UCU, USS & industrial action #StrikeForUSS

It seems like only yesterday that UCU called its members out on strike. In fact it was about 18 months ago and that time our pay was under negotiation. After years of very low pay rises, which amounted to real terms pay cuts, members came out to try to push for a more reasonable pay offer. Truth be told, I don’t think we were particularly successful. That makes the call to strike again a difficult one. Will we have any more success this time?

I hope so because the pensions crisis is, in someways, more serious than the pay rises. For those of us who rely on our salaries and pensions to live, a threat to move away from a modest defined pension benefit to a very risk defined contribution is frightening. I am frightened of a retirement spent on an income which pushes me considerably below the poverty line. As a woman, I already know my pension is likely to be worse due to persistent pay inequalities in universities. I look at the models put forward and I see my projected annual income fall below £13k – I wonder what £13k per annum will cover in 30 years time. If I can retire then. If there is any state pension left by 2048.

All this in the context of being a relatively well-paid employee. Although I know I am likely paid less than male colleagues, I am still very well paid by any average salary comparison. Yet house prices have escalated way beyond salary rises, so I am stuck (like others my age and younger) in the private rental sector. Years of paying off student loans stifled my savings capacity. And the cycle of temporary contracts which necessitates a move to a new city every few years has taken its toll. Yet I am aware of my fortunate position. However, we need to work together to push for a fair income for all, irrespective of employment status, not a race to the bottom.

So I will join in the industrial action to save USS at a defined benefit for as much as is possible. I will join for selfish reasons, but I will also join in for those who cannot. Those on precarious contracts who cannot afford to strike but want a future in HE. For those who have yet to join the fantastic world of teaching and research – because it is fantastic. I want to focus on my work, on supporting my inspiring students who make this job the joy that it can be. I want to research disability, gender and inclusive workplaces. I want to effect change for a more progressive and inclusive world. To do this me, and my colleagues, need to be able to focus on being researchers, teachers, scholars, librarians, IT and learning tech experts, managing staff, overseeing research projects – and all the other essential services overseen by UCU members. We should not live in fear of poverty in retirement and wondering if we should have followed a different career path. If the employers destroy our pension then entering the sector becomes even less attractive.

I hope that the industrial action does not need to go ahead because the employers have re-entered negotiations. I really do not want students to suffer through this dispute. But I am hopeful that if staff and students stand together we can push the universities to rejoin negotiations and find a way forward that ensures a fair and attractive academic career. I hope anyone reading will join me by writing to their VC/Principal asking them to return to negotiations and their MPs, AMs, MLAs and MSPs to ask for their support and if possible, support the industrial action if it starts.

In solidarity



Useful information https://www.ucu.org.uk/strikeforuss

Fighting fund https://www.ucu.org.uk/fightingfund

Employment rights during strike and industrial action https://www.gov.uk/industrial-action-strikes/your-employment-rights-during-industrial-action





Menstruation, menopause and gynaecological health in academia

One issue which came up in my recent disability research was endometriosis and the effect this has on undertaking field work and other aspects of academic life. I would like to explore these issues more fully so I am conducting a short pilot study on menstruation, menopause, gynaecological health and period poverty in academia.

The survey can be found here

The survey is confidential and anonymous and has received ethical approval from Heriot Watt University. The survey forms the very early parts of the study and I would appreciate any feedback you may have on the language in the survey and its usefulness (k.sang@hw.ac.uk)

I hope to apply for a larger, funded project, and the findings of this will inform that work and also research outputs. Please share with your networks.


My teaching statement

Today the results of the TEF were announced, with some unsurprising surprises! It is causing some controversy, specifically about the underlying principles of the process and what many (including me) consider to be a false divide between teaching and research. I thought it might be useful to put online my own teaching statement, which questions the false divide. I’ve copied it below. Hopefully, it’s of some use to those crafting their own statements for jobs, tertiary teacher training certificates, promotions and for their own reflective teaching practices.

Teaching statement

My research-led teaching philosophy is rooted in the concept of the classroom (both physical and virtual) is a space for transformation, where I support students’ own learning. I approach all pedagogical work, whether classroom teaching or research supervision, from a feminist pedagogical perspective. Drawing on the seminal work of scholars such bell hooks, Sara Ahmed, Kimberly Crenshaw and Bourdieu, I engage with learning and teaching through a lens of social justice, with awareness of the intersectional power dynamics inherent in teaching. My teaching is driven by three core goals, transferable learning, personal transformation and accessibility. SCQF and Heriot-Watt graduate attributes underpin my curriculum development and are clearly mapped onto content for students to understand the relevance of their learning.

Transferable learning: My teaching is research-led both in terms of content and pedagogical approach. Through engaging with pedagogical and management research I position my teaching to support students in the development of transferable skills as well as crucial knowledge for engaging with the world of work, and society more broadly. In addition to learning principles of HRM and conflicts between practice and policies, students are also encouraged to engage in critical thinking – to assess the validity and usefulness of sources. The knowledge and skills learned by students helps them not only in a management role, but also across sectors and in their everyday lives. Students regularly send me examples of where they have applied knowledge gained in my teaching, for example, in their own teaching practice, their engagement with popular culture and discussions with friends and family. One former student emailed me last year to say she takes the critical thinking skills learned in my classes ‘everywhere I go’.

Personal transformation: Through the creation of a physical and virtual classroom where students are able to engage with personal experiences of employment and their own research/lives, the classroom becomes a space for personal transformation. I achieve this through an emphasis on an egalitarian space where challenging ideas is welcomed. Students have reflected that, for the first time, they were able to discuss difficult experiences of workplace sexual harassment, racism and sexism.  I help student to develop a language for understanding these experiences and for challenging the discriminatory practices and behaviours. In addition, the classroom is a space for my own transformation. Students have been invaluable for engaging with my own research and shaping its presentation and content. As such teaching and research are entangled practices for me, and are both integral to my pedagogical practices.

Accessibility: this is at the core of all my pedagogical practice. I am passionate that the classroom should be accessible to all, irrespective of disability, gender, ‘race’, sexuality and nationality. I position my teaching to ensure that disabled students are able to contribute fully, with individual adjustments made as required. An accessible classroom minimises the  need to single out students with particular needs, creating a space for full participation. Accessibility also is reflected in the changing student profile with increasing needs to accommodate care work, financial pressures and an international student profile. I ensure teaching is scheduled at times to coincide with campus childcare. Taught content draws on a variety of national contexts and challenges the dominance of white male European thinkers present in much of management education.


‘It’s like having a second job’ Disability and academic careers

I have recently finished writing up the report for my EPSRC and HWU funded research exploring the experiences of disabled academics. Having been warned I would struggle to find 15 participants for my exploratory study, I was lucky enough to hear from over 60 academics. Parallel to this has been the enormous interest in the research on social media and more traditional media. I wanted to collate the various bits of publicity and interest that have been generated by the research. I haven’t yet begun a theoretical analysis of the data, but that is on its way. However, these pieces show the early findings. At the end of this piece, I am collating posts by other experts in the field. Just scroll down!

In February 2017 The Herald featured an OpEd from me and a commentary piece

I began by putting together a presentation and video of the early findings, with the latter, suggested at the National Disabled Staff Network Conference in Edinburgh.

Science Careers, the career development branch of Science were also interested and I was interviewed for a recent piece

The Times Higher has a week long series on #disabilityoncampus featuring first-hand accounts and a piece by me.

The Guardian published a piece on disability and inaccessible conferences

The research also informed this piece in the Herald on women academics

Hopefully, there will be more to come!

The full report can be seen here Disability Sang May 2017

Please do get in touch if you’d like to discuss the findings – I’d be delighted to present the work and discuss opportunities to implement the recommendations.

Disability and academic careers

Managing gynaecological health in academia 

Recommended reading

Vivienne Dunstan wrote about her conference experiences in this fantastic blog post

Some hints and tips on organising accessible conferences

Disability Go provides detailed information on disability access for venues, cities and a range of buildings https://www.disabledgo.com/
National Association of Disabled Staff Networks https://nadsn-uk.org/

Example guidance from Bristol University on accessibility and conferences http://www.bristol.ac.uk/equalityanddiversity/act/protected/disability/conference.pdf

Disability in academia: early thoughts

I am roughly 2/3 of the way through my interviews with disabled academics. So far I have a pretty even split across disciplines and a mixture of ECRs and established academics. Most of my participants are women (so far) and few mid-career academics (again so far). Although I still have a number of interviews to complete, a few people have been asking what my early findings are and so I thought I would consider the emerging themes.

Disability covers such a broad range of ‘impairments’ that there is no one experience of being a disabled academic. However, there are a few shared issues. The first one is fatigue. Being disabled is akin to having a second job. Many interviewees have reported the considerable effort involved in securing even basic reasonable adjustments. The paperwork, appeals, phone calls, meetings are all exhausting and are in themselves a full-time job. This is on top of the fatigue which comes from ‘impairments’ for example, taking longer than non-disabled colleagues to read a paper, undertake marking, write a paper. As a number of people have said to me, we are all overworked, and disabled academics more so.

Fatigue can have an effect on other aspects of academic life, for example, networking. Conferences are pretty tiring things! But when managing the effects of travel, presenting a paper, physically negotiating getting into the venue, a conference dinner or chatting over wine can be more than many people can tolerate. For some people the nature of their ‘impairment’ can make the academic chit chat and socialising difficult if not impossible and some academics worry that the lack of opportunity for collaboration and network building may hold back their careers.

For some academics, they experience a sudden loss of support when they make the move from student to staff member, or taught to research student. Disability services may (or may not) cater for academics, but whether they have the resources and knowledge to be able to provide reasonable adjustments is questionable. This combined with an apparent lack of understanding of disability amongst PhD supervisors, line managers and colleagues can make securing reasonable adjustments difficult. One example is parking spaces, where disabled academics reported unsatisfactory arrangements made by employers, which can prevent an academic being able to access their offices.

The increasing pressures of paperwork, online learning and workload are affecting disabled academics. The rapid turnaround of coursework to satisfy perceived NSS needs impacts those with large classes or difficulty with aspects of the work such as reading. While the VLE can provide accessibility for staff and students, it can also be an exclusionary aspect of work for those who struggle with mouse or screen use.

Many of these problems are the result of lack of thought or unconscious bias, however, some interviewees have reported distressing examples of harassment, offensive and exclusionary language and disability focussed critiques in student assessments. For some academics, this overt discrimination exacerbated existing problems and was associated with mental health crises.

There are some positive stories though! Examples include accessibility maps for campuses, workload reductions, disability working groups feeding into university policy, strong efforts from the UCU and supportive line managers. Much of this seems to depend on particular actors having personal experience of disability themselves or disabled family members. This has implications for continuity of support when a line manager moves on.

These are just some early thoughts – not coherent yet, or fully analysed. There is more to explore around the role of the body in academic work, how these discriminations write themselves on our bodies. Does the nature of the academic work prohibit the accommodation of certain ‘impairments’? Participants generally seemed to think so. I need to unpick these ideas much more. But for now, that’s some preliminary findings!

Why I marched #WomensMarch

Yesterday I was lucky enough to attend the Women’s March in Edinburgh which was a standing protest in solidarity with the main demonstration in Washington DC. Thousands of people crammed into a tiny street to come together and show support for women in the US and express their concerns and fears for the new Administration. A 16 year old (now 17) arranged the whole event with the help of a friend and pulled it off. Women and men came from over Scotland, plus a few political dogs. As a white woman I am fortunate enough to have little concern that the police will target me, but still, I was glad to see how friendly the police were and how good natured the event was. I met women on the bus, in the street, identifiable by our PussyHats. There was a palpable sense of shared purpose.

Why did I attend a protest in Edinburgh over Donald Trump, the new US President?  There is a clear link in Trump’s golf course and associated activities here, of course. But it is bigger than that. Trump is one man. Not a particularly eloquent, nice or principled man admittedly, but one man. He symbolises the broader move to the far right. He used the language of Brexit, Le Pen, Farage and their kind, to fuel hatred of migrants, disabled people and women. He boasted about sexual assault. He mocked a disabled reporter. He harassed and stalked his opponent. I went to the protest because I feared what is to come. I felt alone in my fear and certain that there was no concerted will to stop the march to fascism, which is by no means inevitable.

The Edinburgh protest was small in comparison to others, but no less powerful for it. After my customary hot drink and lunch I went home to watch the Washington march. I saw women of colour, disabled women, trans* women, indigenous women, labour activists, celebrities, academics and women of all faiths speak. I saw women occupy the public spaces we are harassed and abused in. I saw women come together, with men, and shout their support for a better, kinder tomorrow which is full of love. I saw women say ‘No’ to the attacks on our bodies, our reproductive rights, our access to education, safe drinking water, the destruction of eco-systems and the demands we be silenced by accepting the various votes/referendums. We took up space. We made noise and women were the first to respond to the Trump inauguration. Over 4 million women globally said ‘this will not stand’.

There is plenty to reflect on. Why were white women (including me) not quicker to listen to the warnings of women of colour? Why were marches not more accessible for disabled people? Will the momentum continue and will white women now lend our minds, energies and bodies to the demands for clean drinking water, Black Lives Matter, indigenous land protection, the protection and welcome of migrants? I thought people were better than voting for Trump or Brexit. But women of colour know different. They have seen the poisonous combination of racism and sexism which pervades organisations, employers, communities. The Women’s March has potential to be better, of course. But I went to bed last night with hope. Hope that we will not stand and let fascism take over. That I am not alone in my fears and hopes for a better future. That hope is powerful.  Progressive women came together yesterday and made our voices heard. We stood with men and talked, shared ideas, showed kindness to those alone, cared for those who needed help and sang happy birthday to a 17 year old who bought over 3000 people together in Edinburgh. We stood in joy and hope, and showed what is possible. I believe now that the future can be bright, and that we can find solidarity across difference.

Trump – some thoughts

As the USA went to bed with awful news, much of the rest of the world woke up to it. For those of us in the UK it probably wasn’t too much of a surprise. After Brexit it became clear that people will engage in acts of self-destruction, in the face of waves of evidence of the likely devastation of that act. We are early on in the news cycle and we don’t seem to know too much. However, it does seem that the world can thank white voters, male and female, for this outcome. This seemingly can’t be blamed on white working class voters – the polling (if accurate) suggests that white graduates voted in droves for a racist, transphobic, xenophobic, proud sexual abuser. Yet many are surprised. Surprised  white women would be active participants in the (re)production of white male supremacy. But how can we be surprised? My own work has shown that women actively reproduce the patriarchy, even when it is to their detriment. White women then also have an interest in preserving white supremacy. I am more surprised at the high numbers of Latino men and women voting for Trump. I am sure work will be done to understand why. Maybe many hope to be in a position to benefit from Trump’s promised tax cuts. Maybe a lot of votes were cast while there were spurious allegations made about emails last week.

So what are we left with? As a woman I feel personally hurt and bruised to see a confessed serial abuser of women, a gross specimen of masculinity who derides, degrades and assaults women, elected to this highest office. As a woman I fear for poorer women in the US who will lose out with the defunding of Planned Parenthood. I fear for those who need access to abortions. I fear for trans people, forced to use a particular toilet. I fear for men and women of colour. As a disabled person I am disgusted that a man who mocked a disabled person, for being disabled, can be elected to such a position of influence. I fear for the rest of the world, and what this signals about the revealing and celebration of the underbelly of white male supremacy which our economies are built on. I am scared for the environment, for biodiversity, for indigenous people, and for the future of all the life on this planet we share.

In the face of this fear, where can I (or we) find hope and comfort? Today perhaps we need to grieve. That grief will be the start of the healing and the way forward. I don’t want to see so called Lefties (men) blaming Hillary Clinton. Or working class people. We need to recognise and confront the racism at play here. I tweeted that we need self-care. Eat as well as we can, exercise our bodies and minds to make them as strong as we are able (if we are able), breathe deeply, and reach out to those we love. We must support the self-care of others, by creating space and time for other vulnerable groups to heal. Then we must join together. Find commonality across these traditional political divisions. Reach out to climate change activists, across communities. We must recognise that sexism, disablism, heterosexism and racism are not independent forms of oppression, but inextricably linked. From solidarity and love within and across communities, perhaps we can create a line of defense against the horror that’s coming.

Oh, and remind ourselves, that history was made last night/today. The world’s first President Fart?

Updated: Call for interviewees: Experiences of disabled academics

While there has been considerable work exploring the role of gender on academic careers, and some steps towards understanding race and class, disability remains notable for its absence from the literature. I have been awarded two small grants, the first from the EPSRC career acceleration fund and a second from an Internal Research Grant, both from Heriot-Watt University to research the experiences of disabled academics in Engineering and Physical Sciences, Social Sciences and Humanities. The project will begin in January, with data collection in January and February. This is an early call for potential interview participants based in the UK. The interviews will occur face to face (for those in Edinburgh or nearby) or via Skype/telephone. I would like to interview UK based disabled academics across the career span (PhD students, ECR, mid-career and more established academics). For the purpose of this research disability is taken to be: ‘a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities’ (taken from the Equality Act, 2010).

If you are unable to participate in an interview, the questions can be answered via this survey link 

Or please email me (k.sang@hw.ac.uk) for the questions as a word document which you can complete at your own pace and return via email.

All interview transcripts will be anonymised to protect the identities of individuals and employing institutions. I anticipate interviews lasting between 40 and 60 minutes, covering career history, the impact of disability and recommendations for employers. The interviews will be used to inform a report for Heriot-Watt University and (hopefully!) resulting publications. The project has secured ethical approval. Data will be securely stored, with raw data only available to me and the professional transcriber.

Please share this  call with your colleagues across the Humanities, Social Sciences and Engineering and Physical Sciences (including those eligible to apply for EPSRC funding in other disciplines), and with colleagues in other disciplines.

If you would like to participate (or hear the findings) please contact me at k.sang@hw.ac.uk


IPED Call for Papers – #Intersectionality and #ClimateChange

Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Equality and Diversity (fully OA) is seeking submissions on intersectionality and climate change. We particularly welcome explorations of how categories of difference (e.g. gender, race, class, disability, indigeneity, LGBTQI) intersect to inform out understanding of the effects of climate change, and efforts to mitigate such effects. 

We welcome papers in English, German, French, and Thai. We may be able to accept papers in other languages (including American/British/International sign language) – please contact me (Kate k.sang@hw.ac.uk) for further information.

The full call for papers can be seen here


IPED seeks to challenge dominant paradigms of research, including drawing on theories outside the Western canon and alternative forms of presenting research.

Please share with your contacts. 

With best wishes