Do I feel included? Experience and thoughts from a part-time PGR

In this post, Susan Quick, a part-time PGR in the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (BIFoR) reflects on issues of inclusivity.

Whilst browsing the many training/job opportunities for PGRs recently I was reminded that ‘PGR/ Early career’ does not always mean inexperienced or young. Labels can be misleading even if they also help us to target training and exchange with our peers in a particular discipline or field. Two caring hands silhouetteYounger people need extra support to enable them to navigate the world of employment. Sometimes this means that bias is totally justified, but at other times it is more important to examine ‘need’ rather than age, career stage or some other protected personal characteristic. In my view the needs of applicants, whether for a job or a training course, should enable perspectives of ‘equal opportunity’ over and above those instilled in legal and institutional principles.

Many of us will have reflected on our own perspectives following the atrocious events around the murder of George Floyd. The public campaign ‘Black Lives Matter’ was initiated by the latest in a long line of atrocities endured by the global Black community. Personally, I make efforts to try and see the world from another person’s and from another community’s perspective, not just from my own, and to challenge any perceived injustices, inequalities or exclusions. This isn’t just about me, it’s a much wider problem.

Over the past few years, academic institutions have been trying to make inroads into improvement of their Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) policies from both a student and staff/organisational point of view (UoB EDI pages). How does it feel for you as a student or member of staff? Are you a part of the integrated community, which often exhibits only the characteristics of the majority? Is there more you can do personally or in your role as an ambassador for your minority community –we are all individuals and with views good and bad in respect of EDI – to overcome prejudices and challenge entrenched establishment norms? Treat others as you would be treated.

Returning to my question do you, do I, feel included? Is there something you should tell others which means you can offer ‘more’ not ‘less’ as a result of personal characteristics and experience? I have benefited greatly from training sessions run by the University of Birmingham/University of Nottingham for part-time and mature PGRs who are often not as engaged with the PGR community. Equally as a multidisciplinary mature student I feel a bit of an alien when navigating fields such as geography and biosciences with their different assumptions – but that is part of learning to apply a new discipline and gain the respect of those more experienced in that field. I am proud to have got as far as the final year (year 5 for me) of a PhD studentship.

In conclusion I encourage you to see beyond the labels. You have read my post, from a part-time, retired, 68 year-old student whose parents didn’t attend university. Pursue your own way of overcoming prejudices whilst working and studying at university, and in your everyday life. Question your own views and help others to do the same.

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