What someone did to help a PhD student

April 10, 2014 § 3 Comments

This is a tale of a small thing that someone in my department did to support me, a woman in philosophy. I’m a PhD student at a well-regarded UK institution where there is very good awareness of inclusion issues. At the weekly visiting speaker seminar, I asked a question – the last or next-to-last question in the session. The speaker, though very polite and friendly, didn’t engage at all with my question, instead using his response as an opportunity to discuss something that he’d mentioned in his talk that he’d like to be asked about (but hadn’t been). As far as I could tell, his answers to other questions had all been very much to the point. I’d been really curious to hear what the speaker had to say about the point I raised, but I thought that I must have asked the question badly, or that there was after all nothing interesting in what I was asking, or that I’d misunderstood the answer. Immediately the talk finished, a senior member of staff (male) who I don’t know especially well came up to me and said ‘I thought your question was really interesting, and I don’t think the speaker addressed your point at all. Why don’t you ask him about it now?’ Heartened, I put my question to the speaker as we walked to the pub, he responded enthusiastically and pertinently, and a very interesting and productive conversation ensued. It turned out that I had been raising a worthwhile point, and the issue is one I may write about in my thesis. If I hadn’t received this active encouragement from a senior member of my department, I’d have gone away without an answer to my question, and feeling a bit stupid. Little things like this really make a difference to how I feel about being in philosophy – and I know they make my work better, too.

§ 3 Responses to What someone did to help a PhD student

  • […] Go read about a way to help women in philosophy, over at What We’re Doing. […]

  • Danielle says:

    Great! I wish only that rather than privately encouraging this student, the senior philosopher might have given this feedback publicly during the talk. I.e., “That’s all fine and well [to the irrelevant response], but I’m actually really interested in hearing you address Jane’s point…”

  • "Jane" says:

    Hi, author of the original post here. Just to say, Danielle, I agree that the intervention you suggest would also have been really great, and might have had wider positive effects too. In this case, though, the timing and the chairing rules mean that it would have been impossible for anyone to do this (time was either up, or almost up, and either way no new hands were being added to the queue).

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