a year and a half of researching here and when a lecture post came up I was encouraged to apply for that.
Raphael: The Higher Education Statistics Agency has reported that less than 1 in 5 in UK universities are women? Obviously the Institute of Education does not have such a gap and is quite female dominated, why do you think that is?
Frances: I have to say I feel incredibly lucky to be at the IOE where there are a lot of women. Friends of mine say that they feel this gender inequalities in other departments and other universities. One aspect is that it’s like there is an inequality kind of pressed upon you. You stick within those role and might not endeavor to strive so high because there’s not a role model there or you feel it’s going to be male dominated. So within the IOE most of my colleagues are females. We have some male professors in the Department and they are all incredibly encouraging as well. I feel as a junior lecturer that I am incredibly well supported and encouraged. I’m not sure whether that is because there is such a dominant female ratio or whether that would also be if there were more men.
Raphael: What reasons do you think exist for such disparity? Keeping in mind that more females than males pursue higher education.
Frances: I would classify myself as feminist, I believe in women’s equality and equal rights. I think there is some kind of fundamental issue. Women are usually going to take time out to have a family and that does have influence on your career advancement. Academia is one of the most supportive arenas to do that. So I don’t think that issue is so dominant. In academia it’s fairly easy to go off, have a baby and come back at some capacity. They’re very flexible. I think at the IOE there is such a female dominance because a lot of our lecturers have come from at teaching background. They’re teachers or practitioners with a background in developmental disabilities where you find the male to female ratio to be heavily weighed for females and so it’s just naturally fed into our department.
Raphael: What do you think could be done to bridge the gap?
Frances: I used to think that people should just be hired on the base of their skills and there shouldn’t be any kind of profiling in terms of race or gender. You should be looking at the individual without those trait influences. However now having worked within the IOE I can imagine how I might feel in a predominately male department and I might feel less encouraged and supported. Perhaps making sure that when people re hired there is an equal ration might to naturally reset the structures. I used to think that positive discrimination is just going to flip the coin around but now I can see how that might help. I heard about this in South America where they are now hiring more black people into jobs and it’s very effective. In the end it’s about evening out inequality, not about creating more.
Any words of motivation or advice for budding girl researchers out there?
Frances: I would say that if there is a gender inequality don’t let that stop you or impede your performance. I would say don’t let it change who you are because a lot of women feel they have to become more masculine to play in a male dominated world. This is sad because I actually think that men and women have different varied skill sets which are complimentary.
‘Bridging the Gap’ is an initiative by the Bedford Bugle to educate (ourselves and) the public about the factors and consequences of gender disparity in academia. We hope our readers will enjoy this series of interviews with top researchers in the field. We also hope that by bringing these issues to light, awareness can be created, followed by positive change.
Psychology and Language Sciences Division’s Athena SWAN page here