Episode 2

Published on:

23rd Nov 2022

(S2E2) ‘Our expertise is going to waste!’ Reflections on dis/engagement of women and students from marginalised groups in research activity

In conversation with Professor Louise Owusu-Kwarteng (https://twitter.com/louisekwarteng): In our weekly Research Culture Uncovered conversations we are asking what is Research Culture and why does it matter? In Season 2, we are in conversation with a number of presenters from the Researcher Education and Development Scholarship International Conference of 2022. In this episode we cover three key questions:

  1. How do we redress the balance to ensure that there is equality in terms of opportunities for research? 
  2. Do we need to re look at what counts as an ‘expert’ in HE? And also re consider what is seen as ‘valuable’ work in this context?
  3. With regards to students from marginalised groups – how do we reframe the narratives which assume their ‘underattainment’?  Do initiatives aimed at addressing the attainment ‘issue’ need to go wider and include opportunities for research?

Be sure to check out all the episodes in this season!


Follow us on twitter: @ResDevLeeds, @OpenResLeeds, @ResCultureLeeds

If you would like to contribute to a podcast episode get in touch: academicdev@leeds.ac.uk


Welcome to the Research Culture Uncovered podcast, where in every episode we explore what is research culture and what should it be? You'll hear thoughts and opinions from a range of contributors to help you change research culture into what you want it to be.


So I'm Tony Bromley and welcome to the Research Culture Uncovered podcast.

ent Scholarship conference of:

Hello to you. How are you feeling today?


I'm good, thank you. I'm good. I'm, I'm much happier than I was this morning. You know, sometimes when it's just like, you know, clutter, but like, you know, it's about clearing clutters, .


Excellent. And we, uh, we talk a little bit beforehand about it having a little icebreaker or you mentioned something about each other.

Um, you mentioned bass guitar playing and Nottingham Forest. Do you want to forget Nottingham Forest for a moment? Second, in the Premier League, Second bottom. Sorry, not second. Yeah. How about the bass guitar playing ?


Um, yeah, so I, I'm, well, I'm, I'm not the best at playing it. I mean, what it is, is that like, you know, I pick up tunes really, really quickly.

I can't read music, You know, I pick, I, I learn it by ear, but my thing is, is because I don't practice, so I'm not as good as I could be. Do you know what I mean? It's just like I absolutely and then I, you know, I play a few times and, and also cuz it's cuz of time. But I think I could be a lot, I'm not gonna lie, I think I could be a lot better.

I've got some tunes down pat, but you know, I need to be, I need to be much better. Forest? I mean, it's okay, you know, like I can take it because sometimes where we start isn't always where we're gonna end up. So, you know, I mean I was, I was very, very, very pleased the day that they got promoted. It was the day before my birthday, which was just fantastic.

But, um, you know, we would just need to win a few more matches. ,


that's, I think there's probably some metaphors in what we've just described about practice and keep trying and all these sort of things in there. Oh, yeah. Um, let me come to the, uh, con the. Main content of what we were gonna talk to about today.

Uh, the keynote presentation. Um, your title was, Uh, 'Our Expertise is Going to Waste! Reflections on Dis/engagement of Women and Students from marginalized Groups in Research Activity'. Now, in the, uh, abstract for the, for the presentation itself, uh, you did pose a couple of questions and that's what I wanted to, uh, focus on if we could.

And of course they're not, they're not small, um, questions, as it were. So one of the first questions that you, you posed was, 'How do we redress the balance to ensure that there is equality in terms of opportunities for research?' So where, um, and you know, I kind of thought as a broad's thought, where would I, where would I start?

So where do we start with, with that question, do you think?


Okay. So I think one of, one of the things is, first of all, looking at what it is that people do. So I mean, when I talk about marginalized groups in this context, I'm thinking of women, people who identify as women, and also people from minority ethnic groups.

And when you look at the research, a lot of it tends to show that, you know, these people us, cuz you know that that includes me as well. What, what we end up tending to do is we tend to, we end up to in a lot of kind of like pastoral care, which, you know what I mean, I think this is what we're very, very good at.

But the thing is, because we are doing so much of that, this means that we may be not doing as much as the other things that we need to do in order to progress, through the academic system if that's what we want to do. Alright. So I mean, I'm just thinking for example, in terms of personal tutoring, I know in my own experience, I remember at one point having like 71 person, which was more than a lot of people, and you know, like I was trying to do this, trying to balance

it with lots of other things that I was doing. So you were tutoring


71 people at the same time? Yep. Right. ?


Yeah, it was a lot. It was a lot. And the thing is, I, I didn't mind it. I, you know, I'm always happy to give support to the students, but it was a lot. And, you know, like what, what tended to happen was, you know, the students tended to gravitate towards me, and I noticed this happened with a lot of other females as well.

Because we'll give them the time. So I think what needs to be done is we need to probably have a little bit of a mapping thing to have a look at what people's workloads are. I mean, I know they say that they do it, but, but something is going wrong somewhere. You know, look at, look at, look at all the things that are being done and then just see where the breakdown is.

Are people being given enough time to, to do the research? And if, if not, how do we redress that? Okay. So that, that's what I would do, to be honest, that, that's how I would kind of do it. Um, if we're talking about sort of like black and minority ethnic or other marginalized groups, I think this even starts before, you know, they get into academia because, when they're at school, for example, a lot of people are told, you know, like if you belong to a marginalized group, chances are it's gonna be that, you know, you, you might be told, Oh, don't, not, not to go to university or like, you know, higher education isn't for you or for whatever reasons.

And this is because of low expectations. You know, people might make it there. But then, you know, sometimes if these experiences are rehashed in the education system, you're not seeing anyone that looks like you. That might be a mentor. In order to help you to progress and everything, this can have a knock on effect as well.

This, you know, this can influence decisions. People might think, Well, it's not worth it, and then just decide that, okay, well I'm just, once I've finished my degree, I'm not continuing in academia and I'm not going on to do any more research. So again, you know, I think we need to reframe the narrative and reframe

what we're telling our students, how we're supporting them in terms of co kind of through their degree and potentially becoming academics. I'm not saying that everybody should become an academic, but you know, this is a route. This is a route. So how do we get them there? So that, that's my thoughts.


Well, I was, I was intrigued.

Um, just something you said about changing, uh, narratives, and somebody, uh, just pointed out to me something about using a phrase such as, uh, 'difficult to reach groups' because that ins, you know, once they started talking about it, I, I can understand that that actually is a loaded statement in itself because that seems to imply that the group is making itself difficult to reach.

So there must be, I guess there's a number of things like that which even changing day to day language would make a differe.


Yeah. Yeah, because I, I remember, so, you know, before I came into academia, I used to work, um, like in local government and sort of like within the community, and that was the terminology that was being used.

And I can tell you that these people were not hard to reach, you know, they weren't hard to reach. People were there, but it's how we engage with them, you know, that I think that's the. And it is, it'll be the same thing in academia because it's about, because again, sort of like, you know, labeling people hard to reach, as you said, it is about, it's almost like you are putting the blame on them Yes.

For not engaging, but sometimes it's got, it's not that it doesn't work like that. It doesn't work like that at all. You know, people want to be engaged, but like if people, uh, you know, like if they're sort of being given a negative narrative or they're buying, or, you know, tutors or whoever's buying from sort of like societal narratives about these groups and then just having these low expectations of them, then of course, you know, like people, they're just going to want to distance themselves.

But I think it's a, Yeah, I mean I think labeling people as hard to reach. I don't think that's the one, to be



Well, it suggests for me that, um, in a sense there's a laziness that it's actually you are the one that's hard to reach. So I got them to modify my behavior. It's you that's hard to reach.

Um, just moving on to the, the, the second question you posed in your abstract, um, which I was just a really interesting question for me to, to think about. You said, do we need to relook at what counts as an expert in higher education? So do, Yeah. Do we indeed need to relook


at this? Yeah. Yeah. Because I think, well, first of all, cause I, I teach, um, a module and it's called education and social formation, and we were kind of, we were kind of looking at

what constitutes correct not correct knowledge, but like, um, acceptable knowledge. Right. So, you know, when you think about it, you think about the fact that like, for example, there's a lot, well, I'd say there's lots of different levels here. So subjects, areas, like things like STEM. Okay. Um, you know, social sciences and humanities not regarded as much.

So there's that aspect of it. But then also, you know, even when we're talking within sort of like social sciences, et cetera, you know, like there are certain areas, there's some really like specific areas of expertise that, you know, like that might not be considered as valued as, as valued or valuable or like, you know, for example, if people do, um, do a lot of work around pastoral care.

Um, you, as I've said before, you know, you do tend to certain, find certain groups doing that. Why, if they like doing that, why is it that, you know, this can't be turned as a form, this can't be valued as a form of kind of like past, um, as a form of expertise. Why can't it be valued a lot more? Because I don't feel like is valued enough.

Do you know what I mean? It's seen as something that is expected. But then it's also not seen as something that is valued in us. So I think that, you know, people are very, very good at this particular area. Why not help them to sort of like, you know, develop their expertise and then use that as a framework for expertise so that it's teaching other people?

Cuz I mean, I know that, for example, in our, in our university, one of the things that our, you know, our vice chancellor is very, very keen to do, is to, obviously it's about making, um, educational experience very, very positive for students and trying to make them understand, you know, give them that sense of belonging, give them that sense of home and stuff like that.

But that sense of belonging is created by the support that is being given to the students. So like, you know, how do people with that level of expertise use that to, to make policies and, you know, to, to use that in their research or use that in, in, in any other way to make things better. Do you see what I mean?



you Yeah, absolutely. There was, um, I can't remember the full details of it, of it, but I think there was an article in recently in the media, uh, that they described. It was in business context, it's a think, but they said people doing, um, 'business housework'. So, and also that women were more likely to be the ones doing the 'business housework' as it were.

And it wasn't valued in the same way. And it's that sort, I think, kind of, sort of metaphor you, you solving about it why we don't value. Mm. Yeah.


Um, I mean, I'm all sorry, sorry to No, it's okay. Don't carry on. Reminded of, um, I think it was Sylvia Walby. I mean, this is, this is like back in the day, um, she was a Marxist feminist.

I remember looking at her when I was a sociology student and she was saying how, you know, when you actually look at the work that women do, not just in the home, but like in, I mean, it's largely in the private sphere, but you know, in a way it can be applied to the public sphere as well. It's not valued enough.

And if we were to start getting paid for our ex, the work that we do in those area, I mean, I guess we could be really, really rich. So, you know, I, I just think that okay, even it should be valued more, It should be valued more financially, but then it should be just valued more in terms of like, you know, expertise.

And I think that's gonna take a very, very long time before anyone recognizes how important it is. But it is important, it really is .


Yeah, absolutely. And there's, um, one of the themes again in, in the PhD at the moment is this notion of hi hidden curriculum, which, um, colleagues have written about, um, Kay Guccione and colleagues, for example.

So, and I think that that may also be a similar type metaphor. There's, there's hidden, well, it's not hidden because, when you're tutoring that many people, as you said 70, it's 72, whatever it was, It's not hidden from you, but it's hidden from expertise or what we value as expertise.


Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

I mean, it's not, Not only is it not hidden from me, but because it's done, because you are doing it. I'm not saying that it's hidden from others, but it's almost, again, it's, it's not always talked about. I mean, this isn't just in relation to my own experience, but like, you know, it's just not talked about anywhere.

Do you do you see what I mean? Yeah. So I think, yeah, so it is. And also, you know, going back to the fact that there needs to be more value. I mean, I think about the emotional labor that it's costing, you know? Yes. And it's not always sort of recognized. Um, there's a whole load, you know, Hochschild, Arlie Hochschild, she writes a lot about, um, emotional labor.

And I think it can be applied in lots and lots of, including in academia. Yes,


absolutely. Um, I'm just moving on to actually the third question that we had, um, I think we've started to touch on. So just be interested to see if there's anything further you wanted to add. So as well as, um, looking at what counts as expertise

you also said, um, we should reconsider what is seen as valuable work in this context. So we kind of touched on that a little bit. Was there anything you wanted to, to add on what is seen as valuable work?


Yeah. Do you know what I mean? I think. There's a, there's a wider question here because, or a wider issue because like, you know, you think about the fact that the univers, the education system, not just universities, it's becoming marketized, right?

Yes. No, it's not becoming, it is marketized. Yes. Right. So, you know, you've got these league tables and everything, which is creating lots of issues, but you know, like it or not, it's there. I think that in order to be able to, if, if we, it's there and it's something that we've got to work with, so, you know, if you want to move up and stuff.

I mean, and you know, you'll see you have lots of staff who are providing that kind of, um, emotional work and in supporting your students and all this, that and the other. This is why I think it needs to be, I think it needs to be valued more because these things really contribute to. The move, you know, movement.

Should I say movers within the tables? Because sometimes you see some institutions which are unfortunately may be known for the, the way that they deal with their students and everything, and you see them not doing so well in these particular area, their overall student experience, you see them not doing so well in those particular areas.

So this is why I think, you know, it needs to be valued a bit more than it is. Yeah,



I guess this is the, a DORA work as well in terms of how you evaluate, uh, research environments now, education in general, to shift it away from, uh, we've had many years of, uh, numbers counting, haven't we? For how many, how many papers, how much money?

That's that sort of thing. Yeah,


yeah, yeah. Yeah. I mean, and I think the thing is as well, sometimes it's not good for people to be, to be, um, cuz I mean, first of all, people need the time to be able to do these papers. But then on the other hand, you don't want to be churning out a load of papers that aren't of any good quality because that's quite, that's kind of soul destroying.

It's probably better to have time to write few really good ones and things that you know your expertise in and something that you know you can, you can develop and whatnot than to be right, churning loads and loads and loads of rubbish.



absolutely. Um, I'm just conscious with, I think I said that we'd be, we would speak for about 20 minutes or so.

I think we're nearly there. Um, so I just wanted to pull things together and just by what way of summary, you've mentioned a number of things as we, as we've gone through, um, for our listeners, uh, one or two particular things that you'd like people to remember or take forward? You know, we've talked about how to redress the balance inequality.

I mean, other one or two things even any one of us can be doing on a day to day basis or think about things that would make collectively some sort of difference. So I just over, over to you in terms of how you'd, what messages could we take forward?


Yeah, I, Okay. So in relation to the students and stuff, I mean, first of all, I think.

It, we all need to like look at our biases and stuff. I mean, and, and remember that sometimes the way that people think about students is, is shaped by the way that society tell what they tell you about those particular groups. And I think we need to shift that narrative and, you know, be encouraging towards them.

So like, you know, so of looking at people as being hard to reach or underperforming and everything. Look at what their potential are and if there are any, for example, research projects or research initiatives within universities, encourage them to do that, right? Encourage them to be doing that because that might change their perception of research that might change their perceptions of their own abilities and could contribute to sort of, you know, getting them into these careers.

Not necess, you know, not necessarily through academia, but it could be through somewhere else. But might change perception of research. The other thing as well is just like, you know, we just need to value what people are doing more. And as I say, broaden that idea of expertise because, and broad and, and be more, um, you know, recognizant of the value of the pastoral care.

And those are the, you know, those are the soft skill, not soft skills, but things that people are doing, uh, that investing their energies in. Because if you don't, you know, first of all, people are gonna get resentful, but like, these things are a form of soft power, which can help to improve, you know, the whole environment of the, of a program or of the university and everything.

So I think it's about recognizing the. Of those things.


Thank you for talking to us. It was really a pleasure to hear your views. Um, that rounds up our, um, episode. Um, so thank you for our listener. There will be ev over episode in the series where we'll be talking to further presenters from REDS conference.

So, uh, we'll say goodbye and goodbye for me. Thank you. And goodbye from Louise.


Thank you. Thanks very


much. Thank you. Thanks for


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About the Podcast

Research Culture Uncovered
Changing Research Culture through conversations
At the University of Leeds, we believe that all members of our research community play a crucial role in developing and promoting a positive and inclusive research culture. Across the globe, the urgent need for a better Research Culture in Higher Education is widely accepted – but how do you make it happen? This weekly podcast focuses on our ideas, approaches and learning as we contribute to the University's attempt to create a Research Culture in which everyone can thrive. Whether you undertake, lead, fund or benefit from research - these are the conversations to listen to if you want to explore what a positive Research Culture is and why it matters.

About your hosts

Emma Spary

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I moved into development after several years as an independent researcher and now lead the team providing professional and career development for all researchers and those supporting research. I am passionate about research culture and supporting people. I lead our Concordat implementation work and was part of the national Concordat writing group. I represent Leeds as a member of Researchers14, the N8PDRA group and UKRI’s Alternative Uses Group.

Tony Bromley

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I've worked in the area of the development of researchers for 20 years, including at the national and international level. I was lead author of the UK sector researcher development impact framework charged with evaluating the over £20M per year investment of UK research councils in researcher development. I have convened the international Researcher Education and Development Scholarship (REDS) conference for a number of years and have published on researcher development evaluation and pedagogy. All the details are on www.tonybromley.com !! Also why not take a look at https://conferences.leeds.ac.uk/reds/

Ged Hall

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I've worked for almost 20 years in researcher development, careers guidance and academic skills development. For the last decade I've focused on the area of research impact. This has included organisational development projects and professional development for individual researchers and groups. I co-authored the Engaged for Impact Strategy and am heavily involved in its implementation, across the University of Leeds, to build a healthy impact culture. For 10 years after my PhD, I was a consultant in the utility sector, which included being broker between academia and my clients.

Ruth Winden

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After many years running my own careers consultancy business I made the transition to researcher development leading our careers provision. My background is in career coaching, facilitation and group-based coaching, and I have a special interest in cohort-based coaching programmes which help researchers manage their careers proactively and transition into any sector and role of their choice.

Nick Sheppard

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I have worked in scholarly communications for over 15 years, currently as Open Research Advisor at the University of Leeds. I am interested in effective dissemination of research through sustainable models of open access, including underlying data, and potential synergies with open education and Open Educational Resources (OER), particularly underlying technology, software and interoperability of systems.