Developing a postgraduate level online module on gender and research

Authors

Charikleia Tzanakou, Christina Efthymiadou, Alison Rodger

University of Warwick

Contact: Charikleia.Tzanakou@warwick.ac.uk

Abstract

The case study “Developing teaching material for studies on gender issues in research projects” will show how to develop material to train scientists to consider gender aspects in their research and will include training about how to gain ethical approval via the Warwick Humanities and Social Sciences Research Ethics Sub-Committee of the University Research Governance and Ethics Committee which ensure university activities take place in accord with legal requirements. The goal is to establish a training programme that can be taken as a module/unit/course by two types of people (i) students on a range of different degree programmes for which it is accepted as an optional module will be recruited from those on eligible courses who wish to take the module for credit and (ii) students and researchers who are interested in the question or need the skills but will not gain formal credit towards any degree programme. All participants will be required to participate in the assessment methodologies but no level of personal commitment will be required. Initially most students will be from category (ii). There are no personal data involved in this case study.

Aims: To develop a module (unit/course) for postgraduate students, researchers and interested undergraduate students who will be trained in understanding the importance of integrating sex/gender analysis into research. As part of this module participants will also be trained in getting multiple disciplinary perspectives (sociology, history, neuroscience, engineering, biomedical sciences) in terms of scientific research and gender.

Methodologies: A full unit was developed after a phase of using seminars, lectures, and workshops with PhD candidates and other early career researchers to test the material. Feedback on the material and presentation methods of the preliminary phase enables understanding of how early career researchers in the local context endorse or resist such insights. Material focuses on multidisciplinary perspectives and the relevance of gender as a variable in research. The concept of Gendered Innovation (employing methods of sex and gender analysis as a resource to create new knowledge and stimulate novel design) is a key part of the programme.

Gendered results: Since this is a pedagogical case study, gendered research results are not expected, apart from potentially feedback on the webpage about how useful this content is.

Developing the module

Phase 1: Literature review

A literature review was conducted to assess relevant material and develop an outline for the curriculum.

Phase 2: Testing the ground

A 2-hour workshop on objectivity and bias including sex/gender in research was organised and delivered to 40 doctoral candidates from the faculty of science. The advertised summary of the workshop was:

Summary: In this workshop, we will discuss how science is seen and framed and the biases that can be implicit in the scientific research process. We will also talk about how rethinking research design and methodologies can lead to innovative outputs. There will be a couple of practical exercises and discussions.

Feedback from Warwick students: The students in general enjoyed the workshop, though there was a lot of resistance to accepting that the institutions and cultures of scientific research are not objective. A key issue for the next phase of the project was to recognise that this was largely due to different definitions of science.

Phase 3: Module design

The module is comprised of 9 units (an introduction and eight 30-minute podcasts plus individual work) with additional group tasks and associated individual work relating to participant’s own projects. All sessions are tailored to show the benefits of considering sex/gender in research in their respective fields.

The module is comprised of the following sessions:

  • ‘Why a module on gender and science: introduction to the module’, designed and delivered by PLOTINA team gender experts;
  • Sociology and Gender: ‘Gender and Science: scientific facts and fictions of gender’, designed and delivered by a sociologist;
  • History and Gender: ‘Gender and the history of science’, designed and delivered by a historian
  • Engineering and Gender: ‘Gender and industrial engineering’, designed and delivered by an engineer working in the automotive industry;
  • ‘Biomedical sciences and gender’, designed and delivered by an expert from the Life sciences/Medicine;
  • Applied Linguistics and Gender: ‘Gender in workplace discourse studies’, designed and delivered by a discourse analyst;
  • ‘Gender and physics’, designed and delivered by a physicist;
  • Economics and Gender: ‘Seven things to know about sex, gender, brains and behaviour’, designed and delivered by an economist;
  • How to gain ethical approval? An introductory training course to research ethics.

Most of the sessions have integrated a few exercises/questions to enable group discussions within a classroom and/ or facilitate reflection to the viewers.

Phase 4: A flexible online module

Once the sessions have been uploaded, they could be used together as an online module within degree programmes. However, each one of them could be utilised as part of a lecture or a seminar or ‘a reading list’ within different disciplinary programmes and modules. If local rules require credit points for a module, then the above programme could be supplemented by an individual essay on the significance and impact of the module material for their discipline and own past, current on planned research. At Warwick our sustainability route is to hand the module to the Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning to run it for the wider University community.

References

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MODULE- Warwick- Podcast contributions

Dr Charikleia Tzanakou provides a brief introduction to the PLOTINA project and PLOTINA module.

Dr Charikleia Tzanakou is a Research Fellow at the University of Warwick and Senior Research Fellow at Oxford Brookes University. As a social sciences researcher, she led the PLOTINA Workpackage on Careers and Culture Change and curated the PLOTINA module comprised of a series of podcasts with the help of Dr. Christina Efthymiadou.

Dr. Christina Efthymiadou is a Lecturer in International Management at Bristol Business School and a Research Fellow working on the PLOTINA project at Warwick University. Christina has worked closely with Dr Charikleia Tzanakou on the PLOTINA Workpackage on Careers and Culture Change and in this context coordinated the work for the development of this module. 

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Dr Elizabeth Ablett provides a sociological perspective on the relationship between science and gender. She challenges the scientific discourse of objectivity and provides examples of gendered assumptions and stereotypes along with biases in the scientific Research Process. She also refers to how science can contribute to reproduction of social inequalities and the exclusion of women within the scientific institutions.

Dr Elizabeth Ablett is Postdoctoral Research Fellow at University College Dublin. She is a feminist sociologist and ethnographer, and her ESRC funded PhD was awarded from the University of Warwick (UK) in 2019. Prior to joining UCD, she was an Early Career Research Fellow in the Institute of Advanced Studies and a Lecturer in Sociology at Warwick. 

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Dr Michael Bycroft shows ways in which science has been shaped by society through historical examples. Newton’s mechanics for example is a mirror of the time and place in which he lived. Perspectives, prejudices and assumptions about gender have affected the practice of science. Dr Bycroft gives us food for thought (and action) since his history of science perspective shows us that while historically the then world of science might seem naive and unjust we should be thinking how our world (include science) might seem to historians in 100 years from now.

Dr Michael Bycroft is an Assistant Professor in the History of Science and Technology, University of Warwick. He is a historian of early modern science, technology and medicine. His specialty is French history, but he pays close attention to the connections between France, the rest of Europe, and the wider world. The theme of his research is knowledge: how people acquire it, how they defend it, and what they do with it. His research connects the history of ideas to economic, political and technological history, and to the history of art. 

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Professor Cordelia Fine demonstrates in this podcast the complexity of investigating sex and the brain providing insights from neuroscience and behavioural science. She suggests ways and questions to ask oneself next time you see claims (in scientific papers, media etc) about sex differences in the brain and what they mean about how males and females think, feel and behave.

Professor Cordelia Fine is a Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Melbourne, Australia. She is an academic psychologist and writer. Professor Fine studied Experimental Psychology at Oxford University, followed by an M.Phil in Criminology at Cambridge University. She was awarded a Ph.D in Psychology from University College London. She was awarded the Edinburgh Medal 2018, a prestigious award that recognises scientists who have excelled in their field and contributed significantly to our understanding of humanity. She received the award for her work in challenging gender bias in science for her contributions to public debates about gender equality.​ She is a regular contributor to the popular media, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Monthly and New Statesman. She is the author of of ‘Delusions of Gender: The real science behind sex differences and Testosterone Rex: Unmaking the myths of our gendered minds’ which has won the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize 2017. 

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Dr Erin Hengel presents one of her fascinating papers which explains that the publishing paradox for female authors in economics might not really be a paradox looking on the readability of academic papers and time spent on the peer review process by female authors.

Dr Erin Hengel is a Lecturer in Economics at the University of Liverpool. Erin’s research interests are law and economics, corporate finance and applied micro theory; she has also investigated gender discrimination in peer review. Erin is from Pine Bluff, Arkansas (U.S.), has an undergraduate degree from Hendrix College in Conway and received her Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge.  

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Dr Anne Laure Humbert talks about gender statistics, gender indicators and gender sensitive indicators and how these can be useful tools towards understanding and measuring progress towards gender equality.  She also highlights the significance of gender statistics to develop gender sensitive data, analysis and actions.

Dr Anne Laure Humbert, is a Reader in Gender and Diversity and Director of the Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice at Oxford Brookes University. Anne is very experienced in gender equality research at national and EU level, policy analysis and assessment as well as gender statistics. She specialises in applying advanced quantitative methods to comparative social and economic analysis, particularly in relation to work and organisations, entrepreneurship, and work-life balance. She has also developed several composite indicators at international level. She has previously held positions at Cranfield University and Middlesex University London. Anne is a regular public speaker on gender equality and she enjoys the opportunity to make connections between theory, practice and activism.  

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Dr Antonia Sagona demonstrates how the consideration of sex/gender in biomedical research can foster and nurture scientific innovations through a wealth of examples at different levels: individual, institutional and symbolic.

Dr Antonia Sagona is an Assistant Professor in the School of Life Sciences at Warwick University. Her research focuses on understanding how phages fight infections and aims to optimise phages to be used safely for various applications including phage therapy. Dr Antonia Sagona has published widely in her field and she has participated and given talks to multiple national and international conferences. 

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Anastasia Stavridou provides a sociolinguistic perspective and demonstrates the crucial role that language plays when discussing and researching gender. In this podcast she talks about the theorisation of gender, the distinction between sex and gender and studies that focus on gender speech styles and gender discourses.

Anastasia Stavridou is a 2nd year PhD student in Applied Linguistics at the Centre for Applied Linguistics, University of Warwick, where she has also completed an MSc in Intercultural Communication for Business and the Professions. Her background is in English Language and Linguistics and her current research focuses on leadership and sports discourse, communities of practice, identity and gender.

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