Rising stars

Funding is scarce these days. In my department, of the 12 or so new PhDs admitted every year, maybe one student comes in funded by one of the research councils. The department has some control over these awards. They select the students they want to put forward and whose applications they’d like to support. It’s worth paying attention to who is selected for the awards, because it’s an indicator of whose work is being judged as worth supporting.

There seems to be a split in our department, in general, between white men and white women (so far as I know, everyone who has been research council funded has been white). The white men are smart. They’re generally well respected, and the senior staff thinks of them as up and coming academics. I’ve never heard their merit put into question in relation to the funding. Instead, they’re treated as the most capable students in the room.

The women, on the other hand, are not treated in the same way. Not only are they not treated as rising stars, but there is often a lot of whispering and conjecture about how they got the award. The whispers go that they were chosen because they were favorites, who a senior academic supported out of personal interest in them. That’s personal interest in them, not in their work.

These rumours are fed by the senior academic himself. He tells the women “I’ll get you the funding,” as if it were a gift that he controls and can hand out. When a woman is funded, it becomes a favour that has been done for her, as opposed to something she has earned.

He then, in some cases, will fuel rumours and innuendo that he may be sleeping with the student. He then feeds these rumours back to the female student himself: “someone asked me about us,” “so and so wanted to know what was going on with you and I,” etc.

This then becomes a way to insinuate that, well, if everyone thinks it anyway – why not do it?

No wonder, disproportionately, women drop out of the department and never complete their degrees.

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