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Transcript: Academia et al S01E01

Diversity and inclusivity in academia: What does it really mean?

Female voice 1 00:00:02  
You're listening to an IOE podcast powered by UCL Minds.

Female voice 2 00:00:23
This is Academia et al, the podcast for anyone and everyone figuring out life in academia.

Keri Wong 00:00:38  
You're listening to Academia et al, the podcast for early career academics by early career academics. I'm Keri, an assistant professor and psychologist.

Alina Pelikh 00:00:48  
And I'm Alina, a research fellow and demographer.

Keri Wong 00:00:51  
We're based at IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society. We're the co-hosts for this podcast. And like you, we are early career academics just trying to figure it all out.

Alina Pelikh 00:01:03  
In this very first episode of the podcast, we'll be talking about a lot of things including equality and diversity in academia, ways in which we can become better teachers, and how to stay connected but avoid getting zoomed out.

Keri Wong 00:01:17  
In this episode, we're thrilled to welcome Dr Gideon Sappor. Gideon is a teacher and a psychologist, specialising in child development and psychology of education. He is a lecturer in teaching and early years and primary education. He leads the Science and Learning and Teaching Modules on the Primary PGCE programme, working to train the next generation of teachers. In addition, he is the leader of the Guiding Effective Learning and Teaching module, which is part of the Education MA at UCL. Gideon's research interests are in the predictors of children's achievement, such as effective teaching and learning. He is currently collaborating with Dr. Josh Franks in research looking at the Black, Asian and minority ethnic gap in grades and a new study funded by the Centre for Teachers and Teaching Research seed grant, looking at trainee teacher's perceptions of ability grouping in classrooms.

Alina Pelikh 00:02:10  
In this episode, you're going to hear some acronyms that feel well known inside university walls, but less known outside of them. In particular, we'll be referring a lot to I.T.E. That's: initial teacher education.

Keri Wong 00:02:22  
We're very excited to be having a chat with Gideon today. Welcome to the podcast, Gideon.

Gideon Sappor 00:02:27  
Thank you glad to be here.

Keri Wong 00:02:29  
Great. So Gideon, I'll kick off with the easy question. I know, you know, you've been very active at all fronts in both research and teaching at the IOE. Can you tell the listeners a bit about your area of research and how you got into education?

Gideon Sappor 00:02:43  
While going to education was, there was a part of me that I was wanting to be a teacher. So I remember here listening to an advert looking for male teachers in primary school. And I thought, wow, okay, this is something I would really love to do. So I saw I apply to train to be a teacher. So that was my journey into education. I'm originally from Ghana, and in Ghana, after your A Levels, you have to do what we call national service. So I did do some teaching in primary school for one year on trade, but it's basically pay the government for your free education. Up to that point, there was a year of working for the government, maybe like a gap year to give you some maturity before you entered university. I don't understand what the rationale was for starting it, but we saw it as pay the government back because we got paid peanuts for working, say when we were cheap, free labour. So I've always had the love of teaching and during that year was was such a good feeling. So when I got opportunity here to train I applied, got on a programme got my qualifications to be a teacher. And I think I was in a classroom for just under 12 years as a primary school teacher. But in between somewhere in the middle, as a classroom teacher, I always wondered how and why some children we could see had a similar level of potential as others, but they didn't do as well as the others say, it was also a question why that was the case. What determines children's achievement? What makes some children want to achieve their true potential? And what stops others from from doing that? So it's always been niggling at me. So this is how I got into the university sector to do a PhD. And a friend asked me, Gideon, what would you do if you won the lottery? And my first answer was our role on a PhD. programme. So that it was like an eye opener like Okay, so what's stopping you? You haven't won the lottery, but I'm sure you can do it, if you put your mind to it. So then I started searching. I didn't know that much about how to without to do a PhD or to start it, but do some research and yeah, got admission at the IOE became a student in 2011. And yeah, primary school teacher, PhD student hybrid for for a bit. And then I transitioned to teach at the university.

Alina Pelikh 00:05:15  
Thank you so much for sharing your journey in a nutshell. And I probably have a follow up question to that. So academia as a field has started to think hard about equality issues, and access to education from different minority groups. And surprisingly, all three of us come from very different ethnic minority backgrounds. So this matter is very close to our hearts, I have a follow up question to the journey that you mentioned. So now looking back and thinking about the next generation of young academics included, so we'll be coming from ethnic minority backgrounds, what are some opportunities you would recommend them to engage early on or any other advice that you can give them looking back at your own journey and about your fears and the courage that it takes to overcome them?

Gideon Sappor 00:05:59  
What I will say is, follow your passion, if you are really passionate about further education, higher education, very often what wwhat we lack from my personal experience is the navigational capital, the knowledge to know what to do and how to make those dreams come true. And I think that now there are a lot more avenues people to talk to, to know what to do. So a group like the IOE Early Career Network, for example, could become a point of call for somebody out there who is looking for looking for ideas, and looking for some guidance about what to do. So I was a bit persistent. I sent emails to almost every university, I could think of the way I would want to, I could see myself studying that I sent emails all around. And someone had a doctoral school, I can't remember the lady's name, but she saw my email, and then put me in touch with a professor who became my supervisor. So if you have a dream, don't look at the barriers, I will say, is just going for it. Because I just started sending emails.

Alina Pelikh 00:07:12  
That's great. So everything Yeah. All all great did start with with a simple email. That's, that's really inspiring.

Keri Wong 00:07:19  
Yeah. And great advice for the young listeners as well just give it a go and see what happens. And don't be, you know, held back from that at all. I guess another issue also, we'd love to hear your thoughts on this. So Gideon, you know, in the past year, there has been noticeably more discussion about social justice and inequalities, both in the on the news and also institutional levels, mainly, obviously, driven by a surge in racial conflicts, like Black Lives Matters. And during the pandemic Asian hate as well. So, you know, I myself as an minority, ethnic female, but also early career academic, I've seen and noticed, you know, an increase in invitations to be on interview panels, and lots of other panels who give or provide a diverse voice on these committees. I was just curious, you know, what has been your experience in all of this?

Gideon Sappor 00:08:14  
Thanks for the question. Because I've lived it for a few years now. I was shocked when I heard that in the whole of UCL with the thousands of academic staff, there were only 20 Black academics, 20 Black academics in the whole of UCL. And you could count the number of professors on one hand, and so so that in the in the background, it raises questions, and it's true, what else unfortunate I work in ITE, where there is a disproportionately large number of Black academics and probably minority ethnic academics. Now, knowing that it puts some, a little bit of a weight on your shoulders to know you are one of the very few handfuls around and you are I was conscious that whatever I did reflected on people like me, because for somebody who has never met a black person before or worked closely with them, there's a weight of normal feeling, I represent the impression that will be created around me so that was there. And I am also someone who, when I work in an organisation, I'm always keen to contribute joining stuff do stuff, so I'm not one for sitting back and looking on and complaining that this is not happening or that's not happening or it should be this or that I want to get involved and the as an organisation, sometimes we hear a lot of initiatives and talk about how the organisation wants to improve things. So one is one one you mentioned about representation on interview panels. So yes, I did get to do quite a few, but it was all done in my free time. So I I remeber during the SRD, I've written down how many I had done, and how to mention it to my colleague during the review to say this, how many interview panels I have served on? And how many more I'm going to be on in the course of the year. These are all in my own time.

Alina Pelikh 00:10:17  
Do you remember how many?

Gideon Sappor 00:10:18  
Oh, maybe four or five? That's a lot. If you consider the amount of preparation you have to do before and time spent in the interview, and then the discussions afterwards. And it was all in my own time. I remember joining Athena SWAN doing all the training, I did dignity advisor at work, all the training, no, I mean, the meat advice was days of training days on upon days. And that was all in my time. Now, if I want to contribute towards my organisation, and I'm putting in so much, I think would be fair to expect something back yes, this year, I have some time to do some of these things. However, not everything can be quantified, there is no set number of intervals, for example, that you will do in the year. So say you are given... and if you work in ITE, I don't know about about your department, your department or where you work but in ITE, your workload is calculated to the hour in ITE that is how it is calculated. And so in the field I work in where your workload is calculated to the hour, whatever else you have to do, sometimes you have to do in your own time. And it makes things very difficult. But I always look to the bright side, I always look to the future into positivity and what can be done to make things better. So yes, in my SRD, I raised those issues this year, I have some time on my workload for some of these these things. It's all in discussion it's always talking it's always looking forward. Because if you get drawn too much into what is not happening, it stifles you and affects what you do. So yeah,

Keri Wong 00:11:59  
Yeah, definitely. So true. And great advice on the positivity, focusing on the positive and looking forward. And yeah, thinking along those lines.

Alina Pelikh 00:12:08  
Absolutely. Yeah, thank you for talking about things that I don't think we usually discuss. Or it goes without saying that people have to do those things, and it goes on your own free time. But I would now want to move on to the next set of questions that we have. And that's something that you love doing. This is teaching. And as you mentioned, you have over 11 years of teaching experience as a primary class teacher. And over five years, if I remember correctly of teaching at IOE. I've heard the students love you. They speak highly of you, and they give you positive evaluation at the end of the module - dream. So tell us what's your magic? What is your teaching style? Why do students love you?

Gideon Sappor 00:12:45  
One thing, one thing I think is important is being sincere and genuine. And I teach because I love it. Teaching, I really love what I do, I love it. And if you really love something and you enjoy doing it, it comes across and that we've been I'm always very sincere and genuine with my, with my class with my students. And when it comes down to my accent, for example, I am aware I speak with what I call a posh accent. Now, if my accent is posh, and you are not as posh as me, and you struggle to understand some of my words, just let me know. And I will try and he does, you know, make you make sure you understand what I'm saying or hear me. So it is little things like that. I'm very open, very sincere, genuine. And if I don't know something, I will tell you, I don't know it. If I'm not sure, I will say I'm not really sure about that one. So it's, I believe every I hope so I hope that is the case. Every student in my class sees themselves as learning from me and and myself learning from them. And there is that genuine, honest respect. So it's not like, I'm a fountain of knowledge. And I'm here to tell you impart so much knowledge to you, we are here to learn together, I may have perspectives that you may not have yet. And that is how I approach teaching. And pedagogically, that is what I think every one of us as teachers do anyway. So I don't really see what I do as special well apart from my posh accent!

Alina Pelikh 00:14:21  
[laughs] well, I wouldn't say that everyone take it as a learning experience for them as well. And not everyone loves teaching. And so you know, you're very unique in this aspect. And he did truly sounds like you love what you do. And that's what makes a success.

Keri Wong 00:14:35  
And I guess, you know, the listening to you talking about your teaching experience now in your role, you know, just curious to know, you know, obviously you've been at the IOE for quite a few years, number of years as well both you know, as a student and then now as a teacher as well. How have you found this transition from being a student and then now a teacher? Was there anything that has changed in your roles that you didn't think you would know about or learn about yourself as well?

Gideon Sappor 00:15:04  
I think what I didn't know about was maybe the responsibility element. And as a student, I got into teaching because - there's a story behind it that I'm not going to go into but - there was a story behind how I got to speak to a class of students, even though I was a student at a time. So I just spoke about my research to a class of students. And then apparently, it was good. So on the next class, then I was given the class to teach, even though I was a student, and then it progressed to me setting the essay question, and then doing the marking, so I was fortunate to have been broken into it. But even with that, I mean, it's different when the buck doesn't stop with you, so to speak. So that transition into our say it was a it's a pleasant one, because I get what the students go through, I get it being on the other side of the desk, so to speak. I get it, I understand it. So that probably comes across with my when I teach as well, I get it. I was there not very long ago. I hope I don't, over the years as the years go by, I don't I don't get so detached from what it was like being a student. And that's something that I'm always checking myself on. I don't want to be so far that I forget what it's like to be a student.

Keri Wong 00:16:28  
Yeah, just to follow up on that, you know, for those students who are listening on the podcast, what advice would you give them about wanting to maybe try out teaching or get into teaching any suggestions there or tips?

Gideon Sappor 00:16:40  
if you're a postgraduate student, speak to your supervisor, if you're a researcher, particularly speak to your supervisor, speak to someone. And there are always opportunities to volunteer, always, even if it involves supporting maybe proofreading a student's work and talking to them about their work, even if it means being present in a tutorial, and having that one to one conversation with a student. They are always there's always the opportunity to speak to someone. I mean, I think we shouldn't always think about money, because there are things I do and somebody says, so will you be paid for this? Or are you paid for this, sometimes, you need to take opportunities to develop a skill to develop an experience. And that will stand you in good stead in the future. And doing something like that will enable you to for example, enrol on the UCL Arena programme. And that was something that I was fortunate to have found out about. And I could almost went through without hearing about Arena, you know, so to do that Arena, cause you need opportunities to engage in teaching and learning some you have to just volunteer, do it, speak to your supervisor, talk to your head of department, find a module leader, talk to the module leader, volunteer your services, volunteer some time and roll on Arena. And that will give you the preparation you need. And that will help you to start building your CV, you know, so that is something I think is really important that every student who has any aspiration of going into academia needs to know about needs to start thinking about the opportunities in is that they can now you don't wait until you are applying for a job before you start thinking about experience. Do that now, you know, volunteer some time get involved in teaching or learning.

Alina Pelikh 00:18:29  
Thank you so much for this advice. Actually, I've only learned about the Arena courses from the two of you, and I've checked them out. So I think this is really good tip for anyone who's listening, you can become a fellow of higher education, in teaching, if you do the Arena courses, and if you work at UCL, you might be able to get them covered by UCL. So that's something valuable for those who are listening. And now I want to move about something that is also hopefully to be a fun conversation and topic. At IOE we know is a very international place. Very multicultural, multi-discipline, you know, multi in everything. And I wanted to ask something that is a little bit more lighthearted. So by working with such a diverse group of people, first question is what do you enjoy most? And second would be are there any good practices or habits that you might have picked up from your colleagues?

Gideon Sappor 00:19:20  
I'm laughing because it is really interesting. The student community is more diverse than the academic staff community. So particularly my early days of working as a member of staff, I found it more comfortable being with the students than being in a staff room, for example, because being with the students and there are so many faces that look like you and some probably speak with like with a different posh accent like I have, and then you go into a meeting with colleagues and like I'm the only one so the diversity of the student body is a breath of fresh air. And I think it's something that we need to celebrate a bit more at the IOE, because it's such a fantastic thing to have such a diverse and sometimes diversity. Now, there is diversity among the staff body. And I think it's worth also knowing that, yes, in your tiny bubble where you work, you might be the only one. But there is a network out there. And sometimes I was fortunate to have found a mentor, and a friend who helped guide me, okay. I don't know if she would want me to mention their names. I'm not going to mention her name. But this question is deeper than you realise. Because for me, my first couple of years, I had that sense of belonging, though, that didn't fit into this space, I didn't really have that positive sense of belonging in the space. And there were several down moments where I used to wonder if I want to carry on in this space working in this place, it was meeting some colleagues who helped me to understand the space a bit more understand how to navigate a bit more for it, let me give an example. My contract, I was I was employed on the teaching contract, the Teaching Fellow contract. So I didn't realise that meant I couldn't attend academic conferences, I had come out of the PhD, I saw myself as an academic. But in the workspace, I didn't feel like I was seen as an academic, if I couldn't go to conferences, that I couldn't get involved with research in research. And all I could do was teach, then, who am I? Do I really belong here? Do I really fit in here, it was meeting this mentor and friend who helped guide me I wanted to get involved in PhD student supervision, I did all the courses. But it wasn't. It wasn't just a smooth, okay, you've done a PhD, you've got the qualifications. So now go into supervision, it had to take some navigation, you have to speak to take some advocacy for all that to happen with me. So that space, the diversity, I found it easier among the students than in this in the in the staff body. But it took a while for me to start feeling that sense of belonging, at the IOE, to be honest. But yeah, one thing I've learned is, every every situation, you find yourself in could be an opportunity that diversity means it's a wealth. So I taught a module where I mean, more than two thirds last year, for example, during the COVID, about two thirds of the module were based in China. So interacting with students from China taught me a lot. It taught me a lot. And sometimes we are led by the media about places we are led by what's on popular media, but getting into interact with real life people who know about places in real life teaches you a lot more. And you get a better, a better, more balanced view of places, and people. So it's rich. I mean, it's fantastic to engage in. Remember that there was a class where there was - I can't remember the name - but I just wanted and I said can you please, can someone please educate me about what this, this means I've read about it. But I want you to tell me what this means. And students will teach me about that. Fantastic, fantastic.

Alina Pelikh 00:23:42  
Yeah, I've had to say, That's really great. I love this approach. I also see myself learning about the world through people. Because this is, the world is people, people is life and so completely agree with you. I mean, you went way more sophisticated. I actually have like something with something funnier in mind. I just wanted to have to give an example that for example, when I did my Master's in Germany, I was religiously going to the canteen at lunchtime because everyone did and German canteens are great. And Germans are obsessed with their lunchtime and I've literally not a single time had a quick sandwich as we do in England and these bad habits are picked up here. So I actually wanted to ask you whether reflecting on that you have any good habits or maybe bad habits that you picked up from your colleagues,

Gideon Sappor 00:24:26  
bad habits, any bad habits? I'm just thinking about my colleague who I do research with and who I share office with what have I learnt what bad habits have I learnt from you. I'm not planning to mention his name, but you know yourself. What have I learned from you that's a bad habit? [laughs] I wouldn't say it's, I wouldn't I can't recollect any bad habits I have learned as such. Say I learnt to drink a lot of tea. So I do drink I think I probably drink more tea than my office mates.

Alina Pelikh 00:25:00  
Do you take milk?

Gideon Sappor 00:25:01  
Yes. Oh, yes.

It has to be quite a lot of milk in it out of a lot of milk. I never used to drink coffee. So if it's something that I've learnt is to drink coffee, because you know, they say, can we go for a coffee? Nobody says let's go for it a cup of tea. 

Alina Pelikh 00:25:19  
Of course. Yeah. 

Gideon Sappor 00:25:21  
Because tea means something different. Tea is like a meal isn't it like dinner. So they say, Let's go drink coffee. And then when they mean tea, or something else,

Keri Wong 00:25:30  
you know, Gideon, you mentioned this a little bit already, you know, the sense of community how important that is. And I think as you know, the IOE Early Career Network, one of our key initiatives, or outcomes from our survey last year, is to put mentoring at the forefront and to ensure that new staff, existing staff, especially early career staff, that they all have a mentor, someone to teach them the ropes as the you had learned from your mentor. So I guess, you know, and also, in the past year, you know, we've tried very hard to create this sense of community in the last two years. And more recently, this past year has been very difficult and challenging because of the pandemic. And so, you know, for us as a network, it has also been challenging trying to meet or welcome new staff and new early career academics into our network meeting everyone socialising online is a bit strange. I know Alina probably has her story on that as well. But also, you know, for you, Gideon, how, how has it been? You know, your teaching online? You mentioned a little bit, but also how, how has it been for you in terms of staying sane, you know, staying connected with others past year? 

Gideon Sappor 00:26:42  
Yeah, there were difficult bits. And there were okay bits. Yes. Sometimes just it felt like being on your own all the time. And just walking into an office and just having that chat, asking that question. Yeah, it was impossible. So yes, it took some adjusting. But, I'm, I'll say, I'm lucky because I have colleagues who I could call at any time. So I mean, yeah, I have colleagues, I have colleagues, I work with a team who I could call at any time. And then we also had, like, catch up sessions. So we made it work. We made it work. And what you mentioned about mentoring, I think, is really, really, really important. And for someone like me, who, whose contracts, I mean, this is a first year where I've had some academic time. So my workload has always been full with teaching stuff. Okay. Now, it's been really, really important to learn to collaborate, you mentioned the awarding gap study I'm on with Josh. And we've then built on that to work together on the grouping ability versus mixed grouping research as well. So collaborating and mentoring is what is needed. So that, I mean, working online is a new normal, we may never, I don't think I don't even expect this, I don't even want us to go back to 2019, I don't want it, this is the new normal, and we need to learn to live with it, we need to learn to collaborate, we need to make the effort put in the work that makes collaboration work, we need to support one another, we need to it takes work. And we need to put in the work to make it work. And for some, you know, it's important you need everybody needs a mentor. And if you haven't got a mentor, you need to network more. I mean, this early career network even if there's nowhere else to go, this will be a place where there'll be always be somebody you can talk to, there will always be somebody in the early career network to talk to, to bounce ideas off of because it's needed. You know, it's no, it's not possible to work in as in a silo. And you wouldn't even enjoy it to start with, you know, so one advice will be the network and mentoring. Yes, sign up for it. Approach someone and say, Would you be my mentor, please?

Keri Wong 00:29:04  
Definitely. Yeah. And I guess maybe on this note, too. I know. Alina joined the network. Whilst it was, you know, the pandemic, how was your experience of that actually?

Alina Pelikh 00:29:14  
I joined UCL shortly before the pandemic, and I didn't get the chance to meet that many people. Or actually, I didn't even know about the IOE ECN, so I joined midway through the pandemic. And I would say it was like, like fresh air, like finding out that there are so many people out there just like me a little bit lost a little bit not knowing what to do, and that there are so many people because also when I was joining the  quite a big group of early career, people who were on finishing their contracts and many people left and then we had a hiring freeze and no one joined. And I was literally the last person who joined the department for many, many months and it felt very lonely. So the ECN is definitely a way to go. And Gideon, thank you so much for joining, for sharing your journey. And for pointing out the mentoring. That's, as Keri said something that we fought really hard to, to put in place across different centres. And I myself just got a mentor a couple of months ago and already enjoying profoundly our conversations. And for any of you out there who are thinking about getting a mentor, yeah, do get in touch with us or if you're lonely, or if you're not lonely just yes, just get in touch with us, it's definitely will change your perception of being an early an early career academic at IOE. Gideon, one thing we want to ask you and we ask all of our guests about that. Have you prepared the tip of the day?

Gideon Sappor 00:30:38
Yes my tip of the day is working in academia is working in a human institution. No human institution is perfect so you go into an institution, there'll definitely be negative things happening, and there'll be lots of positive things happening. What we need to try and focus on and that's what I try to do, is focus on the positives, and if there's something that is not working that is not right, you find a way of getting it addressed. Try and not get drawn into negative things and having too many negative conversations and this place is bad and this person is this - get drawn into that and its very easy to spiral downward. So always keep a positive outlook and keep looking forward.

Alina Pelikh 00:31:21
Thank you so much, keep looking forward, that's a great tip of the day - stay positive and keep looking forward. Well thank you Gideon that was wonderful chatting to you, thank you for listening to Academia et al, I'm Alina Pelikh,

Keri Wong 00:31:33
And I'm Keri Wong

Alina Pelikh 00:31:34
And our guest today was Gideon Sappor. You can find the link to Q&A pages for our guests and our show notes, and the link to the IOE Early Career Network Twitter. Follow us at IOE_EarlyCareer. If you have suggestions for content, or want to be our next podcast guest, send us an email at IOE.earlycareer@ucl.ac.uk. Thank you for listening!

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Academia et al is brought to you by the IOE's Early Career Network. This podcast is presented by Professor Keri Wong and Dr Alina Pelikh. The theme music was created by Roni Xu. Amy Leibowitz is the series producer, and Sarah-Jane Gregori is the executive producer. 

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