"I’m not sure whether my gender, race, or discipline ever counted for or against me in my career, but I was aware of them"
For some time at the School of Biological Sciences, I realised I was in effect a triple minority in my School: a person from a BAME background, a Psychologist amongst Biologists, and the only woman with a full professorship.
Things have changed a bit since then, of course, but at the time, yes, I did feel the pressure. I’m not sure that any of those factors ever counted for or against me in my career, but I was aware of them.
I had quite a comfortable, middle-class upbringing, which perhaps insulated me from the racism that many others I know did experience. My father suffered quite a bit however, and in fact had a breakdown when I was a child. So I know it can happen – even if on the face of it, you seem to have everything going for you.
I’ve always chosen to put my time and effort into where I could really get things done, make a difference
I suppose I’m quite pragmatic by nature. I think that in life some attributes or circumstances are changeable; others – like my gender and background, for example – are unchangeable. So, I’ve always chosen to put my time and effort into where I could really get things done, make a difference.
I’ve actually had several careers. My first degree was in physics, which I taught in a secondary comprehensive in England for a couple of years. I was raising my kids at the same time as working towards a higher degree, in psychology. After I got my PhD, I worked with the Samaritans and trained as a bereavement counsellor too, though I never practised.
I was working as a Postdoc at the University of Surrey before a lectureship role arose here at Queen’s in the School of Biological Sciences, where I focus on global food security, nutrition, health and consumer issues. Food is a very complex thing. We worry about access to it, its quality, cost, origin, safety, production methods, storage, waste – and so on. And every single person will, to one degree or another, be involved in some aspect of the food chain today.
I have no qualms about counselling, and have used it myself
As a psychologist, I have no qualms about counselling, and have used it myself. For example, I got divorced when my kids were still young and that was very difficult. I saw a counsellor a couple of times and found it very helpful. I wouldn’t hesitate to have a ‘top-up’ session again if I felt I needed it.
Don’t wait too long before discussing a problem
Which brings me to academic life today and its own constant stresses – to publish, review, attract grants and funding, supervise research and of course, teach students. There’s also a pastoral care element in what we do as lecturers. When it comes to helping students who are struggling, I often think they wait too long before they come to me to discuss a problem. Earlier is better. The sooner I know what the issue is, the more I can do to help.
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The sooner I know what the issue is, the more I can do