A Student inside SWIP-I: The Inaugural Meeting

It’s a drizzly December afternoon and, after arriving too early for my first SWIP-I Committee meeting, I await the arrival of the other members. Although I have been looking forward to this gathering, when I glance at my watch at 15:51, my chief pre-philosophy event emotion, anxiety, washes over me. One by one, the other recently elected members arrive – all of whom are much more senior than me (excepting my soon-to-be fellow Student Representative). “Everyone that’s meant to be here is here?” Affirmative. Once it is decided which members shall fill each committee role, the next item on the agenda is forthcoming SWIP-I events.

Committee member, Áine Mahon, is taking the lead on arranging two mentoring workshops – one in February, one in June, to provide support, encouragement and direction to female graduate students in philosophy, who are probably (read: definitely) wondering what on earth they will do after they submit their theses. These workshops address an issue most female philosophy graduate students are acutely aware of: if you are a woman hoping for a career in philosophy, the odds are not in your favour. The statistics are there: only 19% of Philosophy Professors in the UK are women for example, and, as Clara Fischer has already mentioned on this blog, there is nothing to suggest that they fare any better on this side of the water. A senior female philosopher once told me: “One has to work hard in academia and a little bit harder too, just for being a girl.” Part of this work inevitably must involve overcoming “stereotype threat”: the (conscious or sub-conscious) awareness of one’s minority status that can predispose one to “fluff it” at crucial career-defining moments (interviews, conferences and the like). We need to get a hold on stereotype threat, or else all the rest of the hard work females do just for being girls might not pay-off. Mentoring workshops, which will nurture the skills and confidence of early-career female researchers, aim to do exactly this.

There is another concern, also related to confidence, that SWIP-I hopes to address: all of those forgotten or half-formed philosophical ideas that self-doubting, potential stereotype threat victims aren’t brave enough to put “out there”. Without proper discussion, it can be hard to discern fertile/original thoughts from those that are derivative. One only has to look at Plato’s Socrates to see that philosophy is not a solo venture – even the best thinkers benefit from dialogue. In recognition of this, SWIP-I are hosting bi-weekly “Work In Progress” sessions in 2015. If any SWIP-I members are working on an idea they suspect might be good, but could do with some feedback, they can get in touch with the committee and arrange to present it in a supportive setting.

There’s more in the pipeline, to be announced in due course but, to conclude this instalment, I recall my pre-meeting angst and realise how silly it was to have felt that way before meeting with a society committed to helping people not to feel this way. So, if I have any wisdom to impart to other SWIP-I members after my first committee meeting, it’s this: don’t be shy, get involved. 2015 looks good for women in philosophy!

Mary Edwards is a student representative on the SWIP-I committee.

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