VisNET: Virtual in situ networking to reinvent the rules of international collaborations and reduce gender differences in academic careers

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Engineering

Abstract

Female academics, particularly in STEM subjects, score consistently lower than male academics in metrics measuring international [1] and industrial collaborations [2]. These two related assessment criteria are key at all stages in academic careers and particularly important at senior levels to secure the highest value research grants and promotions. While several barriers have been identified to academic career advancement for women and have led to strategic interventions at national and institutional levels, there remains a lack of data and action specifically targeting networking and collaboration - the focus of this VisNET programme.

Our vision is
1) To identify key barriers to international collaboration for female engineering academics
2) To design and demonstrate interventions and new best practices in networking and collaborations to define a new and more effective normal.

The emergence and rapid development of technologies that support geographically remote working relationships presents a timely opportunity. Effective use of such tools could help to correct the disadvantages experienced by women in international collaboration. We propose an intervention to determine and remodel the implicit 'rules' of networking and collaboration. This pilot project is aimed at a cohort of female post-doctoral researchers (PDRAs). Transition from post-doc to academic is a key attrition point for women in engineering. Success is reliant on demonstrating the means to develop academic independence. Possession of a strong network can be crucial. At the same time this group has relative freedom to trial new approaches of working and represents a critical mass to demonstrate and embed novel methods, including a route to involve more established academics. Thus, the interdisciplinary academic and industrial consortium we have brought together will lead the way in developing, integrating and advocating a new approach where networking and collaboration is conducted predominantly in situ (i.e. from home institutions). We believe that at this critical postdoctoral stage implementation of strategic networking and collaboration can be career defining, providing crucial routes to build confidence, establish future academic independence and funding success. Furthermore, it has the potential to mitigate the impact of future career breaks and parenthood. By demonstrating that networks can be built without frequent travel, it will also address the perception that an academic career is incompatible with work-life balance or family responsibilities, factors identified by junior researchers when consulted about their choice to leave academia [3].

While we see here an opportunity to have a rapid tangible impact on the academic career of a finite group of women, VisNET will also act as an effective route to embed our approaches into the working practices of our universities. Effective in situ networking has the potential to directly tackle negative perceptions of work-life balance in academia, contribute to the promotion of flexible working patterns and advance inclusivity for other minority academic communities such as academics with disabilities or remotely located. The coordinated outcome of this programme fits directly into EPSRC's and our Universities' strategic plans to build leadership, accelerate impact and balance capabilities ensuring the continued progression of UK emerging research leaders by enhancing their experiences and embedding career robustness.

[1] Larivière et al., "Bibliometrics: Global gender disparities in science," Nat. News, vol. 504, no. 7479, p. 211, 2013
[2] Tartari & A. Salter, "The engagement gap: Exploring gender differences in University - Industry collaboration activities," Res. Policy, vol. 44, no. 6, pp. 1176-1191, 2015
[3] Shaw & Stanton, "Leaks in the pipeline: separating demographic inertia from ongoing gender differences in academia," Proc. R. Soc. B Biol. Sci., vol. 279, no. 1743, p. 3736, 2012

Planned Impact

Our proposal will deliver impact in accelerating cultural change.

There is an urgent need to increase productivity and workforce across the engineering sector. UK growth is limited by low productivity (Market Research Consultancy, Expert Analysis, 2014) and an annual shortfall in engineering personnel of 55,000 (IET Skills Survey, 2015). Further economic analysis shows no correlation between longer working hours and productivity, but the UK has amongst the longest working hours in Europe. We also score 19th in the world for inequality suggesting a great opportunity exists to address these issues (OECD, 14th August 2016).

Anecdotal evidence suggests multinational companies are revising guidelines for travel, limiting air travel to balance budgets and reduce CO2 emissions. Many companies accept a revision of work life balance, availability and desire to travel. The shift is supported by emerging tools for video conferencing, screen sharing and common data environments. This trend has been slow to influence academia but holds significant potential to address gender imbalances. Practices demonstrated to work effectively will offer similar benefits to other minority groups or those experiencing unseen or perceived obstacles to success. In the modern digital world the ability to travel should no longer be a barrier to achievement.

To address these problems, VisNET will generate state-of-the-art understanding of the challenges facing women researchers in developing international collaborations. The outcomes of the research component of the project will be cross-disciplinary and focus on characterising barriers of international collaboration for women researchers in engineering. This will provide an essential evidence base for action.
This intervention seeks to empower female PDRAs to develop strong collaborative networks for independent research leading to a rapid and real difference in reducing the leaky pipeline for women academics. There is no avoiding that women take maternity leave, but that finite career breaks should jeopardise promising careers is unsustainable for the UK economy. Our early intervention will reduce the legacy of caring responsibilities on career progression (for women and men). The project will enhance the attractiveness of academic careers for female PDRAs by building confidence to minimise issues that may deter women from staying in academia.

The immediate aim of VisNET is to address gender imbalance. The lasting legacy will be a reinvention of the 'rules' of networking to level the playing field for women and other minority or under-achieving groups (e.g. those with other caring responsibilities or disabilities). Improved output generated by increased diversity of future leaders will deliver long-term effects on economic productivity in HE and beyond. VisNET will accelerate cultural change building on female success. Starting at PDRA level we expect a transformative impact on academic environments but also wider industry. Over 95% of PhD graduates in STEM subjects develop careers in industry. Thus successful intervention in Universities will enable wider change.

To accelerate wider adoption we will hold a virtual international showcase conference at the end of the program and produce a White Paper. These will demonstrate the outcomes, highlights and limitations of the project and enable broader uptake of good practice. Our Advisory Board we will ensure our outcomes influence and are influenced by the UK's most important learned Societies, Academies and Higher Education agencies to ensure our recommendations initiate change in national and local policies. Training resources will be published online under Creative Commons Licence and the story of our project will be reported on our website. Marketing materials will be developed for dissemination at events and conferences. Thus our network of influence will propagate during and beyond the course of the program.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title Project has demonstrated early adoption of remote networking tools / software for the Universities involved 
Description This project is run predominantly using Microsoft TEAMs to allow participants in each geographical location invovled to participate fully. It allows our researchers and participants to work together without dependence on travel, removing barriers associated with childcare, maximising their time and providing an opportunity to reduce our travel based carbon footprints. The vast majority of all of our video conferencing, daily informal and formal dialogue, file sharing, seminars, training events take place using this remote working platform. 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact Our findings are being used in by our Universities to promote the use of remote working practices. We have contributed to discussions on the environmental impact of research and our researchers have been consulted on building new policy around this. We have also contributed to the business case to adopt similar approaches more widely across at least two of the universities involoved in this project. 
 
Description Blog featuring our research 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact A blog featuring our research produced to summarise the oral presentation given by our PDRA at the UofGlasgow PGR event was prepared after the event by a PGR student (Danielle Fatzinger) https://uofgpgrblog.squarespace.com/pgrblog/2019/12/6/pgr-feedback-part-4-advice-for-building-professional-networks
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://uofgpgrblog.squarespace.com/pgrblog/2019/12/6/pgr-feedback-part-4-advice-for-building-profes...
 
Description Network analysis used for cohort career development 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Network analysis undertaken on our participants social and academic networks was used as part of a seminar aimed at enhancing our study cohort's career development. Researchers presented each cohort member with a computerised version of the network that they created at time point 1 and this was used as motivation for discussing their network weaknesses and strengths in small groups. The workshop was run by Co-I and PDRA employed on the project.
Seminar title: Growing your network
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Poster presented at Vitae Researcher Development International Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Researcher presented our research motivation, interventions, methods and interview findings (from our first data collection) during lunch and conference networking sessions engaging with multiple conference themes including "equality and diversity in academic careers", "evidence and evaluation of researcher careers and the impact of researcher development" and "innovative and practical approaches to the professional and career development of researchers across all career stages and institutional contexts"
Poster title: Reinventing the rules of international collaborations to reduce gender differences in academic careers through virtual in situ networking
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Poster presented at the Scottish Research Partnership in Engineering 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Poster displayed with other Scottish Inclusion Matters projects. The poster presented our research motivation, interventions and findings from the first phase of data collection including interviews and social network analysis. Poster presented by PDRA employed on this project.
Poster title: Reinventing the rules of international collaborations to reduce gender differences in academic careers through virtual in situ networking
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Presentation for PGR community at University of Glasgow on networking as an early career researcher 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact The aim of this presentation was to support PGR students and those working with the PGR community to better understand the role of networking in academic careers and develop strategic ways to overcome barriers to networking. The researcher presented the barriers identified both in the literature and found through interviews and network mapping with our cohort. A panel including other researchers focusing on academic networks came together to answer the audience's questions. Oral presentation made by the PDRA employed on this project.
Presentation title: Strategic networking as a means to reduce gender barriers in STEM in academia
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019