Studying for a Masters degree under lockdown

Sweary seminars, grief and #Escapril: studying(?) for a degree under lockdown

by Chloe Erin, Masters student of Literature at Cardiff University.

person writing on notebook

Photo by Julia M Cameron on

Around a fortnight or so before the UK went into lockdown, blissfully unaware of what was to come, I returned to Manchester to visit my grandmother for what would be the last time. I knew this to be the case beforehand, whether that makes me lucky or not I couldn’t tell you; I rarely get the opportunity to go home and her condition was deteriorating by the day, so my mum told me I should make certain I had a chance to say goodbye. I was in the park enjoying my newly instigated daily walk under the new regulations when I received word she had passed on. Strangely, I had been talking to a friend not long before and offhandedly remarked that I was just waiting for my dad to ring me, about which they later suggested may well have been my sensing of her departure from the world, which was oddly comforting, like a kiss goodbye.

A hotly anticipated announcement that lecturers would begin transitioning to online teaching had come a week previously, so my cohort were somewhat prepared for an unprecedented impact on learning and understandably quite worried, having already missed out on four weeks of teaching due to the very necessary UCU strikes. Personally, I was predominantly concerned about having to navigate an already uncomfortable situation through the means of video calling – I am autistic, and despite perfecting a somewhat confident persona (otherwise known as masking), I find it quite difficult to articulate myself well in a classroom environment. Factoring in echoey, crackled audio, time delays and an even greater difficulty knowing when it is my turn to speak promises only further potential for anxiety, sweating, profuse apologies and stumbling over every other sentence. I am currently studying part-time for my Masters in English Literature, traversing the second of a two-and-a-half-year course with one module per semester, the rest of my time set aside for part-time jobs and occasional tomfoolery. However, I am now actively tackling the prospect of my daunting fifteen-thousand-word dissertation as well. Working on the initial proposal for my biggest project to date alongside the twentieth century women’s poetry module I get the pleasure of this term is my current preoccupation as I while away the hours ‘til tomorrow… or it would be, if I could only engage with it for more than a brief period of time after four pm on randomly selected days.

Not to add to the growing list of reasons you should feel sympathy towards me (you shouldn’t) but I’m also chronically depressed, so staying inside by myself all day is really not my cup of tea; alas, my wonderful fiancée Eve is a medical student and thus was drafted in to support the efforts of our phenomenal NHS full-time. As a result, our lovely flat and I are getting very well acquainted, and if I had a pedometer, it would probably be broken by now. I am so incredibly proud, though, that I will persevere, and keep clapping for her and every single person risking their lives for us. I primarily work for the University as a disabilities support worker, filling financial gaps as a freelance transcriptionist, so duties are thin on the ground for me in the exchanging-labour-for-money department. Luckily for you, this is not a piece about my financial insecurity! Now, reader, you might suppose that swathes of free time to occupy myself with academia would present itself as a gift, and you would be correct, but regrettably, my brain is simply not cooperating with its opportunities to thrive in education. I do not make the rules. For the seminars I have had online so far, I have managed little by way of preparation, besides trying to finish the minimum weekly reading. My class is lucky – our tutor is lovely, incredibly accommodating, and has made it her mission to help us through each class as painlessly as possible. She extended the deadline for our formative essay, even held an additional session for us to bounce ideas off of eachother over the bank holiday weekend, which she really did not have to set aside time to do. Our video chats have actually been very surprising: productive, enjoyable and of a slightly less formal note than usual, cathartic swearing generally accepted under the circumstances. My course have been issued with a proposed ‘no detriment’ outcome for all assessments, meaning our averages can increase but a lower mark would have no impact – that we have to complete them at all seems futile to me, as I don’t feel anywhere near capable of surpassing myself, but it’s better than nothing and I should count my blessings. Other students are not so lucky, forced to continue as normal under such ambiguity and uncertainty, revising for amended exams to be taken from their bedrooms or attempting to complete assignments as they were with no possible leeway. I have heard some horror stories.

Reading, though, is something I want to sink my teeth into, a task easily managed with such a wonderful selection of books shaping the dissertation I intend to write; those keeping me company include Alice Walker, Jeanette Winterson, Leslie Feinberg, Audre Lorde, and Virginia Woolf, which is quite the dinner party, isn’t it? Eve and I managed to secure an almighty stack from the uni library mere hours before it shut for the foreseeable – I usually request my copies through the online service to avoid the narrow, dusty shelves and the dreaded Dewey Decimal, but we found a smidge of pleasure competing for who could find the most before we ran out of oxygen.  Sitting on the little bench just outside our building with an iced coffee, noise-cancelling headphones, and a chapter of whatever eminent queer literature I’m trying to work through that day is the closest I can get to peaceful at the minute. Perhaps I am not making as much progress as my peers; some days, I do not even bother turning my laptop on, recognising that Animal Crossing or re-watching the entirety of The Simpsons is doomed to steal my attention away uncontested. Beating myself up for not doing enough comes easily to me, a Virgo with a deeply rooted need for accomplishment (and thus validation), and normally I would be self-flagellating every time I pause to take a breath. But I am not. Even me, the queen of neuroticism and self-deprecator of the year, can be found cutting themselves a little slack in what feels like a never-ending onslaught of unpleasant news on top of worse. I lost a family member, I postponed my wedding, I miss my friends so much that even the salve of Facetime stings because it reminds me we are apart. Everything about my usual routine has flown out of the window, so how can I expect myself to function as if it had not?

The same weekend I saw my grandma, I also created an Instagram profile to share poems. Everyone’s favourite place to pretend and I have a chequered past, having deleted my original account a few years ago because it became genuinely detrimental to my mental health. The constant influx of filtered happiness was fuelling the fire in my head that believed everyone else was fine, leaving me to stagnate alone with my severely diminished mental health. I have no idea what possessed me to start uploading poetry to the internet again that day, but I soon stumbled across Escapril, writer and Youtuber Savannah Brown’s annual challenge proffering thirty prompts for poetry to be written every day in, you guessed it, April. I had heard of it the first time around, not participating, but appreciating the wonderful work that was birthed as a result. There is no obligation to complete every prompt, nor do you have to do them in any particular order, but I have set myself the challenge of doing so, in hopes of occupying my hands and my mind every day. As I write this, we have reached day thirteen and I haven’t missed one yet; I might not have produced any particularly life-changing work, and the algorithm is determined to make it as difficult as possible to reach a desired audience, but having something both non-committal and gently encouraging to aim for each day is proving helpful. Each poem has been an adventure – some came easily to me, others needed help and one or two were clawed out screaming – purgative, beneficial and therapeutic in their individual ways. Plodding along as best as I can, without pressuring myself (as much) to meet any deadlines besides the ones imposed upon me by the University, is all I am expecting for now. The world is at standstill, now is a time to recharge and take care of yourself if you are able. To those who are not, I salute you. I hope we will see the other side, together, as soon as it is possible.

Running with Grace

Running with Grace

As mentioned previously here on the blog, a group of us will be running the Great Limerick Run on 6th May 2018, in memory of Grace McDermott, co-founder of Women Are Boring, who died tragically just hours after running the same race in 2017. The group includes Grace’s fiancé Colin O’ Neill (who came up with this wonderful idea), and friends and family from all over the world – some will be travelling from Grace’s home of New York in the U.S. to take part.

Many of us (including myself and Grace’s fiancé, Colin) will be running our first ever race, and everyone involved is running to raise money for a good cause. We would love to have your support!

I’m running for Women’s Aid, the Irish organisation that has been working in Ireland to stop domestic violence, sexual violence, and coercive control against women and children since 1974. If you can spare some money, no matter how small, you can support me, and Women’s Aid, here: 

Colin (and many others involved!) are running for Cradle, an Irish NGO that looks after children and supports communities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, Moldova, Thailand and Ireland. You can support Colin and all the other wonderful people who’ll be running on 6th May here:

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this. Please share with your family and friends, and join us in Running with Grace!

A special message: a gig for Grace

Below, a message from Grace’s fiancé, Colin O’ Neill.


To all readers and supporters of Women Are Boring,

As you may be aware, last May we tragically lost Grace McDermott. Grace was my fiancée and my soulmate.

It was senseless and sudden, horrific and heart-breaking. It was quite simply the most life-altering moment I will ever experience. Everyone that knew Grace is still coming to terms with what happened and every day we are trying to live up to the impossibly high standards that she left us with. Catherine and Grace started Women Are Boring in 2016 and Grace was intensely proud of the success they achieved.

In the days and weeks that followed Grace’s death, I could not let go of the idea that, in time, I would like to plan and run a musical event to celebrate Grace’s life and to raise money for a cause she believed in.

On May 26th 2018, I will be holding a concert in her memory. It will take place in Portmarnock Sports and Leisure Centre. Any money raised will be donated to Cradle, a charity Grace worked with.* On the night, musicians, friends and family will play songs inspired by, and for, Grace. It will be a collaborative event with as many of Grace’s loved ones and peers joining us to sing, play or simply be close to each other in what we hope will be a very special evening. This event will be run with a professional backline such as lighting and sound. We want this to be a concert as much as a tribute.

Recently, I have been thinking how to include as many aspects of Grace’s life on the night as possible.

This is both an invitation and a request:

If there are any supporters of Women Are Boring that would like to contribute by performing, we would love to hear from you. We are looking for singer-songwriters & bands. However, violins, piano, cello, trumpet; all (and anything else too) are welcome!

As you can understand, we will have limited spaces for musicians but if you are interested in joining us to celebrate Grace’s life and her work, please send a link with your music to Catherine at womenareboring at If you cannot contribute musically, we will ensure that ticketing information is available soon so you can join us if you would like to.*

Thank you for reading this, and hopefully we can sing together with some of you in May.

Colin O’Neill

* Colin, Catherine, and friends of Grace’s from both Ireland and the U.S., will also be running the Great Limerick Run for charity on 6th May 2018 in Grace’s memory. Grace ran the Great Limerick run last year, just hours before she tragically died. More details on how you can donate to support those involved, and their chosen charities, will come soon. 

One year of Women Are Boring

by Catherine Connolly


Women Are Boring was due to celebrate its first birthday on  5th May 2017. However, my co-founder Grace McDermott died tragically on 1st May. Grace’s fiancé Colin has written a beautiful homage to her, which you can read here. You can also donate to a charity in her memory by following this link.

While the blog is currently on a short hiatus, I wanted to write something small, for Grace, about what Women Are Boring has achieved in the fourteen months since we launched. We were blown away by the response to the site, and I continue to be humbled by the messages of support that we get every day. We worked really hard, and had so much fun as we did. We regularly told each other that it was one of the best things either of us had ever done. Every single moment of doing this with Grace was exciting and joyous, because we shared it together. We met at the beginning of our PhDs, in 2014. She felt like a friend I had been waiting for my whole life. My heart is broken, and I miss her more than words can say.


Through the site, we met wonderful people, read and shared fascinating research every day, and created a community of women in academia through the Women Are Boring forum, which now has over 600 members. The site received its first acknowledgement and citation in an academic journal in May 2017, and numerous contributors have been featured and quoted in news stories as a result of their contributions. To date, there have been more than 100,000 views of the site, from almost every country in the world. In the past year we took part in numerous events to talk about the women whose research is featured on the site, why academic research is so important, and why we need women experts featured in media. Grace and I hoped that in some small way we were achieving what we set out to do when we created the site – to increase public engagement with academic research, to enhance the visibility of the women doing that research, and to improve the representation of women as experts.

When we discovered that only 24% of experts quoted in news media in Ireland and the UK are women, we decided to create a space for expert women’s voices ourselves. We couldn’t have done so without our partners, our families, our friends, and most of all, the women who contribute their research to the site – it could not exist without them, and they have supported and championed the project from the very beginning. Thank you all so much.

What follows are the most popular posts from each month of the first year of Women Are Boring, along with some of our own favourites. It is such an honour to promote this research, and the women who conduct it. I’ve also included some of our media interviews, and pieces that Grace wrote for the site. I would really love for everyone to read these and to listen to our podcast interview, so as to hear Grace herself in her own funny, smart, ferocious, and always brilliant words.

Women Are Boring will be back with new pieces of fascinating research by interesting women at some point in the future. Thank you so much for reading.


Pieces by Grace

10 Things Americans can do to make St. Patrick’s Day about more than alcohol and appropriation. Grace was from New York – a proud Long Islander – and she wrote this piece in about half an hour on St. Patrick’s Day 2017, after becoming annoyed at some St. Patrick’s Day articles she’d seen online. Grace wrote this piece with her usual ferocity, humour and critical mind (and Irish people should read it too!).

The Media Gender gap… and what to do about it. Why the invisibility of women in media matters and what you can do about it.

Grace and I wrote this piece on Gender, Media and the Unbreakable Ivory Ceiling together for The Institute for Future Media & Journalism (FuJo) in DCU. We look at gender equality in Irish academic institutions, and female academics in the media.

The L’Oréal – UNESCO for Women in Science Awards: Grace wrote this piece about the importance of women in research and how research funding is allocated after we attended the 2016 L’Oréal – UNESCO event in London.

Women Are Boring media interviews and features

Listen to our chat with the wonderful Very Loose Women podcast

Our most recent interview was with the excellent Riposte Magazine

We were SO excited to learn that we had been featured in Marie Claire magazine in South Africa!

We chatted feminism and normalising the intellectual female voice with Siún of As An Nua

Our first print interview was in The Irish Times, in September 2016

We were interviewed in the January 2017 issue of Irish Country Magazine, and featured in the August 2016 issue of Stellar magazine


The most popular posts during the first year of Women Are Boring

May 2016: The Political Participation of Women in Post-Conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina, by Tajma Kapic. The very first piece published on Women Are Boring, by our amazing friend Tajma. Learn about why it’s important for women to be involved in post-conflict peace processes, and what happens when they’re not.

June 2016: What now for UK academia? Twelve academics on Brexit. Twelve academics working in the UK give their reaction to the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, and the affect they think it will have on higher education in the UK.

July 2016: All by myself: what I have learned from doing fieldwork on my own. Olivia Wilkinson writes about travelling abroad on her own to conduct her fieldwork research, and gives advice for others who want to do the same.

August 2016: Waking the Feminists: Ringing the alarm for gender equality in theatre. We spoke to three women, all involved in different aspects of theatre in Ireland, about what the Waking the Feminists movement means to them.

September 2016: Death and Me. Dr. Ruth Penfold-Mounce writes about her research into death and popular culture, from Disney movies to celebrity deaths.

October 2016: Women: Ruling Hallowe’en since forever. Dr. Lucy Ryder tells us about the origins of Hallowe’en, and how women have always been central to its celebration.

November 2016: Space weather: predicting the future. Aoife McCloskey researches weather in space (yes, there’s weather in space), how it affects the Earth, and how we can predict it.

December 2016: Women, Shakespeare and Ireland: What ish my nation? Emer McHugh grapples with women, national identity, and Shakespeare.

January 2017: Using Evidence of Previous Sexual History in Rape Cases: The Ched Evans Case, Part 1 (trigger warning). Molly Joyce’s important three-part series on understanding the Ched Evans case, and the use of sexual history in rape cases in England and Wales.

February 2017: Dr. Kearney, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Imposter Syndrome. Eve Kearney’s piece on adapting to life as a PhD student, and accepting the imposter syndrome that many PhD students experience, is a perennial favourite of visitors to the site.

March 2017: Researching through recovery: Embarking on a PhD post-brain surgery. Sinead Matson writes about starting a PhD after undergoing brain surgery, and overcoming the challenges that come with it.

April 2017: Literary representations of maternity. Helen Charman’s wonderful piece on literature and maternity, featuring Beyoncé, Warsan Shire, Georg Eliot, and Adrienne Rich.

And some more:

Learn about the diversity of life on Earth and the role of evolution in this piece by Emma Dunne.

‘There’s something about women who speak – sing, even – that makes people nervous…’

Parents and friends provide an important role for young people with depression

Fighting disillusionment as an American expatriate

Think animals don’t have personalities? Think again! This excellent piece also has lots of monkey photos, and an appearance by the legendary Jane Goodall

Understand why there are difficulties with preventing sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers on peacekeeping missions (trigger warning)

One of our STEM editors, Reham Badawy, writes about her research into developing a mobile phone app that can detect Parkinson’s Disease before symptoms arise.

Carol Ballantine writes about stigma, shame, and gender-based violence.

Folktales may have an evolutionary benefit for humans

There are tons more excellent pieces on the site – please do go and explore them and tell people about them!

(Our wonderful logo was created by Chloe Randall-Hinton, who recently graduated from the Winchester School of Art. See more of her work here)

Homage to the one I love

by Colin O’ Neill, fiancee of our late co-founder, Grace McDermott.


Colin and Grace, minutes after their engagement on Christmas Eve 2016.

Each morning I wake up to the same ritual of horror. For a fleeting second my hazy mind forgets, then I remember that I have lost you all over again. So perpetual, it feels almost routine at this point and the worst part of all is that I can’t see that feeling ever ending. The contrast to my morning routine prior to May 1st is almost laughable. ‘Now I wake up happy, warm in a lover’s embrace. No-one else can touch us, while we’re in this place.’ Remember we used to send each other songs when we first met? My desperate attempt at trying to tell you how I felt, or even that ‘I liked you’. I remember you telling me how much you loved that lyric. I had it all with you, that’s the hardest part.

I met Grace in Melbourne back in 2012. We immediately hit it off. I convinced myself that Grace would pay someone to put her lunch in the highest cupboard just so she could ask me to get it for her each day.  I would get ripped apart by the lads coming in from work in the evening because I wouldn’t shut up about the cute American girl at the office and would go on to tell them about the countless email chains of flirting. ‘How’d it go this week, Col?’ It was all in good fun but they knew something serious was coming. I couldn’t believe my luck when she agreed to go for dinner with me.

You were beautiful, charming, kind, caring and funny. I thought I was cool (I wasn’t). My USP was that I played in a band (I’m laughing now thinking about how cool I thought I was), but when you began to explain to me the theory behind musical chord structures I was in complete awe… Is there anything this girl doesn’t have? We talked about music and we laughed all night. I remember you telling me all about your family as we had dinner, I was instantly hooked. We told each other that we were going our separate ways after 3 months but I think we both knew that wouldn’t happen, and when I left you at the train station that day, I stared at my phone for an hour before sending you a message ‘Maybe we should give this a go?’ We sure did that. The proceeding years, I will never forget.


Life with Grace was one of constant amazement. The pride I felt every day as she would tell me of her latest success is one I cannot effectively describe. Invited to speak about her PhD at conferences all over Europe, lecturing, activism and of course, this amazing blog, which led to interviews and cover stories in countless broadsheet newspapers & publications. I watched her lecture in DCU. There she was, 5 foot nothing, controlling the auditorium. Even the students that arrived late after quite clearly enjoying the finer side of college were glued to Grace. I didn’t get to see her after the class as there was a queue – a mile long – of students waiting to get a few minutes of her time. I checked out her twitter upon arriving at my office, streams of students ‘I want to do what you do’ or ‘Thank you, that was the best lecture I ever attended’ and so on.

Equality was one of Grace’s biggest passions. She firmly (and correctly) believed that women should not have to choose between work success and family. She wanted to be the CEO of an organization and have 100 kids. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting one and not the other, however, Grace wanted both. She would stop at nothing to achieve whatever she set her mind on. My Girl, My Hero.

My life with Grace was one of utter happiness. We loved, laughed, sang & travelled. We were best friends in every sense of the word. As I read through all the glowing tributes of Grace’s achievements, I came across one written by a lady that Grace thought the world of. At the risk of misquoting, I recall a line ‘Above all else, Grace was a goof!’. THIS was my Grace. We had a mutual respect for everything we achieved, but we were total goofs. We laughed literally all day every day. We would sing together in the car and of course I would give her a hard time about the high harmonies and insist that I would do them if she couldn’t hit the notes. We would be the first on the dance floor at every wedding and tended to remain there for the duration of the night. It was easy to see where she got it from, though. I recall my first meeting with the McDermott family at a family wedding in New Jersey. Moments after we were seated for the meal, we were on the dance floor… The panic running through my veins as I was yet to have a drink! What a night, zero inhibitions. They were as mad as I was!


I recently sat and spoke to a friend of mine about how many lives Grace touched. In 30 minutes, we could name 5 people that Grace not only touched, she helped shape them. I can only speak for myself, however. In the first 3 months of our relationship I found out Grace was moving back to Ireland to pursue her PhD, I simply had to be there. I came up with a plan to speak to our boss about moving back to Ireland and setting up my own business in partnership with the company. He knew exactly what I was up to. I was motivated, so it made sense for all of us. The first 2 years of any company can be a struggle, we certainly had plenty of them. Coming home every night and hearing the words ‘I am so proud of you’ was enough for me to get myself out of bed the next day and go again. She was my rock, there is absolutely no doubting that. Grace gave me so much strength every single day. I would tell Grace all the time, ‘Ah I’m not smart, sure I didn’t even go to college’, she would flip! She would then begin to explain to me all the different ways someone can be intelligent and that I too was intelligent. When someone tells you that for four or five years, it starts to rub off. I can honestly say she made me who I am. Grace made me believe I could achieve things, constantly in my ear with reassurance, love and support. My brother mentioned during his eulogy, ‘Grace met people on their level’, that may have been her number 1 asset, she just knew how to connect.

 Over the past few weeks your friends and family have told me how much you loved me. I can’t tell you how nice that was to hear, but I already knew. You were so incredible at showing me. I have never felt love like the love you gave me. You told me all the time and I could even tell when you looked at me. You made me the happiest man in the world when you agreed to marry me, I’m sitting here picturing your face that day. It was the best day of my life and I keep trying to replay it in my head.

Though I know that this might sound arrogant, I believe what we had was truly unique. I try to tell myself that if the world was meant to lose you on that date, how lucky was I that I got to spend the last five years of your life being loved by you. I go through all the usual emotions, daily. In my selfish hours, I feel hard done by, but I am still here. I know how wonderful your life was and I know how much you achieved, but you were taken too soon. You would have been a fierce and amazing mother and I know how much we both wanted that. It’s just unfair.

 I will try to live my life in a way that would make Grace McDermott proud of me. I will keep my chin up and try to achieve anything I feel she would approve of. I know my life will never be the same but that is something I must live with and walk with (I can hear her screaming at me now ‘different doesn’t mean bad’) but I will have to disagree with her on that one. I suppose I just miss my best friend.

I love you Grace. Thank you for being my number 1 fan, for teaching me how to be a better human and for choosing me to be your life partner. I just wish it lasted another 50 years. x



You can donate to charity in Grace’s memory here, and learn more about her work here.

Charity donations in honour of Grace McDermott (1990-2017), co-founder of Women Are Boring


Gracie remembrance leaflet

Grace McDermott, 1990-2017.

As most readers of the blog will have now heard, our incredible co-founder Grace McDermott died tragically on 1st May 2017. She was 26 years old. Everyone who knew and loved her (and there are so many of us) are still slowly trying to come to terms with this devastating and enormous loss.

Many people have been in contact with me in the week since Grace’s tragic death, enquiring as to whether there is a cause they can donate to in her honour. Below this brief message is a list of charities (some are based in Grace’s adopted home of Ireland, some in the United States – Grace was a very proud Long Islander), created by the McDermott family and by Grace’s fiancée Colin O’ Neill and his family, to which they ask that you donate should you wish to do so.

For the many who have asked if it is possible to donate to Women Are Boring, thank you so, so much. Your thoughts are very much appreciated. However, I firmly believe that all of the charities listed below are far more in need of your generosity. Each of these charities provide important and much-needed services, many of which are underfunded, and all of which are valuable.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank everyone so much for their extremely thoughtful and beautiful words about Grace, and your messages of support for Women Are Boring over the past week. I can’t tell you how much they’ve all meant to me. Aside from being a colleague here on the blog, Grace was a best friend to me – I love her so much, I miss her so much, and I am bereft to be without her.

Women Are Boring will continue. Some of the messages I’ve received in the last few days have demonstrated to me (more than either of us had realised before) how much this project means to many people in academia, and to those who have no connection with the academic world. For this reason, and because Women Are Boring is now a small part of Grace’s substantial legacy (and perhaps most importantly because Grace would kick my ass if I stopped now), Women Are Boring will be back soon.

Catherine Connolly, co-founder, Women Are Boring.

Women Are Boring_0004

Message from the McDermott & O’ Neill families:

In consideration of Grace’s commitment and work for social causes, should anyone care to make a charitable donation in lieu of flowers, please consider the following charities for your donation in Grace’s name:

Charities based in Ireland


Cradle is an Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) working with child refugees and community development projects in crisis-hit and war torn regions.

To Donate Online: ______________________________________________________

Irish ALS/ Motor Neurone Disease Association (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and Sonas Women’s Refuge Charity, on behalf of Grace McDermott

Accepting donations for the treatment of ALS (Lou Gherig’s) disease; and the Sonas Women’s Refuge Charity, an organization for women and children who are victims of domestic abuse in Dublin, Ireland.

(While the original fundraising page for both the above charities is now closed to donations, you can still donate to either of these charities in Grace’s name at the following links):

Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association:

Sonas Women’s Refuge Charity:


Charities based in the United States

Nassau Suffolk Services for Autism Adult Program

Nassau Suffolk Services for Autism
The Martin C. Barell School
80 Hauppauge Road
Commack, NY 11725
(ph) 631-462-0386
(fax) 631-462-4201
To Donate Online:
Stupid Cancer
An organization focused on empowering and assisting young adults affected by cancer.
To Donate Online:


Camp Spaulding provides services for many children in the New Hampshire area, including children in underprivileged and high risk homes.

To Donate Online: Gift by phone: tel. 603.598.1533 during business hours. Gift by email: ______________________________________________________________________________


Grace McDermott Tour Scholarship Fund

Grace sang Alto with the MYO Youth Chorale from 2005-2007, and toured with them as one of the first vocalists ever on a MYO tour, performing throughout New York and on a summer tour in China. Grace spoke about traveling with the MYO China tour at such a young age as being a formative experience and essential to developing her independence, and leading to her decision to live abroad.

To Donate online: To Donate by Telephone: call 516-365-6961. ______________________________________________________________________________

10 things Americans can do to make St. Patrick’s Day about more than alcohol and appropriation

By: Grace McDermott


Around St. Patricks Day a TON of crappy “How to Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day” posts go around touting outdated and frankly bullshit suggestions about ‘how to get your Irish on’.

There is nothing wrong with having a few beers with friends on St. Patrick’s Day, because that is a real and wonderful part of Irish culture and community. However, to have the sum total of your annual celebration, recognition or pride center on this, is reductive and frankly, stupid. The proselytization of Irish-ness as merely alcohol consumption is astounding from so many “proud” Irish Americans. We can do better.

As an American living in Ireland for nearly 6 years now, I can say without reservation that Ireland is an amazing place to live. Ireland is a country that exists in nuance, complexity and depth outside of the month of March. It cannot be distilled down to Lucky Charms (they don’t even sell it here) or Guinness, and like all places it has its ups, downs and in-betweens.

Irish citizens are humans and not the ‘happy-go’-lucky’ hooligans stereotyped depictions of them would have us believe. At their best they are artists, activists, authors, humanitarians business leaders, and musicians.

If you are proud of your Irish heritage or interested in Irish culture there are so many ways to celebrate that are respectful, non-appropriative and most importantly, worthwhile this ‘holiday’ season. Save your money on the “Kiss Me I’m Irish” booty shorts, and invest in the intellectual and cultural history/future of this awesome island.

In lieu of all of the shitty St. Patrick’s Day articles floating around the internet here’s my list of a few relevant, valid and respectful things you can do to celebrate Paddy’s day, the right way:


1.Forget outdated stereotypes built on the Ireland of our Grandparents

While Irish history is interesting, important and in many ways charming and romantic the reality is that Ireland today is a much different place than 80 or 100 years ago.Ireland is in many ways more socially progressive than the US (though like any place, there are still areas that need work). Ireland was the first country in the world to pass the right for gay couples to marry by popular vote. Despite a long and complicated history with the Catholic Church, Irish people continue to come out in favor of equality, progress and respect for their fellow citizens. While much of the Irish American identity continues to revolve around conservative ideals (as proved by the recent controversy regarding the attendance of LGBTQ organization at the Boston St. Patrick’s Day parade) this does not reflect the reality of Ireland today.

Moreover, while agriculture, farming and rural-living remain an important part of Ireland there is another side to the country that the media often ignores. Ireland is home to big business and Dublin particularly, is a cosmopolitan and international city. In recent years the country’s low corporate tax rate, and educated population has driven a large-scale tech boom. Ireland is home to the European HQ’s of Google, Facebook, Twitter, AirBnB and Apple to name a few. There are tons of Irish tech websites where you can follow Irish tech leaders and industry. My favorites are: and 

 2. Buy Irish

While your leprechaun suit may be cool for about a day and a half, there are thousands of Irish designers, artist and craftsman who sell goods online that you can actually use or wear every day! I like:

  • Irish Design Shop: for a range of beautiful things from artists across the country
  • Chupi: The most GORGEOUS jewelry ever.
  • Lucia B: A painter with an eye and talent for painting stunning freckly faces and the scenes of Inis Mor, one of the Aran Islands.
  • MiniMaxi: Bought one of my favorite necklaces from the Dublin-based designer, who does prints too
  • Carousel: Irish made and designed vintage clothing:


3. Read up on the Irish political system

Ireland has a President, an Taoiseach and a few other positions I had never heard of until
I moved here. They have the potential to have coalition government , and the voting system is very different to that of the US. Also, they had a female president, before female presidents were a thing (in 1990!). Her name is Mary Robinson. They had a second female president too, Mary McAleese

So, basically… #presidentgoals.


4. Educate yourself  on issues impacting Ireland today

At the moment, the public call for a referendum on the 8th Amendment is a huge issue. The 8th Amendment currently blocks Irish women from having access to free, safe and legal abortions on Irish shores. As a result many women have died, or are forced to travel to seek a safe abortion. Of course, as in the States, there are opinions on both sides of this issue. Either way, the “Repeal the 8th Movement” is one that all Irish Americans should educate themselves on, regardless of their stance. This video is worth watching.


It is important to remember that although you may not be able to vote in Ireland, you can speak up for and support causes you care about via digital advocacy, education and by the way you vote at home. There is a New York chapter and others across the country marching and organizing in support of the Irish call to “Repeal the 8th”. Other similar support initiatives exist in the states: #TheIrishStand is another that comes to mind, marching for equality and justice on this St. Patrick’s Day.

Other recent events including the horrific situation involving the Tuam mother and baby home are important to be aware. These issues are connected to the long history of restricted female bodily autonomy in Ireland:


5. Learn some Irish 

No one who is actually Irish calls it “Gaelic”, they call it “Irish” or “Gaeilge” (sounds like: GaleGAH) so if you want to sound like you know what you’re talking about, probably start there. The reason for the “Irish” vs. “Gaelic” thing is complicated. I still don’t fully understand it, but trust me on this one, not one person I know here calls it Gaelic, so just don’t.

Irish is super cool and totally different than anything you have ever heard. There is a ton of silent letters, letter combinations etc. that make reading Irish for newcomers REALLY difficult. All the signs here are in both Irish/ English, and I actually have a few friends speak Irish as a first language. Despite what you may have heard, Irish is a thriving language that many Irish people know how to speak, and all Irish people learn in school. The Irish-American names we so often hear (for example, Colleen or Erin) are not all that popular here, because they in fact are Irish-American names and not Irish names.

  • If you want to hear what Irish sounds like, listen:
  • You can start practicing today with DuoLingo (a free app!). I started a few months ago and I am still pretty bad, but it is fun and worth a shot!
  • Also, is a bilingual blog (English/Irish) that gives you a great opportunity to hear from Irish voices.


6. Educate yourself on, understand and advocate for Irish immigrants and other immigrants in your area.

Irish people have a long history of emigration. The reasons for Irish emigration have always been diverse, despite the fact that US history classes would tell us it started and ended with the famine. I met my Irish fiancé while working in Australia, a place where thousands of young Irish immigrants live today. New York, California and Chicago remain hotspots for Irish immigrants in the US, but you can find Irish people in every state.

While Irish immigrants living in the US are often spoken about with a type of excpetionalism, separating them from Mexicans, Muslims, Africans, etc. the reality is that the struggle for legal and safe immigration into the US continues to be a challenge form many Irish people and Irish families.

While I can attest to the Irish immigration processes being difficult, the US legislation that continues to effect immigrants in the US has a HUGE impact on Irish communities. Illegal immigration of Irish people into the US is a common occurrence.

Thus, consider your Irish identity and pride, when speaking or voting on immigration policies. Although Irish immigrants may be your history they remain a reality for America today. Moreover, their struggles are embedded and inalienable from the struggles of other immigrant populations in the US.

Read more:


 Listen to Irish Musicians.

In the last few years I have tried St.Patrick’s Day playlists curated by Spotify that were loaded with English and American artists. That’s cool, but again, not Irish. Music is probably my favorite part of living in Ireland. It’s on the streets, in the pubs and totally amazing. Here are some actual Irish musicians you should listen to:

  • The Gloaming
  • The Heathers
  • Saint Sister
  • Wyvern Lingo
  • Sinead OConnor
  • Mary Black
  • Mick Flannery hlk
  • Hermitage Green
  • Lisa Hannigan
  • Hozier
  • We Cut Corners
  • Damien Rice
  • Glen Hansard
  • Aslan
  • The Coronas



8. Ditch the xenophobic language and get the terminology/country right.

Firstly, it’s “Paddy’s Day” this is what Irish people call it, why, I still do not know. Also, bagpipes and kilts don’t belong to Ireland, that’s Scotland.

On a more serious note, every year at this time I find it disheartening to have to explain this to people. If you love Ireland, are interested it, want to wear green and party in the name of Ireland, the least you can do is not be a dick about it. Ordering an “Irish Car Bomb” and even “Irish Car Bomb” recipes continue to be a normal occurrence this time of year. Real Irish car bombs were not and are not funny. This is disgusting, particularly coming from Americans who understand the real, painful implications of terrorism. Just don’t do it.

Also, the “Irish Yoga” shirts (of passed out people), “Kiss Me I’m Drunk” etc. is damaging whether or not you think so. Why should you not do this if it’s not ‘hurting’ anyone? Well, non-Irish people under the guise of the “drunken Paddy” stereotype often trivialize actual Irish people and they’re suffering. In other words, when actual bad things happen to actual Irish people others often dismiss or make light of it because they believe they too are “Irish” or that the Irish identity itself is a joke. This works against Irish people in the same way any racist/sexist/social othering does. Don’t think this happens? You should familiarize your self with the New York Times coverage of a Berkley balcony collapse that killed 5 Irish young people in 2015.

I am all in favor of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day by non-Irish people, Irish Americans etc. but only if done so respectfully. As Americans we hold our national identity as a sacred source of pride, so don’t disrespect someone else’s that doesn’t belong to you and call it a holiday.

9. Talk to an actual Irish person

Being Irish American is NOT remotely the same. If you are interested in Ireland or proud of your heritage, it is your responsibility to learn about what it means to be Irish now. If that means going out of your comfort zone, and meeting someone new, good.

I can tell you about Ireland all I want BUT I did not grow up here, my parents are not from here, and my experiences will always be different than my Irish counterparts. In the same way, YOUR Irish American identity is not the same as being an Irish person. This can be a hard pill to swallow when in the States, we are fed the notion of our cultural heritage being a defining characteristic our identity. Accepting that you are NOT Irish, but rather, an Irish American is an important step towards becoming an educated, and supportive ally for Ireland.

10. Visit Ireland

Ireland is a really safe and easy place to travel. The people are wonderful, the sites are amazing, and as I said, the music is like nowhere else in the world. Flights from New York and Boston are very affordable and are only about 6.5 hours. From other parts of the states, it is a bit more expensive but definitely worth the investment. What better way to show your Irish pride then to get on a plane and visit. You never know, I did that 6 years ago and here I sit, writing to you from my Dublin apartment!


In the last 6 years, Ireland has given me so much and over the last few thousand years it has given the world a bit too. I think it’s time we start doing it some justice at home. Happy Paddy’s Day everyone!

“From London to Afghanistan in a beat up minivan”: How travel guidebooks manage to gain our trust

By: Julia Hieske 

Whenever someone plans a trip nowadays there is a good chance they get a guidebook first. The Lonely Planet’s travel books, to name one of the genre’s most famous publishers, have guided generations of tourists across the world from destinations as well-travelled as Rome and Paris, to plenty of fairly remote places like Cape York in the North of Australia.


Guidebooks fulfill a number of functions: they prepare the soon-to-be travellers for their trip, giving valuable advice on when to go (for Cape York it is June to October as you will want to avoid the Wet), what to pack and how to dress. They help travellers to plan their trip and make decisions about the inclusion or exclusion of places from their itinerary. Other than that, they also function as culture brokers. Just like a personal guide on the spot, the editors of guidebooks have to know their audience’s culture as well as the culture of the destination. They have to “speak both fluently,” so to say, in order to translate and interpret the signs of a place to its visitors; think hand gestures, conventions of dress, haggling, the (in)famous siesta, to only name but a few.

So, without guidebooks – and their modern little siblings, travel blogs on the internet – we would basically all be lost, literally, in translation.

gWe would stumble about blindly in a foreign place not knowing we have just missed out on our probably only chance to see Mallorca’s best hidden beach or get a taste of Napoli’s best Pizza Margarita, by turning right instead of left. Without a guidebook in our pocket, we might not even realise we are guilty of a foolish faux pas in France or be peeved to find out we are the first, by far, to show up at a birthday bash in Mexico City. But in order to be guided by them, first, we have to trust them.

Clichés are never far away

It is a tricky business, this culture broking. As guides and guidebook writers look for ways to make a foreign culture intelligible to visitors, cultural stereotypes and clichés are never far away. Some of them are so sticky, they are repeated over and over again, all the while shaping the fantasies people have about a certain country or region and its people. After a while, though, these stereotypes are hardly questioned anymore but taken for facts or common knowledge. In Orientalism, Edward Said reminds us that the attempt of describing a culture in often heavily simplified terms from an outsider’s perspective is always a matter of power.[1] And so is travelling. That is why, just like in journalism, description and reporting in travel guides can never be entirely objective. It is interesting, then, that the prefaces or “about us” sections of guidebooks, from the very first examples to the present day, insist on telling things as they are. Yet, take one destination, see how it is described in a variety of guidebooks published in different countries and languages, and you will end up with stereotypes as different as chalk and cheese.[2]

“At Lonely Planet we tell it like it is”

Now, on the textual level, guidebooks count with a very specific narrative situation, which is most visible in the pioneering nineteenth-century ones published by John Murray or Karl Baedeker.


On the one hand, guidebook writers are keen to exude authority. The handbooks should appear to the readers as a mimetic description of the real world and so their authors vow to stick to the truth. Murray et al. saw themselves as mere “transcribers of facts,” who reported on every detail there was. So, contrary to personal travel accounts, their tone was supposed to sound scientific and objective.


Today we would say that there is no such thing as an objective representation. Yet, take a phrase like this one: “At Lonely Planet we tell it like it is.”

It is taken from their website only a couple of days ago.[3] As we can see, the nineteenth-century claim of objectivity is still around. Curiously, despite their all-encompassing pseudo-scientific style, guidebook writers needed – and still need – to achieve credibility. Whereas a guide hired on the spot could create trust using personal skills like empathy, individual explanations or nonverbal communication, guidebooks can do none of those things. Instead, they have to count on other strategies in order to make up for this deficiency.

Been there, done that

Prefaces – or “about the editors” sections on publishers’ websites – play an important role in the development of a reader-publisher relationship that is the basis for the creation of credibility and trust.[4]


There, the writers support their truth claim using a number of recurring techniques. For now, I call the first the been-there-done-that factor. The writers or publishers are presented as travellers, thus, creating a bond of shared experience between themselves and the readers. While the personal touch is deliberately missing from the main text, the paratextual means, that is the preface or self-describing information on a website, compensate for it by making the writers relatable human beings and the product of their journey an authentic one.

In the same vein, almost all guidebooks flaunt some sort of founding myth.

It has become a default move to describe the origin of the books in almost heroic terms, telling the story of a traveller who, facing the odds of his journey, was struck by the genius and benevolent idea of creating a guidebook. Compare, for example, the story of how Lonely Planet founders Tony and Maureen Wheeler, and I quote from the website, “drove from London to Afghanistan in a beat up minivan.”[5] This way, an emotional bond with a fellow traveller is fostered. In case that was not enough, though, publishers use yet another strategy that is supposed to convince the reader of the authenticity of the information at hand.

A necessary evil

Back then, as well as today, guidebooks had to be true to the latest developments. Say, if a hotel suddenly changed its owner and its standard went from first-class to mediocre, a responsible publisher would not want his readers to get disappointed and, then, blame the guidebook. So, naturally, the been-there-done-that factor is complemented by some sort of up-to-date factor.

Because in order to “tell things as they are” one not only has to have been there but to return frequently so as to check whether “things” still are as they were a year ago.

Regular revisions are a necessary evil if publishers want to keep their audience’s trust. The preface, then, is also the place where readers are assured the book in their hands is as up-to-date as possible. Publishers know, however, that complete accuracy of information is impossible to achieve. Therefore, deliberately stating their duty to revisions, they kill two birds with one – rhetorical – stone. Firstly, they admit to possible shortcomings, thus, anticipating criticism and mitigating the readers’ reaction to it. And secondly, they invite readers to participate by sending in comments and corrections, thereby strengthening the author-reader relationship of – supposedly – mutual trust. Whether these suggestions have ever been taken into account remains unclear but the publishers’ apparent openness to criticism certainly serves to enhance their credibility.

Not for Tourists

Last but not least, guidebooks frequently mention an issue that has been a staple of the tourism industry for a long time and which, for the sake of continuity, I will call the us-versus-them factor. To see what I mean, have a look at this photo I have taken myself on a vacation on the island of Mallorca. It shows a bus displaying the logo of a tourist agency that takes large groups of tourists to touristic spots in order to carry out touristic activities.3 Yet, their advertising slogan begs to differ. Or take the case of a series of guidebooks which is aptly called Not for Tourists.[6] The whole concept of alternative tourism, or backpacking, and its bible, the Lonely Planet, is based on the idea of its distinction from regular, or mass tourism. But the philosophy of travelling off the beaten track was not only born in the seventies with Tony and Maureen Wheeler. In fact, it was the us-versus-them factor that was responsible for the coming into being of commercial guidebooks altogether. In the mid-nineteenth century, Thomas Cook’s commercial tours had gained momentum and given more people access to travelling than ever before. Cook sold pre-planned and guided group trips that would take tourists to popular destinations all over the globe. The concept was such a success that Cook’s tours were soon associated with mass tourism that left little space for individuality. Guidebooks offered their readers a radically different travel experience. One to which only they could give them access. Equipped with a handbook, travellers were now able to explore places by themselves and independently from large groups and personal guides. Publishers like to highlight this distinguishing feature because, then and now, they hope to find a niche in the market by setting themselves apart.

Implicitly, though, the authors and publishers of guidebooks bought into a distinction whose development might as well be traced back to the relatively new phenomenon of mass tourism and the reactions to it: the traveller versus tourist binary, which is still present in popular discourse. If it was not, there would not be so many publications in print and online dedicated to real travel as opposed to practicing tourism. Yet, as James Buzard so accurately observes, it is hardly possible to escape tourism altogether.[7] Or how would you explain that all too often alternative routes or ways of travel soon become well-trodden paths and common practice?

Paradoxically, thus, those who do not want to be ‘tourists’, contribute to the formation of new areas developed for tourism, a phenomenon Buzard calls “anti-tourism.”

It is “anti-tourism,” then, that describes best the Lonely Planet’s ideology and their advice, for example, to visit the aforementioned Cape York, which, supposedly, is still unspoilt by tourists and one of the most remote places in Australia.

“Guide-books and their ubiquitous possessors”

Back in the nineteenth century, in a wonderfully ironic turn, Murray’s and Baedeker’s handbooks had become such a global success, that they, too, were seen as a symbol of mass tourism. This “anti-tourist” and travel writer, for example, was anything but enthused by the users of such guidebooks:


“When the journeying cyclist or motorist quits the tourist-infected route on which Singapore is the East Indian rest-house, and sails across the equator towards the rarely visited island of the Dutch Archipelago, new pleasures unadulterated by crimson-colored guide-books and their ubiquitous possessors await him at every turn.”

The quote is taken from an article about Java and was published in 1903.[8] It was written by a U.S. American who, only five years later, went on to write and publish a “crimson-colored guidebook” – not to Southeast Asia, that came later, but – to Mexico. His name was T. P. Terry, he was a traveller, a businessman, as well as a writer, and he is the subject of my current research. Fascinating stuff, but I will leave that for another time.

[1] Edward Said, Orientalism [1978] (London: Penguin Books Ltd, 2003).

[2] Jennifer Bender, Bob Gidlow, David Fisher, “National Stereotypes in Tourist Guidebooks: an Analysis of Auto- and Heterostereotypes in Different Language Guidebooks about Switzerland,” Annals of Tourism Research 40 (2013).

[3], accessed 21/11/2016.

[4] Ana Alarcova, “Legitimacy, Self-Interpretation and Genre in Media Industries: a Paratextual Analysis of Travel Guidebook Publishing,” European Journal of Cultural Studies 18, no. 6 (2015).

[5], accessed 21/11/2016.

[6], accessed 21/11/2016.

[7] James Buzard, The Beaten Track: European Tourism, Literature, and the Ways to Culture, 1800-1918 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993).

[8] T. Philip Terry, “The Good Touring Roads of Java”, Outing 43 (1903), p. 45.

L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards

By: Grace McDermott, Co-Founder of Women Are Boring.

The Awards:

Last week, Women Are Boring had the honour of attending the L’Oreal-UNESCO Women in Science Awards. We had the chance to meet and learn about some of the women carrying out ground-breaking scientific research work in Ireland and the UK.

Approximately 30% of researchers in the world are women*, a statistic which is notoriously lower for women in the Sciences, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Women comprise  a mere 15% of the UK STEM workforce, and to this day only 3% of all Nobel prizes in the sciences have been awarded women. As such, it is no surprise that a recent study showed that some 23% of current female science students in the UK “won’t” or “aren’t sure” whether they will pursue a career in science.

The L’Oreal Women in Science Programme “recognizes the achievements and contributions of exceptional females across the globe, by awarding promising scientists with Fellowships to help further their research.” Founded eighteen years ago, on the premise that ‘the world needs science and science needs women’ over 2000 women from across the globe have been recognised  and received funding to further their research. 

Despite an uphill battle for female STEM researchers across the globe, this year’s awards saw a record number of applications, a feat which proves that female scientists are not going away anytime soon. Out of 400 applications, 40 were longlisted and 8 academics made it to the final nomination list, a selection that L’Oreal’s Scientific Director, Steve Shiel called “ impossibly difficult”. The 8  nominated candidates included female mathematicians, chemists, paleo-biologists, nuclear physicists and the list goes on. In the end, five fellowships were awarded. 

There were two things about the awards that really stood out as newsworthy. Firstly, it was the importance of the research the nominees presented, and the simultaneous significance of presenting such work to audiences who would have otherwise never engaged with it. Secondly, it was the urgent need for a reexamination of what the research community and its supporters, consider valid research costs.


All of these women were impressive in their own right, taking on major issues that range from curing diseases, to perfecting wastewater treatments, or challenging accepted conceptions about how star clusters form. Shiel stated

“It’s hard to compare the work of paleobiologists to a medicinal scientist’s work but one thing was evident about all of the winners, and it was that they each had passion. They each had a palpable passion you could feel for what they did, but also this sense of curiosity and discovery.”

The importance of communication: 

Like any award ceremony, there was no shortage of deserving candidates, many of whom we intend to feature in the upcoming months, but one of the projects that stood out for us was Reham Bedawy, a short-listed PhD nominee who was working to support the early detection of Parkinson’s via a mobile phone app. If helping to diagnose life-threatening illness wasn’t enough, she was also able to clearly explain the operationalisation of her work and a seemingly complex disease to two social-science researchers (i.e. us!) who wouldn’t know the right end of a beaker. Her work is inarguably significant, regardless of whether or not a non-expert audience could understand it, but as a result of her interesting and translatable presentation, at least two new researchers who may have otherwise been completely unaware of Parkinson’s research, are now engaged and eager to learn more (follow Reham on Twitter here).

As a media researcher, I was surprised to find how much in common I had with a mathematician. As a large portion of my work focuses on the role of social media in revolutionary movements, I could draw parallels with some of the techno-focused aspects of her methodology. She made me consider how I may better leverage mobile apps for my own work, and above all she inspired me. Her presentation, like so many of the researchers’ presentations, exemplified the significance of not only individual female academics, but the power and influence of the collective. A room full of intelligent, motivated and successful women is something that is seldom seen and far less celebrated. As an aspiring academic, the presence and recognition of these accomplished women helped reignite my own confidence, and motivation to carry on with my work.

It made me think about what the world might look like if these women were splashed across our news headlines, Twitter feeds, or history books?

We need to redefine “direct research” costs:

Aside from inspiration, the awards led to a realization: supporting female academic achievement requires a redefinition of “direct research costs”. What we found particularly noteworthy about the awards was the fact that the winners were allowed to dictate the way in which there awards would be spent, sometimes in ways which are seemingly unconventional in the research community. Many of the past laureates spoke about the importance of using the awards to help facilitate childcare and family relocation to areas or institutions, which were crucial to the development of their work. Moreover, several nominees were pregnant, or brought their young children with them to the awards.

While all funding aimed at supporting equality in research is important, the seemingly non-direct costs of research careers are sometimes the most expensive and difficult to articulate. As such, the importance of funding opportunities which give female academics the power to control the use of their grants presents an equalizing potential that traditional research grants do not. The testimonies of an overwhelming number of past laureates attested to this.

Often, when we speak about female academic achievement the topic of motherhood is ignored. As the notion of motherhood so often consumes, and even stifles the narrative of women in the workplace, I often find myself intentionally discussing the achievements of female academics, or female professionals as an entirely separate entity from their roles as mothers or caretakers.  But these awards brought to the fore the importance of recognizing and funding female academics not only via direct research grants, but also by way of flexible and family-centric support. A recent article in the New York Times upheld this, finding that even seemingly gender-neutral family-friendly policies in many academic institutions tend to favor male academics.

These testimonies leave many open-ended questions, but highlight the need for a continued conversation on the meaning of gender equality and the importance of building female equity in the research space.

What is clear is that female academics experience a different professional reality than their male-counterparts. The awards, and each of the nominated women exemplified the importance of advocacy, not only in the context of each of our individual research work, but also in terms of our collective experiences.