University of Stirling: 11th & 12th January 2018
After a sluggish first week back at work, the third annual RIPPLES gathering was exactly what I needed to jump start my 2018.
As has become customary, the meeting kicked off with us sharing our biggest successes and challenges of the past year. This included an inspiring array of publications; research collaborations (e.g. REINVENT; Community Energy Finance; Local Authority Engagement in Energy Systems; Reshaping the Domestic Nexus); international networking (e.g. UK-India Newton Researchers Link Workshop); conference organisation and contribution; undergraduate and postgraduate teaching; PhD viva successes; and five-a-side football triumphs.
We spent much of our time together laying out our plans for the year. We came away with solid ideas for at least five collaborative papers and several conference sessions (look out for us at People, Place & Policy in June; RGS-IBG in August; Energy & Society in September). We’re keen to engage more actively with researchers and research groups beyond RIPPLES. So, as well as blogging and tweeting our news and ideas more regularly, we plan to host a workshop in the autumn to connect with RIPPLES-esque researchers across Europe. Watch this space!
There were some absences at the meeting on account of various non-negotiable commitments, including a PhD viva and – equally excitingly – the arrival of a couple of baby ‘ripplets’. These new arrivals mean that around half of us now have children and, as (relatively) young researchers, that percentage may well increase over the years. Recent research has demonstrated the significant impact that a university’s maternity policy and childcare provision have on the careers of their female academics. One particularly pertinent finding of the research for RIPPLES members was that, in several institutions, maternity packages varied depending on length of employment and tenure. Many RIPPLES members are women on fixed-term contracts (of varying lengths). We are encouraged to move institution several times to improve our chances of gaining a permanent academic post. So it is us – or people like us – who are at the sharp end of these inequalities. Unsurprisingly, no relationship was found between maternity or paternity leave provisions and the career opportunities of male academics.
Reflecting on what it is we each value as a member of RIPPLES, a key thing for many of us is the non-instrumental, social support that the group offers. An article in Science last year reported findings from France that suggested non-permanent academic staff members experience “a very strong level of anxiety, demotivation, and mistrust”. As transient residents of university departments, PhD candidates and postdocs often occupy that strange insider-outsider space: belonging, but not fully. In these roles, we are frequently the sole full time researcher on an externally funded project, and some of us have few – if any – colleagues with shared research interests in our own departments. RIPPLES helps fill that gap for many of us. And so it goes that life imitates art (if you call our research ‘art’, which I do), with RIPPLES becoming a demonstration of what ‘community’ does that other social structures don’t, and why it persists (despite not existing).