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For she’s a jolly good Fellow

Writing for the PemWomen@30 project, Sarah Nouwen reflects on being a female Fellow at Pembroke

sarah-nouwenIt may be a sign of the success of 30 years women at Pembroke: I have to think hard when asked about my experience as a female academic at Pembroke. I could easily come up with stories about being a junior academic at Pembroke; about being a lawyer in Pembroke; about being a Pembroke fellow who is also a parent; indeed, about being a vegetarian teetotalling Pembrokian. But saying something about being a female academic requires one to use a lens that hardly ever seems relevant in Pembroke, nowadays or at the time of my admission in 2009.

When pushed, I can of course come up with some experiences that reveal my own trivial concerns: which dress should one wear on scarlet days? Most colours clash with the decorations on the gown. And the refresh-your-face-after-dinner ceremony must have been invented prior to the admission of women – it is risky for one’s make-up.

On a more serious note, perhaps the most relevant experience as a female academic at Pembroke is the realisation that once one has been admitted to Pembroke, one is totally equal to one’s male colleagues, but that awareness of gender differences continues to be relevant in selection processes. It is noticeable in application committees, not just in Pembroke but across the University, that female and male academics often present themselves differently in their letters of application and their curricula vitae. That diversity is to be celebrated.

But the standard for what is considered ‘excellent’ in academia is still usually set by characteristics in which men are known to do better than women (e.g. self-confidence, assertiveness, quantitativeness, an ability and willingness to generalise and theorise). It is only when we read letters of application and curricula vitae with an awareness that women and men tend to present themselves differently and may excel in different things that we can ensure that talented women, too, get short-listed. As the recent Pembroke history of Junior Research Fellows illustrates, once they get short-listed, they often make it into Pembroke and become a most natural part of a diverse fellowship.

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