By @SimonCocking. Great, enjoyable interview with Grace McDermott and Catherine Connolly, founders of Women are Boring. Featuring fascinating research by interesting women. Co-founded by @KitConnolly & @grace_mcdermott.

We get that the title is catchy, and has gained you good attention. Do you think in the future you might revisit the fact that you had to have a negative title -> or has it grown on you already?

Catherine – People have responded to the blog’s title very well – it’s tongue-in-cheek, memorable and humorous, while also challenging this existing misconception that women are boring, particularly given the women who write for us and the pieces we publish. Our name is one of our readership’s favourite things about the site – we’ve had nothing but positive feedback on it so far, and have no plans to revisit it!

What are you plans for the future of the site?

Grace- We are hoping to grow and move from a blog to a fully integrated website in the next year. We are also hoping to start a podcast, create video content, and interview inspiring women in academia. Our ultimate goal would be to pay our contributors. Most academic journals and similar publications do not support contributors monetarily, and we think that is very important for researchers across the board to receive compensation for the work they do, like any other professional.  

Paying contributors would be great, many sites are wrestling with this challenge, how do you hope to manage to achieve this?

Grace & Catherine -The issue of paying contributors is paramount to us, but is uniquely tricky in this case. Obviously, it is very early days for us (we launched in May). Plus, we are both PhD researchers, who run the site in our spare time, without any funding and out of our own pockets. Any good research demands freedom and independence from privatized influences if it is to retain its social value. Although we are hoping to eventually pay our contributors in the much longer term, the means by which we monetize the platform, and our overall approach, is very sensitive.

At present, all our contributors, and even our design, has been contributed freely by working students and academics. We are hoping to attract some grants in the future, and are also exploring other digital marketing options. It is important to keep in mind that the blog was never envisioned as a money-making venture: we simply wished to create a platform through which people could better discover women in academia, and their research. Above all, it matters to us that the research on the site is authentic, and representative of each author’s work.

What trends are you excited about in terms of technology and its impact on our working lives?

Grace – Much of academia has been relatively slow to embrace the technological revolution (there’s been a lot of debate on this on Twitter recently – have a look at the #SeriousAcademic if you want to know more!), but we believe technology, and particularly social media, has a lot to offer researchers. Social media is our main means of communication, and we have found a thriving and growing community of academics in these spaces. That being said, the mediums by which research is shared, accessed, and disseminated remain relatively traditional, and are by no means appealing to non-academic audiences.

Most studies are written up and published in academic journals which no one, except a few experts with very specific knowledge, ever come in contact with. Social media, and the nexus of connections and information which it facilitates, provide an important opportunity for researchers and those working in academia to reach out to new audiences, as well as to each other.

Needless to say, blog-style writing demands a very different approach from that of an academic journal, but we think sharing research in such spaces is important and worthwhile. Firstly, because it enables other academics to read it, but also, because it provides the general public an opportunity to engage with research (that quite often their tax dollars’ support) which they would otherwise never come in contact with.

Many statistics are already suggesting that more women are graduating from college, and with higher grades than men, are we currently in a period of adjustment in terms of career progression for women? Or if not, is this one of the reasons you created the site?

Catherine – In Ireland, there have been more women than men at undergraduate level in Higher Education Authority-funded institutions since the academic year 1990-1991, and the latest figures show that women represent 53% of postgraduate students. Yet only 35% of senior lecturers are women, falling to 27% at Associate Professor and 19% at Professor levels.

The fact that, for nearly 30 years, there have been more women than men completing undergraduate education shows that this is not a ‘pipeline’ issue, as the Higher Education Authority’s recent report shows. This isn’t just an Irish issue though, it’s a worldwide one – in Sweden, for example, 68% of undergraduate students were women as far back as 1978, but as of 2015, only 23.8% of Professors in Sweden are women.

We think the Higher Education Authority’s report on gender equality in Irish institutions is extremely important – women are not progressing at the rate that they should be, and we need to keep asking why and keep rethinking how barriers can be knocked down. For example, flexible funding is extremely important for women in early career positions, which is something we wrote about after we attended the L’Oréal-UNESCO Women in Science Awards in London in June. But the site isn’t just about women’s career progression – it’s also about giving women in research a voice and a platform that they might not otherwise have, particularly because only 24% of the persons heard, read about, or seen in news media are women. Hopefully, increased visibility will contribute, even just in some small way, to enhancing women’s academic career progression.

We have many women writers, and feature many great women, doing great things (http://irishtechnews.net/ITN3/50-great-women-to-be-inspired-by-50-interviews-with-and-by-leading-female-tech-innovators/) however they are featured because of their achievements rather than their gender. There is a concern that some events intended to celebrate female achievement often get sidetracked into talking about all the slights and setbacks suffered by women historically, rather than the impressive achievements currently happening. What are your thoughts on this?

Grace- We are often asked why we choose to feature predominantly women; to this we ask: Why are corporations, governments, the mainstream media, and even the senior positions at universities still featuring predominantly men?

We set out to create a space which is by default “female” and which encompasses a deliberate majority of female voices because research across the board shows us that this is not the norm. We believe celebrating female achievement means intrinsically, and inalienably, recognizing the reality of the challenges women continue to face today. We believe there is social importance to creating new opportunities for audiences to engage with educated and accomplished women.

Who have you been inspired by?

Catherine – First and foremost, my mam, who is the best and most positive person I know. Research-wise, I really admire the work of Professor Patricia Owens at the University of Sussex. I’m also a big fan of Dr. Roxane Gay, Margaret Atwood, Mindy Kaling, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Elena Ferrante.

Grace – I think my biggest inspiration has been my mother. Since I was very little, she taught me to use the word feminist as a compliment, and that my brain was my best feature. Chimamanda Ngozi, bell hooks, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Mona Eltahawy, and Donna Flayhan, the college professor who inspired me to use my knowledge to do what’s right, instead of what’s easy.

What tips would you give to others hoping to be successful academically?

Grace- I would say, study something you care about, and tell others about it. When you’re passionate about something it’s easy to get others to listen, and that’s how real change happens.

Catherine – I definitely agree with Grace on studying something you care about. While I don’t agree with that maxim of ‘do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life’ (there are tons of people, academics and otherwise, who will tell you that isn’t true), it definitely does help if you have some passion for what you’re studying. My other tip would be to read as much as you can!


If you would like to have your company featured in the Irish Tech News Business Showcase, get in contact with us at [email protected] or on Twitter: @SimonCocking

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