October 31, 2012

Why women leave academia and why universities should be worried

Young women scientists leave academia in far greater numbers than men for three reasons. During their time as PhD candidates, large numbers of women conclude that (i) the characteristics of academic careers are unappealing, (ii) the impediments they will encounter are disproportionate, and (iii) the sacrifices they will have to make are great.

This is the conclusion of The chemistry PhD: the impact on women's retention, a report for the UK Resource Centre for Women in SET and the Royal Society of Chemistry. In this report, the results of a longitudinal study with PhD students in chemistry in the UK are presented. Men and women show radically different developments regarding their intended future careers.

At the beginning of their studies, 72% of women express an intention to pursue careers as researchers, either in industry or academia. Among men, 61% express the same intention. By the third year, the proportion of men planning careers in research had dropped from 61% to 59%. But for the women, the number had plummeted from 72% in the first year to 37% as they finish their studies.

If we tease apart those who want to work as researchers in industry from those who want to work as researchers in academia, the third year numbers are alarming: 12% of the women and 21% of the men see academia as their preferred choice. This is not the number of PhD students who in fact do go to academia; it's the number who want to. 88% of the women don't even want academic careers, nor do 79% of the men! How can it be this bad? Why are universities such unattractive workplaces?

Part of The chemistry PhD discusses problems that arise while young researchers are PhD candidates, including too little supervision, too much supervision, focus on achieving experimental results rather than mastery of methodologies, and much more. The long-term effects, though, are reflected in the attitudes and beliefs about academia that emerge during this period.

The participants in the study identify many characteristics of academic careers that they find unappealing: the constant hunt for funding for research projects is a significant impediment for both men and women. But women in greater numbers than men see academic careers as all-consuming, solitary and as unnecessarily competitive.

Both men and women PhD candidates come to realise that a string of post-docs is part of a career path, and they see that this can require frequent moves and a lack of security about future employment. Women are more negatively affected than men by the competitiveness in this stage of an academic career and their concerns about competitiveness are fuelled, they say, by a relative lack of self-confidence. Women more than men see great sacrifice as a prerequisite for success in academia. This comes in part from their perception of women who have succeeded, from the nature of the available role models.

Successful female professors are perceived by female PhD candidates as displaying masculine characteristics, such as aggression and competitiveness, and they were often childless. As if all this were not enough, women PhD candidates had one experience that men never have. They were told that they would encounter problems along the way simply because they are women. They are told, in other words, that their gender will work against them. By following PhD candidates throughout their study and asking probing questions, we learn not only that the number of women in chemistry PhD programs who intend to pursue a career in academia falls dramatically, but we learn why.

This research and the new knowledge it produces should be required reading for everyone leading a university or a research group. The stories surely apply far beyond chemistry. Remember that it's not just women who find academia unappealing. Only 21% of the men wanted to head our way, too.

Universities will not survive as research institutions unless university leadership realises that the working conditions they offer dramatically reduce the size of the pool from which they recruit. We will not survive because we have no reason to believe we are attracting the best and the brightest. When industry is the more attractive employer, our credibility as the home of long-term, cutting edge, high-risk, profoundly creative research, is diminished.

The answers here lie in leadership and in changing our current culture to build a new one for new challenges. The job is significant and it will require cutting edge, high-risk leadership teamwork to succeed. Is your university ready?

From: http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network

October 30, 2012

Found guilty until proven innocent over unapproved research claims

An academic who believes he was suspended from his research after merely mentioning a controversial incident has said his case has serious implications for academic freedom. Stuart Macdonald was professor of information and organisation at the University of Sheffield until his retirement last year.

He told Times Higher Education that he was suspended a day after a discussion on research ethics and integrity at a July 2010 awayday for Sheffield's Management School, which was led by two members of the university's research ethics committee.

During the discussion Professor Macdonald mentioned the controversial Eastell-Blumsohn affair. As reported by THE in 2005, Richard Eastell, professor of bone metabolism at Sheffield, was investigated for publishing findings on Procter and Gamble's osteoporosis drug Actonel without having full access to the firm's drug trial data. The concerns were raised by Aubrey Blumsohn, who was then a senior lecturer in Professor Eastell's research unit.

A brief exchange of emails between Professor Macdonald and Colin Williams, director of research in the Management School, suggested the university believed, incorrectly, that Professor Macdonald's remarks implied he was carrying out his own research into the affair without ethical approval. Professor Macdonald was ultimately told in an email: "your research, now discovered, should be suspended", and he complied by halting all of his research activities.

Fifteen days later, he received an email from the chair of the research ethics committee, Richard Jenkins, saying a "misunderstanding" had occurred, although he was offered no apology or further explanation.

After failing to elicit either of these from the university, Professor Macdonald initiated a grievance complaint. He claimed the suspension contravened academic freedom because it punished him for merely mentioning something that was in the public domain.

"It is not possible to function properly as an academic when asking a question may bring arbitrary suspension, and when the knowing of something is prima facie evidence of unapproved research," he said.

He also claimed that the action contravened the university's procedures, which require oral and written warnings prior to a suspension.

His grievance complaint - which was brought before he was forced to retire after reaching retirement age - was dismissed.

"The more pressure I have applied, the more intransigent the university has become," Professor Macdonald said. "It struck me that my complaint was so clear that the university must eventually see sense, and I had no wish to cause it any embarrassment."

In a statement, the university insisted that Professor Macdonald was never "suspended from carrying out research", but was, instead, "asked to suspend any research he was carrying out that did not have prior ethics approval in line with the university's internal procedures".

"The university was able to quickly satisfy itself that Professor Macdonald was not carrying out any research that did not have prior ethics approval and as far as it was concerned the matter was swiftly resolved. The university has been satisfied throughout that its research ethics policy has always been used appropriately and the university acted within its procedures at all times," the statement said.
But Professor Macdonald responded: "All I knew at the time was that I was suspended from research. There was no explanation of why, or of what this meant. And despite my very best endeavours over two years, there has been no explanation since."

From: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk

October 18, 2012

Suspension of Ian Parker from MMU update (October 16, 2012)

The first investigation meeting took place on 15 October, with Ian Parker, MMU academic and Human Resources personnel and University and College Union (UCU) representatives attending.

To clarify, to protect Ian Parker against unwarranted accusations and further damage to his reputation arising from rumours about what led to his suspension (and to address the claim by MMU that press reporting of the story has been ‘wholly inaccurate’), the precise charges are that Ian sent an email intended to undermine the credibility of a Head of Department and that sending this email constituted a failure to comply with a reasonable management instruction (the email was only sent internally, and Ian denies the charges).

The suspension and disciplinary process against Ian is clearly quite disproportionate to what he is alleged to have done, and we hope that MMU will now allow him to return to work. A decision on whether to end the suspension and facilitate a discussion about procedures in the department or whether to continue with this action, which is already taking its toll on undergraduate teaching and PhD supervision, is expected later in the week. We urge MMU to review its decision and acknowledge that its action so far have damaged its reputation nationally and internationally.


Please sign this petition http://www.change.org/petitions/ian-parker-should-get-back-to-his-work to protest Ian’s suspension and call for his reinstatement.


From: http://www.asylumonline.net/ian-parkers-suspension-from-manchester-metropolitan-university/#links

October 14, 2012

It is back: Divestors of People Award - Awarded to Manchester Metropolitan University

Due to what happened to Dr D'Silva and what happened more recently with the suspension of Ian Parker, we decided to bring back the 'Divestors of People Award', and award it to Manchester Metropolitan University which seems to have a significant track record in meeting the criteria below.

 The Criteria 

1. Lack of strategy to improve the under-performance of the institution. This does not exist, is not clearly defined, or is not communicated to staff.

2. There is lack of coherent investment in staff development.

3. Whatever strategies exist to manage staff, these are implemented to promote cronyism, incompetence, favoritism, or inequality, and to disguise management failures.

4. Managers received little or no training to improve their communication, behaviour and people skills.

5. Managers are ineffective in leading, managing, and developing staff. High levels of over-management or under-management.

6. Staff are not encouraged to take ownership and responsibility through involvement in decision-making. There is no accountability and transparency in the decision making process.

7. Staff are demoralised, de-skilled or demoted. The working environment is toxic.

8. Lack of improvements in managing people is chronic.

9. The working environment shows high levels of work-related stress.

10. Internal grievance procedures are used selectively by managers to eliminate  staff. Some managers are untouchable despite their failures, while victims (targets) are not given fair hearings.

11. Staff report high levels of bullying and harassment by managers. Fear prevails among the silent majority.

12. The governing body is detached from the staff and is in the same bed with the management. Governors show no visible interest in the affairs of the staff. They fail to address management abuse.

Institutions qualify for the ‘Divestors of People’© award if they meet at least 50% of the above criteria and this can be verified by at least two different staff members from the same organisation. Nominators can remain anonymous.

Conditions for a university or college to be removed from the Hall of Shame

* Public admission of wrongdoing.

* Public promise to correct wrongdoings by changes in personnel (including getting rid of the bullies and reinstating the targets).

* Public apologies to all targets.

* Payment of compensation to targets of bullies, especially providing guaranteed private medical
coverage for life to all targets affected.

* Setting up a scholarship/bursary fund aimed at deserving undergrad/postgrad students who have shown courage in standing up to larger forces in the name of justice.

* Public recognition of staff who stood up against the bullies and supported the target.

* Removal of Management and Governors who failed to act.

October 07, 2012

Suspention of Ian Parker – international protest!

Dearest friends, something incredibly shocking has happened. Ian Parker has been suspended from Manchester Metropolitan University. It has happened suddenly and unexpectedly, and students and staff at the University have been given little to no explanation as to why.

Ian was suspended from work after having been unable to arrange, with barely 18 hours notice, for a union official to come with him to hear a charge that the university said amounted to ‘gross professional misconduct’. What this seems to mean is that Ian raised concerns within the University about the problem of secrecy and control in the department in which he works, and was suspended for doing so. Ian has had to leave his office and key, been told not to contact University staff and students, and his access to his email has been suspended.

For his students Ian has simply ‘disappeared’ overnight, and while he is keen to continue supervising and teaching, he is not allowed to. I could never fully express what effect Ian’s sudden, shocking and completely unjustified suspension might mean for students at MMU and for the wider international academic community. Ian’s suspension is happening against a wider backdrop in the UK where while universities are now charging students £9000 a year (and much more for international students), they are also cutting essential resources, often meaning staff have to work harder and complain less. This means that those staff who defend University as a space for open and democratic deliberation are often put under pressure to remain silent.

In fact another member of staff at MMU (and another member of the University and College Union- the UCU), Christine Vié, is also being victimised, and has been made compulsorily redundant (and there is an ongoing campaign to defend her). We are in shock, but only if we speak openly together will we be in a position to challenge and change what is happening to all of us. Openness and democratic debate are the hallmarks of good education. Yet secrecy and silencing are key issues here. Ian has been silenced but his work continues to speak.

Yesterday I looked at the principle aims of ‘Psychology, Politics, Resistance’, which Ian helped to set up in 1994 as a network of people who were prepared to oppose the abusive uses and oppressive consequences of psychology, to support individuals to challenge exploitation, to develop a collective active opposition to oppression, and to make this a key element in the education of all psychologists.

So, let’s act together, and follow Ian’s example, and speak out – tell as many people as we can, and come together collectively as an international critical community to call upon the management of MMU to come to a resolution of this problem and to reinstate Ian. Messages of protest can be sent to the Vice-Chancellor John Brooks (j.brooks) and the Head of the Department of Psychology Christine Horrocks (c.horrocks). These messages can be copied as messages of solidarity to the MMU UCU chair Pura Ariza (p.ariza) and it is imperative that, at the same time, support should be stepped up to support Christine Vié (c.vie).

The postgraduate students at MMU are sending a letter to the Vice Chancellor, and there will be flyers and posters put up on campus, and call outs in lectures all next week. Please do send letters and emails, and tell as many people as you can. We will keep you posted about further action, and do let us know if you have any ideas for how we can fight this together (because we can fight this together). Please feel free to email me china.t.mills.

In solidarity, China Mills (alongside many of the students at MMU)

From: http://criticalpsygreece.org/2012/10/06/suspention-of-ian-parker-international-protest/

Messages of protest can be sent to the Vice-Chancellor John Brooks (j.brooks@mmu.ac.uk) and the Head of the Department of Psychology Christine Horrocks (c.horrocks@mmu.ac.uk). These messages can be copied as messages of solidarity to the MMU UCU chair Pura Ariza (p.ariza@mmu.ac.uk) and it is imperative that, at the same time, support should be stepped up to support Christine Vié (c.vie@mmu.ac.uk).

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Times Higher Education covered the above story online, but does not allow for comments...

And then they did allow for comments... Why the change of mind?