CYGNA: Working effectively with support staff in academia

Reports on our 18th CYGNA meeting with a presentation on working with support staff and a discussion of boundaryless careers

Since moving to the UK, I have been involved in running CYGNA. The network was established in June 2014  as a combined initiative of Argyro Avgoustaki, Ling Eleanor Zhang, and Anne-Wil Harzing, later joined by Shasha Zhao. The name CYGNA comes from the female version of the Greek word for SWAN (Supporting Women in Academia Network). The main objective of the group is to promote interaction among female academics based in the London area and to provide a forum for learning, support, and networking.

We typically hold four or five meetings a year with a mix of presentations and informal discussions. A quick overview of the topics covered can be found here. Yearly meeting overviews with pictures can be found here. In February 2018, I have started to write up our meetings as blogposts so from February till June 2018 you'll find reports on a mix of recent and older CYGNA meetings on my blog. A full list of the blogposts of our mid 2014 to mid 2018 meetings can be found at CYGNA: Resource collection for the summer holidays. We also maintain a readings and inspirations section for female academics and have a Twitter hashtag #cygna_london.

18th meeting 24 November 2017 (London School of Economics)

Organised by Hyun-Jung Lee, Esther Canonico, Karin King, London School of Economics

Our November meeting was organised by our team from LSE. We met in the swish New Academic Building (see picture). We had a mixed group of old-timers and relatively new members, including Elisabeth Günther and Olga Kuznetsova. The meeting featured a presentation on working effectively with professional/support staff and a facilitated discussion about boundaryless vs. local careers.

Working effectively with professional/support staff

Martyna Śliwa, Dean of Postgraduate Research and Education at the University of Essex [4th from left in the picture] gave another (see prior meeting on foreign female academics in the UK) incredibly well-researched presentation on Working effectively with professional/support staff in academia [presentation download].

Martyna promised me to write up a blogpost about this at some stage, but her very high workload may mean this will take a while. Hence, I have reproduced a key table from her presentation below, which illustrates how occupational identities diverge greatly between the two professions.

Choosing between freedom and belonging: boundaryless vs. local careers

I had chosen this topic as it seemed to fit with the first presentation: many academics have boundaryless careers, often moving frequently between institutions and countries, whereas professional/support staff typically have local careers, often working within the same institution for extended periods or even their entire career. However, even within the academic profession, some academics consciously choose one type of career over another.

We had a wide-ranging discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of a boundaryless career. This incorporated topics related to careers, such as investment in institution/country specific career profiles. We also talked about the uniqueness of London as a setting for boundaryless careers (only one of our participants was British and she comes from Yorkshire). However, we were also conscious of the challenges of boundaryless careers for our families, personal identities, and even practical issues such as planning for retirement.

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