Tag Archives: academia

Curating the ‘Minorities in STEM’ account: Part 3

As well as discussing mental health in academia, I did a thread on support networks, to help make academia more bearable.

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Building up a support network whilst being in academia makes the work more bearable. Not only can it help de-stress, but also help with workload, maybe even lead to research collaborations! This is interesting to see how organic theses networks can be, because in disaster research (and others) there is thing called “resilience”, and a social network is one measurement of disaster resilience. When disaster strikes, individuals, households, communities, even a whole country can gain help to recover with their network.Having such a social network in academia should not be any different. When things get tough, call upon your friends and family to help things get better! And it is a two way thing, if your friend is in a rough patch…help them!

These support networks can take on so many forms: going for a coffee, doing some sports together, a night out clubbing or going to the pub (and doing a pub quiz…or karaoke?!), doing literally any kind of fund activity you can do together! You build up a friendship and a strong bond 🙂 As a side: pets are great too!

The diversity of the group(s) and what you do is up to you. An additional group that could be beneficial to anyone is finding people who share a similar culture to you. That way, if you have moved to a place that does not have your cultural community, you make your own! My support groups include fellow PhDs and postdocs here in Aarhus, Denmark and back at Hull.

As well as offline, online support networks is great for connecting people around the world. These have become just as important to me, particularly in the volcanology community where generally we can be found everywhere…because volcanoes are everywhere! Most of my online interactions are through Twitter and Facebook. Sometimes we video call/Skype too! Conversations can be helping make sense of our writing we are stuck on, but most of time, it is just to hangout!

Being friendly, helping each other, championing each other, promoting, praising etc. based on creating a positive and strong team/research community, could be the starting point to making academia seem less “hostile” and the competitiveness less intimidating to an early career researcher. If everyone felt acknowledged and appreciated, not only does that improve everyone’s moods and attitudes to their work, but their institutions too. This in turn, improves productivity! Which could make REF, TEF, student satisfaction etc. better!

I believe that building up support networks, helping each other out, not only makes academia more bearable but improves productivity. Which brings me to pointing out some troubles in academia when it comes to pushing people out. If you are strongly opinionated (like me) or have views that differ from everyone else, they are either looked upon as inspirational, or as a threat. Even if your viewpoint is valid, it will not matter, because you have hurt someone’s ego. Ego can be a terrible thing. It becomes the case of “your wrong, I’m right”. Which should not be the STEM environment, we are all learning about the world together, not everything has to have a right or wrong answer. But trust me, that will not stop some trying to rain on your parade.

Throw in the competitiveness of academia, and all the intense stuff of academia I mentioned in my previous post, you could be pushed out. It sucks. That is why having both online and offline multiple support networks are great as a social network and in turn, your form of resilience. Or you know…maybe the person(s) you are working with are just total ********* and I have said that to many of my friends who have been having a hard time with their co-workers. Why y’all gotta be mean? We are all here to do science, LET US DO SCIENCE IN A POSITIVE ENVIRONMENT.

But haters gonna hate, surround yourself with positive, loving and engaging colleagues, friends and family outside of academia and be there for one another offline and/or online. It has helped me get through rough patches without a doubt.

It may take a while for the “hostile” and toxic environment of academia to change, but building up your support network, do loads of fun stuff where you can, and things may just get better for us and our successive STEM generations 🙂

Jazmin

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Curating the ‘Minorities in STEM’ account: Part 2

Last week I summarised about my journey into volcanology and the influences of my heritage and disability had on that journey. Another thread I talked about was mental health in academia.

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I suffer from stress and anxiety. And in academia, it has been talked about a lot recently, but it is not a new thing. It has always been there. From what I have gathered from colleagues and reading about it, it is due to a few things: 1) lack of job security; 2) limited support management; and 3) a high workload. In addition, particularly for early career researchers such as myself, it is uncertainty. I feel like although being super into historical and social volcanology, I have set myself up for failure because nowhere really wants to let me fully embrace everything I have learned. I want to stay in academia so I can continue researching and engaging, but it is an uncertain place. This is because my topic is super-niche. But of course, I do have expertise in other areas, mainly disaster risk/resilience/vulnerability. I could technically research any hazard I wanted, but my first love is volcanoes and the people that live around them.

Getting to research volcanoes for a living is not guaranteed when you get a PhD in it. This makes me uncertain in staying in academia. It makes me anxious because I have worked so hard to get here. This in turn stressed me the hell out. These cascading effects, on top of just the stress of the job, it is intense. You can reach boiling point and “burnout” real quick.

Of course, mine is only of one experience. Other people have children and way more responsibilities than me. So I can only imagine the added stress and anxieties that brings, when working in an uncertain, intense environment like academia.

I myself, being part of a big Caribbean family, I am attached to them. So I want to stay in the UK, and at least near one family member (for my undergrad I was near my mum, for my masters and PhD I was near/lived with my dad). I also need Caribbean culture nearby too, which has been an interesting experience being in Denmark. The main diverse group here is African, not Caribbean. I have done my best to combat this cultural-loneliness by cooking some Caribbean home comforts and just keeping up with calling my family.

Which brings me to another mental health issue in academia: loneliness. A PhD is a lonely process, despite being surrounded by other people. In the UK it is well known that every from young adults to the elderly suffer from it, it is an endemic situation. I am an introvert and most days do prefer my own company, but I am in a relationship with someone I would love to settle down with. But you know…the whole uncertainty in academia thing. As a British volcanologist, this may require me finding relevant work outside of the UK. This has placed me in a really rubbish situation: what do I sacrifice? My relationship or my career aspirations? This then, makes me more stressed and anxious. Because I do not want to sacrifice either one.

Having a life outside of academia is important. I have friends within academia I can just go out and do something as simple as going to a restaurant (and not talk about work). My friends, my family and partner outside of academia is also important too. It helps de-stress. Often, we experience guilt by not focusing on the work if you are having the time to relax and de-stress from work. It is the pressure of the job, wanting to do good work – be it research, admin, teaching, science communication etc. The workload, lack of support, strict deadlines, funding pressures and so many more…make us feel guilty if it is not done on time or not to a high standard.

A lot of these factors I have talked about, plus a “hostile” environment, measurements of performance such as the REF and TEF, sexual harassment not being taken seriously, lack of permanent positions, the gender pay gap and so many other factors, push people away from academia. I want to do research because I feel I am good at it. But then again, I look around and think other people are better. Yep, I am referring to “imposter syndrome” – it is like the peak tier of intellectual guilt. You feel like a fraud, it saps your confidence and self-esteem. Before Denmark, I shared an office with 3 other women. All different ages, from different countries/towns in the UK, and way different projects. But we still feel like one was “doing better” than the other.

That is why building up a support network – within your research team, department/institution, with people at other places, friends and family outside of academia, offline and online, is so important. It helps make the work more bearable.

I summary, personal responsibilities and academia pressures can make mental health issues hard to cope with. But, do not be afraid to talk to someone, be it in an informal and/or formal capacity. You are not alone ❤

Jazmin

Curating the ‘Minorities in STEM’ account: Part 1.

Hello! This past week I have been curating the Minorities in STEM Twitter account, and I shared a few threads with followers. Monday, I introduced myself and a bit about my PhD work; Tuesday was how my Caribbean heritage and physical disability influenced me to becoming a volcanologist; Wednesday was diversity in earth science and Thursday and Friday was about mental health and support networks in academia.

I will be putting these threads into blog posts, so to make it easy for people to find. So first thread I will share is my journey into volcanology.

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The journey starts with me being diagnosed with a chronic physical disability called Systemic Onset Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis at the age of 2. I struggled to walk, had inflamed joints and terrible fevers. From 2 to 18, I spent a lot time taking medication and in hospital because I was so sick.

But I became interested in geography (particularly natural hazards at secondary school) and the sciences. My family would take me to places to keep my curiosity going outside of school. For the sciences, particularly biology, I was interested in it because I wanted to understand my disability. I was well known in my clinic to be the one asking questions. My former paediatric physiotherapist said they loved/feared it! And I say fear because they didn’t want to disappoint me by not answering my questions!

Being in constant pain has made me equal parts stubborn and determined. Going on geography field trips (and later volcanology ones) were and are a struggle. But if you love something, you put yourself through the pain and bare the consequences later.

As well as all this, my disability was treated with “tough love” in my Caribbean family (which I am sure it is not just limited to our culture) – it was all, yes we love you, we know you’re in pain but get on with it, you still got your brain now use it. Reflecting back on it, I suppose it was a way in investing in me: my disability may have hurt my body, but it made my mind sharp, and my family knew this! With Caribbean families, it is all about hard work, appreciating what you got and being full of love – since my mind was sharp, I had to put it to work!

By the time I got to go to Coventry University to study Geography and Natural Hazards, my disability was under control, and my family were proud for me for just going to university. During my course I learned that when my disaster management lecturer told us “it’s not a hazard without the people”, it was so true. So because I had become such a nerd for natural hazards, I studied both: the hazard and the people they impacted.

Near the end of my 4 year course, I knew I wanted to keep studying natural hazards but I had limited options. BUT then I saw some Masters programs for volcanology. I asked my family for some advice and then all the sudden they started telling me about this volcano called La Soufrière on the island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines erupting in 1979! I loved hearing the stories of Jamaica, so imagine when I heard about St. Vincent’s volcano! I was captivated, I wanted to know more about this volcano. So, I did a Masters for the sole purpose to learn about this volcano that had impacted my family and my ancestors. I was determined to do it for my MSc dissertation, so I created a project with the lessons from my undergrad and family in mind: it’s not a hazard without the people.

Independent fieldwork on St. Vincent doing a volcanic risk perception study was the best month of my life: I stayed with a family friend, I met family I’ve never even knew about, I met so many other amazing people, the weather, mountains, the volcano…everything about the trip was just pure magic. And of course…I got to do some science!

The dissertation I wrote was noted by the examiner in being “a novel piece of work, in which Jazmin drove herself”. And that determination/stubbornness, born from my disability and the encouragement of my Caribbean family made it possible. BUT I was not done! I needed to continue researching La Soufrière, so I applied for PhD projects. None I applied for allowed me to look at St. Vincent specially, and I got rejected. But then, my best friend talked me into applying for one more: the one I am doing now!

Following on from my Masters dissertation, I asked the simple question that opened up a whole new other world: “what did this look like in the past?” So I have ended up looking at three eruptions of the volcano: 1812, 1902 and 1979. I think the biggest thing I have learnt during my PhD about St. Vincent are the two groups of people that came before colonialism: the Kalinago (“Yellow Caribs”) and the Garifuna (“Black Caribs”). From this, I reached out to American, Canadian and Australian academics about “territorial acknowledgement” – where you state that where you do your research, and the land you occupy on, was not originally your own. Their voices are almost entirely silent from the narrative, and that really gets my goat. So, with my stubbornness, I have made sure I found as much evidence of possible of what happened to them during the eruptions.

What’s all this talk to do with me being a British-Caribbean early career researcher? Well…I’ve learnt that I am in fact, a descendant of the “Caribs” but unfortunately, I do not know which group. But, my PhD has become super personal and I am in too deep now!

In summary: my chronic physical disability made me stubborn/determined, my Caribbean family encouraged me to pursue my love of science. I carved out my path as a social and historical volcanologist with the combo of both with a splash of creativity.

Jazmin

 

Why I am new to territorial acknowledge?

I've only come across territorial acknowledge via Twitter recently. I feel guilty that it was only recently and not at the start of the academic journey. Although that guilt can easily be replaced with: why haven't I seen it talked about in this country? I mean…I have a few opinions as to why, but I will leave the politics of colonialism/post-colonialism to others.

I found a few sites on how terrirotial acknowledgement is approached by them (links at the end) and found that they were based on respect and building positive bridges based on the land they are living on. Although the UK won't be able to exactly do this, what if our research is in a country/region that did belong to indigneous groups before European contact? I would see it as a strength that we are trying to build bridges that we face up to our country's past, acknowledge that there were negative consequences and that we need to develop new healthier relationships.

Here is my acknowledgement example:

"This thesis has been conducted on the Caribbean Island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, that once belonged to the Kalinago, who call the island Youloumain, and the Garifuna, who call the island Yurumei. They originally inhabited the coastal areas of the island however, due to British colonialisation they were forced inland and north near the volcano La Soufrière, in which unfortunately the original name given by the Kalinago and Garifuna has been lost. This has ever since placed the descendants of the two groups at higher risk of La Soufrière’s explosive eruptions. At the end of the Second Carib War in 1797, many Garifuna were exiled to Roatán, an island of Honduras. Exiled descendants now live in Belize, and continue to fight to return to their homeland. It is without a doubt, that the influence of colonialisation and creolisation has caused the indigenous knowledge of the island and the hazards that it is exposed to, to be omitted from written historical records, which do not reflect the enduring sovereignty of the Kalinago and Garifuna people. The island still belongs to them, but is no longer predominately occupied by them. The author has endeavoured to represent the groups’ voice in the narrative of this thesis."

  • Kalinago – displaced the Arawak in the Lesser Antilles, migrating from Venezuela (called "Yellow/Red Caribs"
  • Garifuna – runaway African slaves (supposedly Spanish) who intermarried with the Kalinago (called "Black Caribs")

I think it will go before or after my main acknowledgements. I suppose I am making the effort to do this is because I know my family and ancestors are from previously colonised countries (St. Vincent, Jamaica, Cuba, Cameroon and possibly India) and one thing my grandfather always tells me is: "We are Carib, our blood is Carib" but unfortunately, I do not know if I am Kalinago or Garifuna.

The acknowledgement humanises and lets people know you understand the past, present and future of the communities that were in certain areas before others came along. We should not feel ashamed in doing it and we certainly should not keep pushing some groups of people out. We should acknowledge the territories in which we live and/or work upon.

Jazmin

Territorial acknowledgement links