By Adele Warrilow:
As I write, the 2014 Commonwealth Games are well underway in Glasgow – there is a fabulous atmosphere across the city and there has been a good haul of medals for Scotland and the other UK teams! Although the opening ceremony received varying reviews across social media, the collaboration with UNICEF was something that everyone could show their support for. During the ceremony they showed videos of the work that UNICEF is doing to promote the rights of children: the right to an education, to be healthy, to a childhood, to be treated fairly and to be heard.
The UNICEF Children First campaign is a magnificent idea and to date, Glasgow and the Commonwealth have raised a staggering £3.5 million! (You can still donate online or by text: click here to find out more )
There are numerous ways that researchers at all career stages can work to reduce inequality. These include: supporting others with similar goals, being aware of and contributing to university/institute policies, conducting research that seeks to understand or reduce inequality, considering whether your research is inclusive, presenting science careers and your research in accessible ways and being a good role model – taking action when you see practices that promote inequality.
Equal access to educational opportunities is something that I have felt strongly about ever since visiting the David Livingstone centre as a child and being struck at how motivated and committed this young boy was to his studies and ambition to become a doctor – propping his books on the loom to read as he worked at the mill. Without the opportunities, role models and support that I have had there is no way I would be training as a medical academic today. Sadly, there are children around the world with the talent to become leading scientists who will never fulfil their potential without access to education.
We are incredibly privileged to have the opportunities for education in the UK that we do. There are still inequalities however, particularly in the number of women reaching senior positions in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) academia. Raising awareness of the importance of equal opportunities is important throughout our research careers and this is highlighted in the Researcher Development Framework (Section D1:8 for anyone completing their Postgraduate Review Paperwork!). The Institute of Health and Wellbeing, together with the University of Glasgow recognises the importance of equality in academia and their commitment to tackling inequality through the Athena Swan Charter and awards which promote the importance of gender equality in academic careers.
Gender inequalities in the encouragement to pursue certain interests begin early. In the toy department of a local shop, I was shocked to find educational fridge magnets labelled – “girl’s words” and “boy’s words” [sic]. The “girls’ words” included “make-up, sparkle, hairband, cooking, butterfly, love, friends” whereas the “boys’ words” included “money, climbing, aeroplane, skeleton, dinosaur”. Such products promote inequality and in particular may discourage girls from STEMM subjects from a young age. I contacted the shop regarding this and I am pleased to report that the shop in question had similar feedback from other customers and no longer stocks these products.
In choosing a PhD topic I was keen to choose a field of study that could raise awareness of the inequalities faced by children with neurodevelopmental problems throughout their lives. As a child and adolescent psychiatrist, my research interests include the epidemiology of children with neurodevelopmental difficulties who despite having multiple problems, do not meet the criteria for a specific psychiatric diagnosis and, I suspect, subsequently face multiple health and social inequalities. This is challenging as until now, much of the scientific research has focussed on single disorders but it is an important field of study and clinical practice that requires a scientific evidence base. Anna Isaacs’ IHAWKES blog, PhD research with marginalised communities: a few questions about ethics, discussed some of the dilemmas and challenges faced by students working to reduce health inequalities.
IHAWKES would love to hear from you! Tell us about how your research could help to reduce inequalities. Has considering potential inequalities had an impact on your research? Have you been involved in any projects to promote equal access to STEMM subjects? Any good ideas? What encouraged you to work in academic science? Please leave your comments below.