Hello, this is talking to Titans with me Gudrun Moore professor of genetics at UCLs Institute of Child Health.
And me Cathy Giangrande, a UCL alumna, art historian and conservation scientist. This is a podcast about perseverance, timeless wisdom, among other things, and it's called talking to Titans.
over seven episodes, we're chatting to women who built incredible careers in UCL academia, and beyond. Good run I myself have been great friends and mentors for a long time now. Recently, we've been having discussions together about the challenges faced by women in academic institutions and other working situations.
In this podcast, we're going to open up those conversations to women who we look up to hearing how they've managed both the highs and lows in their careers.
joining us for this episode is Stella Bruzzi.
Hello, thank you for having me. Stella, you're the Dean of Arts and Humanities at UCL. But you've had a rich career overall, what have been the highlights? I was in television for three years. I left my PhD behind. Then I had to finish my PhD crystal said if you don't finish it, we're going to start you off our books. I thought, That's a shame. I had a grant and for years, then I followed my heart and went back into academia. My first permanent role was at Royal Holloway, University of London when I was 13. I kind of thought then I'll stay at rollaway for my entire life, or I moved now then I went to work. I was at work for 10 years I there I was head of department, and Dean and I got a big research grant those and I moved to UCL in 2017. As Dean, what attracted you to UCL when I saw the job, and especially I met this was a real feeling when I was offered it. I never thought I would work.
A place as good as UCL. And I think that goes back to I probably gender but also probably being film and television studies. I mean, had I stayed in English, which is what I was going to do. I mean, I had a place to do renascence Drama PhD at Oxford and then I decided not to do that but I wanted to do theatre and film. I could have had a very different life and it's a great faculty. Why was really sold on eatonton who's got the Slade it's got various other things is that the sense of history as well as dynamism. What are the highlights of my career? Probably Well, I do remember getting my first permanent job that was a big one. I was getting married end of the week. I was sort of choosing the hymns for the church still. And then I was just about to get my hand night. And I got the call saying I got the job. And although it was incredibly badly paid, I mean, it was a it was a it was a job it was it was just over What I earned at the BBC. Wow. So it was a significant Pedro but I thought I've made this decision to change careers. So you were following your heart, rather than your pocket. I was following my heart, my pocket. And it very much felt like that for quite a few years. And you would advise people to do that in their career choices. I mean, I yeah, I think ultimately, that's a really important decision to I mean, I have seen people who work in order to fund their life as it were. And my father is very much always been one of those who he was a chemical engineer one of his life. He hardly ever talked about his job. I think he quite enjoyed it, but it wasn't all consuming. But he just saw it as a means to an enable him to go to the theatre to take holidays, whatever, but I always feel that it is ultimately you spend so much of your time working, that if you don't enjoy it, that's probably
I agree with you there. I mean, when you think about how much time you spend on your job, but there is sometimes an issue having enough money to live on within a family, for example, if you need to have childcare, and academia notoriously doesn't pay as well as many other professions. Well, yeah, I mean, I remember I mean, I did this is not necessarily something I'd recommend. I did delay having my first child having switch careers. I thought, I've got to get this career up and running before I start having children. And then of course, it didn't happen like clockwork, because it never dies. You know, so I ended up being actually quite ancient when I had my children, but nevermind, I've got them and they're lovely.
But I went back to work. I was living in London at that point, and I did the sums and I hardly had anything left. I worked out with a colleague that are that London Daenerys and those days were the equivalent of eaten in terms of money because we're eating was only for turn time. Yeah, this was every day. Yeah, please.
If you want to do it Christmas Eve, but a female colleague of mine said, Stella don't do the songs, you've made a decision. You've made a decision to carry on working. It'll just crucify you. If you sit there and say, I feel how is it going to take you back? I mean, you can't take the child back and saying, you know, yeah, I can't afford you can't get the child back. And it was it would have not been sensible in the long run, to have given up the job and make it work, don't you? How did you make it work? How did I make it work? I swapped two days. I had a day off on Friday. And I worked for a day at the weekend. So I had that as my So my research day became a weekend day so that our son had three days out of seven of parent as opposed to nursery although I think actually he quite liked nursery but i've you know, I don't and I've always commuted suddenly the traffic I used to rely on the 25 nothing was moving. And I'd arrived late to pick up my son and if a friend hadn't been able to pick him up well then I had very…
you have to pay fine now. Yeah, yeah. Oh, yeah. Oh, well, it was different in 1999.
How much of a role do you feel gender plays in our career choices? I think directly or indirectly, quite a lot. Quite a big role. It's always then I'll think about academia. But it's always interested me the number of film editors from indeed editors who are women. And although I haven't done any research at this, I'm assuming it's because it's more regular. It's closer to home, you're not getting filming. It's easier if you've got kids, they know, directors of photography, there are more men. Right? And I mean, as I say, this is purely This is not a scientific study. But I think it actually makes quite a big difference. I think what makes these conscious choices, and again, had I stayed in TV as a freelancer like my husband, I don't think I think two freelancers working on short term contracts didn't sound like a good idea.
If you wanted to pay the mortgage and have kids, it sounded sensible to have one person who, whatever else happened, had a salary had flexibility is I always say to my female PhD students and things as it is flexible, you can make it work for you. You can swap days like I did. It doesn't mean to say that you're not doing your work. But you're able to be flexible. If you've got a fixed nine to five, or you're doing location filming, then you're stuck. You are stuck. But today, we're allowed to do that a little bit more than we were in the past because you can work from home with a computer. See, oh, yeah, it's completely changed. So changed. And I think that's so exciting for young people. Don't you think there's still a stigma that if you're not there, you're not counted? Well, it was interesting. I was at rollaway. Then I went to work and I when I went to work, I meant commuting from Oxford. I was headed apartment. I had a two and a half year old who was still breastfeeding she refused to take anything
On propofol, I mean not during the day, obviously, I didn't take her really clamped to me to work. But when I arrived, I suddenly went as I entered a department where the female members of staff who were a little bit older than me, they were 10 years older than me. They, I think, made a decision not to have children. I think they thought that careers and children were incompatible. But my younger female colleague said, We're so glad you're here. So it means that we won't feel guilty if we want to have kids. Oh, my God. Yeah, no. Safety numbers. Let's face it. Yeah. But they also saw someone who was able to make it work. I wasn't always well tempered and things but it's still my guilt has reached it reached the age of 15. And I was headed department in quite a good one. So it was sort of it was okay. So I don't think women feel the same pressure to make a decision. I think you just simply think I will make it work and you can make it work. And I just said look
As long as the work gets done and doesn't get taught, and you and your books get written, I'm not going to ask questions about where you are if you're not here, and it all worked. And did you have a partner? Yeah, yeah. Yeah. My mother was a single parent. I think it's very different. If it's a single parent, that is a significant pressure. Did you feel that as a child? Yeah. When my father left, she did sit me and my brother down, he was three and I was eight and said, Look, I'm going to have to get a job full time, which means I'm going to do very little cooking and no housework. And my brother is still got massive eyes is looked up at me and I just thought, you must not rock the boat is the only parent we've got. You know, this is fine. She's doing her best she is and one of her best friends always say Look, she's doing her friends in the same boat. We're doing the best we can. And I felt that was fine. And I was a latchkey kid and my daughter called
It often is, but I don't think that's I really don't think it's that bad. Sometimes I thought oh, it must be nice to come home and there's mom and a cup of tea and some biscuits but someone to chat to someone to chat to you but if you ask my daughter she quite likely says I can turn the music up really loudly. Yeah. And I can eat whatever whatever one. Yeah, what have you saying eat some food? Yeah. So I felt it, but I don't feel it was a negative. I agree. My children said the same thing about our situation today. Yeah, like they like they they had they think they had much better holidays because I worked. Yeah, I was in a better mood because I worked. You know, because you feel more positive about yourself is every job you've ever wanted to run away from other parts of the job. I've had to terminate contracts. That's not ever something that is easy or pleasant to do, ever. Quite rarely, but sometimes when things get overwhelming, you know, you just sort of think it would have been so much easier had I just stayed
at home all been working in john nervous?
Yes. But I just feel that something becomes manageable if you broke it down into its little parts. So rather than saying, I've got too much to do, I can't go by just going to go to bed, say, Okay, I can do that I can do that I can cross those things off, and then it won't be quite so bad. Yes. But my kind of level is usually someone higher up the chain, he said, We want you to close down that center, which is the example I'm thinking about. And it's very tough. But giving yourself time to do that, too. I mean, to think about it is important. So by writing it down, it gives you an opportunity to break it down, think how am I going to do this? What's my role within this? Who do I need by my side? Someone taught you that approach, or is this something you've just decided, I don't think I must have just picked it up. Perhaps someone else was doing it. But I also think a classic thing that women do or perhaps I do, and I'm sure
generalizing is to assume, if one's asked to do something that you're going to do on your own. So when I was asked to close something, I thought, Blimey, I'm gonna do it on my end. And I thought, No, this is an HR issue. I'm not an HR director, I'm going to go to HR and get them get a kind of, at least have a buddy. Yeah, yeah, who knew, you know, legislation, and then it was much better. And there's a real reason for that, which is that someone brings insight and an expertise that you don't have.
How do you describe yourself in the workplace? Do you think you're very collegiate? And do you think that's important?
I hope I am. I think I'm collegiate. I like to feel that I'm generous. I take people seriously. I'm not terribly hierarchical. I sometimes feel I could be perhaps more in the sense that not because I feel that hierarchies are important, but I do sometimes why I get that people don't take me very seriously. Why would I died and why does does it Why does it matter or
Why do you feel that way?
This is, I think a feminist stretches, that if you're an intellectual woman, play it down, because otherwise mental field threat threatened, you know, threat. And so I think one does learn, I mean, women who are middle aged on we are a completely different generation from the people that we now teach. And I feel that there is still a sense of that of downplaying slightly one's own seriousness, and I find myself doing it sometimes. And that annoys me. Have you ever experienced any kind of sexual misconduct in your workplace? personally? know, I've been referred to as Tati. Yeah, I know by a vice principal nice, yeah. Long, long time ago, and it's a woman, a young girl came to you with an issue, what would you advise her to do? There are now mechanisms that they didn't use to be there are ways of dealing with it. Quite often, it's not as it's not an isolated case.
I would also try and reassure that the systems are there to support and to deal with this in a way that it didn't use to be the case so that someone feels protected and looked after. There's never a good ending to those situations, in my experience, really for anybody. I have known a case when a male colleague was reprimanded talked to, and never crossed the line again to the to the also leave, no, because it was actually consensual. It was different. It was different. But colleague said this isn't appropriate, whether it's consensual or not. And this person completely understood in a way that I mean, when I was a student in the early 80s, there were no boundaries. So you asked the question earlier whether I'd ever experienced it I do when I was a student, but UCL has people they can speak to you can speak to it, you know, I just think it's very difficult to be brave enough to expose someone particularly
Somebody who's more senior to you, of course, because it is fundamentally an abuse of power. someone feels they will get away with it because they are more powerful. And quite often you hear that? That's what someone says. They say, if you don't do what I want, I will ruin your career. I will. And you have to be very strong not to collapse under that. Yeah. Not to just think, okay, I'll go along with it. Yeah, clearly, you have a very demanding job. And in fact, you've done several series of demanding jobs. The question of work life balance arises, would you say you found that balance? I haven't found the balance in terms of it's not equal. I spend more time working than at home probably. And there is a certain guilt goes with that. I mean, I remember when I stood down as as dean at work, I realized that various things that my daughter wasn't getting on particularly well at school and life kind of hadn't noticed and I did
feel very badly about that. But I then intervened and it was fine but there is a guilt that certain things you miss and certain things you also forget because you working so hard like a lot of my friends can rattle off for example when their children to steps or when Yeah, I can't remember now because probably it was a day when you're trying to do all that probably wasn't there and I bought you know, but it doesn't mean to say they can't walk. Yeah. I had incidences with my youngest son who when I left student teacher meetings, I would be in tears. How come I didn't notice this that he was actually failing that doing this? I know. No, it is. But you just think well just figure out a way to get around it. And it always works out for the best. Yeah, it does. Also, sometimes I felt guilty because I didn't feel guilty enough that I wasn't there. actually a very good friend of mine who's still a friend when I said I wasn't going to go part time or give up my job. He said, she basically said Well, I don't
See the point of having children? And I thought, No, that's a huge point. You know, you just don't do it in quite the same way. Yeah, just stay in the same order. Well, some people have their children younger and then form the career. And that works. Yeah, I'm now wishing I'd done that. Looking at how long it's it is until I can contemplate not earning Biden, I think of that. Yeah, I mean, I manage my kind of college sweetheart. So we could have easily done it early, but we just never crossed our minds. So advice to young people, is you can do it two ways. One is you can do it young and get your life back later. But then it worked out. Is there anyone in your life who you look up to my Italian grandmother was a very, pretty exceptional for her generation woman. She must have been born about 1909 1910. Anyway, she had a degree and I think had a second degree as well. She was a chemist and my grandfather
He was a successful businessman, self made man, let's say was very keen on her not having to work and she it was clearly something that she resisted. She read a lot and she used to kind of crochet in a rather ferocious as if it was a displacement activity. When I was a kid I kind of thought euless squares to pick hot pans of thought. I'm sure you don't need me 20 No, no one needs that many. But she said to me, she said to me, Stella, promise me. You must never give up your job for either children or man and you must learn how to drive. Right? But her voice when I thought oh, should I go part time I'll be able to spend more time my son. I thought she told me that for a reason. So mentors are useful to help steer people through ups and downs of life. Have you got a mentor I've had on official mentors to have someone who was 20 years older than me. So had already
work full time being the main breadwinner, had a daughter kept it all going to see someone do that was really important to me. Because that generation away experiences especially when I was in tunnel vision of it was really tough me. So I'm going to make sure it's tough for you, as opposed to, I'll help you. So I hope I can help definitely PhD students navigate the work life balance, make decisions that aren't going to be detrimental to their life. Work is not the be all and end all. And definitely younger colleagues when they hit the decision grandchildren. What should I do about that? Do you think there's more pressure on women in academia to be role models for for their students than men? I think probably there still is. However, I say that but then my daughter who's 15. She understands the fluidity of gender in a way that she just takes for granted a whole load of issues that were
issues, and are the people of my generation. So perhaps that is also changing. And something we want to ask all our guests, and that is looking back in moments of crisis and you went a certain way or you made a certain decision. What advice would you give to your request of your students today? Obviously, I wouldn't have the children I've got but I would say don't be too fixated on doing the right thing for other people. I actually remember a female had a department saying, Please don't go and have another baby. Because it was quite difficult when you were off. So one advice I'd always say is, I mean, don't be completely selfish, but don't just do exactly what you think other people want you to do. They asked you not to have another child because it made it difficult for them. How did how did you react to that? I've pretty much took it quite seriously. And I thought, okay, you know, I mean,
Was tempered by the fact that I didn't necessarily find it easy, but I didn't dismiss it. If you're a research track academic, you are entitled to research leave. So you are relieved of teaching you stay supervising your PhDs. You kind of accrue time through your teaching. What's interesting is that maternity leave is still does count towards battling time. And you are still working, even if you're not working by teaching, and it's something you have to do for your career. Yeah, and for your job. And actually, I remember when I did eventually had my second child and I realized that these are the rules that maternity leave counts towards sabbatical entitlement. So I went my head, different head and I said, Look, I know this sounds ludicrous. I know I've had a year out and I was a very prolific researcher, so it's not as if I kind of just took the chance to recharge my batteries. When I was pregnant, and when I just had a baby is sad.
Lawyer breastfeed. And he basically just said, what you take in the past I said, No, I'm really not this is look at this is what it says, I'll wait till the springtime, I'm doing the ultimate wait till the spring term. So I was able to be accommodating and I could see some of the absurdities of it because I do think it was a bit old that that clock keeps ticking, whereas if you on research leave it doesn't I wasn't going to give in that good for you know, nor should you. It didn't mean that I did produce something. Yeah, I'm thinking about it over children, you know that I left it several years, thinking, Oh, it would look bad, it would look bad if I got a permanent job. And within six months I was pregnant, so I must. And then I've got to do my first book. And then I got to make sure I've got a bit of a career and I was very consciously doing all of that. And I would say now I'd say you can model foo. Having gone to the other end, you can model
flu, it can still happen. But don't be overly keen to fit in with other people's plans. Follow your heart. Yeah, what you want. But I think that's something women does have much more feminine trait is to worry about what other people think. Stella, thank you very much for joining us. Well, thank you. It's been great.
We have this all the time, Kathy, when you and I talk about having children or not or going for the career and not worrying too much having children and the fact that you know, when women that have babies and stay home with their babies and take them through those formative years, and sometimes feel themselves they've missed out on a career option, and there's people judging them and if you go to work and you have babies, they're being judged they're really situation. It seems to me that whatever you do, you can't really win but I probably feel that the overriding advice I would give you
We've got to support each other. Yeah, whatever people decide, you need to say, that was a good decision. Yeah, you did. I agree. And I like the fact that she said that, well, she might have done it differently on reflection. She had her children later in life. Maybe she would advise people to have them earlier. And then, you know, concentrate on the career. So there are options out there. But like he said, I think support from your peers is so important. I think there's more of that now. Yeah.
Thank you very much indeed for joining us in this episode of talking to Titans. In the next episode, we'll be speaking to a gentleman ha boo, UCL promise envoy for Africa and the Middle East. For more information, please go to www.ucl.ac.uk forward slash UCL dash mines forward slash Titans. If you like this episode, leave us a review in your podcast app, share it with your friends and tweet at UCL with the hashtag Talking to Titans. The series was a whistle down production