I’m a feminist but if I can get funding simply because I’m a woman, I will.

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I believe that every single human has the power to make a great impact, if only by changing the little bit of world around them and the people in it. We could all make the world a better place by each choosing one battle to fight. I “chose” (was it ever a choice?) the planet, and feminism. I’ll tell you more about my engagement for the Earth later. Today, let’s talk about this big scary word, FEMINISM, and how feminism helped me for my PhD.

I’d say I’m quite lucky as I’ve never had to fight gender discrimination too much to get to where I am currently (gender harassment in everyday life is a whole other matter of course, as cat calling is just a daily event in France). I’m a white middle-class French woman, I have a master’s degree, just like many of my friends (my beloved friend Marianne even has 2 of these). Starting a PhD was definitely more unusual, but didn’t actually surprise anyone. I’m starting to feel a bias now that I’m in the UK, kind of because of my name. Most people in the country never heard of “Bérengère” before, so before meeting me in person, if the gender pronoun “she” hasn’t be used to refer to me, people ALWAYS assume I am a man.

I am a foreign student doing in Ph.D. in the Edinburgh Medical School, therefore, by default, I must have a penis.

(though Google would have told you that Bérengère is 100% a female name and that the male version is Bérenger.)

I can always tell when people expected to meet a man, their face when discovering a petite girl is stellar.

In academia like in many places, the higher you go, the less women you find. The default gender is male (unlike in human biology, some might say). Even in my almost all-female team, the director of the centre is a man (but he is a wonderful man so we forgive him).

This is changing, slowly but surely. Projects and programs are launched to support the inclusion of women in academia. There are even grants especially for women, and though some (and not just men) think this is unfair, as a self-funded Ph.D. student one of these grants allowed me to continue my work in a relatively more serene mindset. These schemes dramatically lack visibility, so let me tell you a bit more about them.

The British Federation of Women Graduates (BFWG) and the Funds for Women Graduates (FfWG) are societies that exclusively support the work of women in academia through various activities, including grants for the last year of a PhD. I applied to both, and I was lucky enough to be receive a BFWG award. If you consider applying as well, here are some useful details about the application process.

The first round of applications (with a deadline in late February), includes a standardised form, a short lay summary of your research, as well as a more detailed one, details about your research outreach activities, and letters from two referees.

The second round is an interview, held mid-July, at the BFWG headquarters in London. This was my first ever actual interview, and I was slightly terrified at the prospect (side note, this was the day ultra-sexist Trump was visiting London. What are the odds?!). It actually went extremely smoothly, and the panel was very supportive. The interview included an 8-minute oral presentation of my work (without any visual support) followed by 10–15 minutes of questions by the Committee. The questions addressed my research as well as my involvement in outreach activities and my vision for the future of women in academia.

Thanks to this award I got to meet other young female researchers, but I also learned about the previous generation of “invisibilised” women who fought to support female academics. This inspires me to keep on educating myself and battling for a fairer academic environment. If you are interested in furthering your own feminist education, here are some links you might appreciate:

Well-behaved women seldom make history — Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Further cool stuff to gently ease into feminism:

- The Guilty Feminist, podcast and book (currently reading it)

- Culottées (or in English Brazen), by Pénélope Bagieu

- Ni Vues, ni Connues (not translated yet), by Collectif Georgette Sand

Sincerely,

Bérengère

The Chronicles of Morningside: The Tower, The Farm and The PhD