Past Event details

Belonging in the academy: Examining the experiences of BME and women doctoral students NEW DATE TBC

Friday, 05 June 2020

This seminar proposes belonging as a theoretical lens to better understand the experiences of doctoral students, particularly those from marginalised groups. Though the concept of belonging has been utilised in relation to undergraduate students (see Hughes, 2010; Thomas, 2018), despite connections between feelings of isolation and retention (Ali and Kohun, 2007; Lovitts, 2001), there has been little consideration of how doctoral students do, or do not experience belonging in higher education. The concept of belonging is used to explore the unique position of doctoral students within the academy, who often act as proto-academics, engaging in core academic activities but without the recognition or remuneration afforded to academics.

Inequalities relating to race and gender can compound doctoral students’ experiences of marginalisation within the academy, challenging individuals’ ability to develop a sense of belonging. Yet the consequences of not belonging as a doctoral student are considerable, affecting wellbeing during the doctorate as well as having longer-term career implications. Negative experiences during the doctorate shape career aspirations, in some cases discouraging individuals from pursuing an academic career; this is particularly the case for doctoral students from ethnic minorities (Arday, 2017; Fazackerley, 2019) and women doctoral students (Guest, Sharma and Song, 2011; Wellcome Trust, 2013). This has clear implications for who can progress in the academy (see Rollock, 2019; Vaughn et al., 2019).

This seminar examines the position of doctoral students within academic hierarchies and draws attention to how structural factors such as racial and gender discrimination act as barriers to belonging for particular groups of doctoral students. It draws on discourses of academic identity and neoliberalism to highlight the challenges that doctoral students face in trying to establish feelings of belonging within academic cultures, and considers the implications of this for individuals, institutions, and the higher education sector.


Professor Gina Wisker is Professor of Higher Education and Contemporary Literature at the University of Brighton, and Director of Brighton's Centre for Learning and Teaching. Gina has been teaching literature courses at ICE since 1980 and has taught in Adult and Higher Education on literature and education courses for over 30 years. She teaches literature and supervises PhD students at the University of Brighton. She has worked in educational development for over 25 years, and in 2005 was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship for her work in learning support. She is the author of The Postgraduate Research Handbook and The Good Supervisor and Getting Published.


Dr Jason Arday is an Assistant Professor in Sociology at Durham University in the Department of Sociology. Jason is a Visiting Research Fellow at The Ohio State University in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, a Research Associate at Nelson Mandela University in the Centre for Critical Studies in Higher Education Transformation and a Trustee of the Runnymede Trust, the UK’s leading Race Equality Thinktank. Jason sits on the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (CLASS) National Advisory Panel and is a School Governor at Shaftesbury Park Primary School in London. Jason is the author of the following titles: Considering Racialized Contexts in Education: Using Reflective Practice and Peer-Mentoring to support Black and Ethnic Minority educators (Routledge); Being Young, Black and Male: Challenging the dominant discourse (Palgrave); and Exploring Cool Britannia and Multi-Ethnic Britain: Uncorking the Champagne Supernova (Routledge). He is the Co-Editor of the highly acclaimed Dismantling Race in Higher Education: Racism, Whiteness and Decolonising the Academy (Palgrave) with Professor Heidi Mirza (Goldsmiths, University of London).


Dr Rachel Handforth is a higher education researcher with interests in gender, doctoral education and doctoral graduates’ career destinations. She currently works with Vitae and the Careers Research and Advisory Centre as their Research and Evaluation Project Manager, engaging in commissioned research and evaluation projects within the higher education sector. Prior to this she worked as a Research Fellow at Sheffield Hallam University. Her doctorate explores the career aspirations of women doctoral students across disciplines. Rachel’s book, Belonging, Gender and Identity in Early Career Academia: Across Theory and Space will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2021.

Network: Postgraduate Issues
Date(s): Friday, 05 June 2020
Times: 11:15-15.00
Location: SRHE, 73 Collier Street, London N1 9BE
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