My first keynote: on life as an interdisciplinary and feminist ECR in UK academia

I was invited to give my first keynote presentation at the EPSRC Nottingham University Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training. Of course I was nervous and terrified about what *I* would have to say, and was riddled with imposter syndrome not understanding why anyone would ask me to open a 2-day event for multiple cohorts of PhD students, their supervisors, and support team. The CDT focuses on ‘my life in data’ and many of the projects relate to data very directly and concretely, something I have am not entirely sure about how to talk about in the ‘data science’ sense…

But I accepted the invitation anyway.

It was wonderful and difficult to prepare the talk, and took me much longer than it probably should have. What I said wasn’t perfect and will be riddled with flaws, but it was also part of my own thinking and development. I shared personal stories and experiences.

As has become customary during the pandemic, I wrote out most of my text, but ad-libbed throughout as well. I copied my notes and screenshots of the slides below:

Thank you very much for the invitation and wonderful welcome, Velvet, and thank you to everyone who is here listening. My name is Angelika Strohmayer, and I’m a lecturer at Northumbria University’s School of Design and co-Director of the recently established Design Feminisms Research group alongside Dr Reem Talhouk. I am also a founding member of fempower.tech, an international network and technology collective exploring the relationships between theories and practices of feminisms in relation to technologies and activism within academia.

I am really humbled (and a bit scared) to be invited to give a keynote at your Horizon CDT. I did my own PhD in the EPSRC CDT for Digital Civics at Newcastle University, graduating in 2019, and have invested a fair amount of time into thinking about academic and non-academic collaborations, and have worked with students across different CDTs, including velvet, on writing and activism projects. Being part of this wider network of CDTs has been one of the best things of doing a PhD, and before I get into my talk, I do just want to encourage you all to take up the opportunities that are afforded to you thorugh the Digital Econmy CDT network – participate in the writing retreats when they can happen again (I wrote a first draft of an entire PhD chapter in the one I attended!) and remember: you are the network. If you want to see something happen or change, talk to other students in the network, your CDT manager, the network management, and apply for funding to make the things you want to make happen happen.

But that’s enough about the CDT networks – if you want to know more about those things, feel free to ask me at the end of my talk! But onto my talk now.

Today, I am going to try to achieve two things: give you a bit of an honest look at (1) a somewhat honest understanding of what it means to me to be an Early Career Researcher who works in interdisciplinary, or (perhaps antidisciplinary?) ways, who has been educated in lots of different ways of knowing and studying, and who has a PhD from an EPSRC CDT. I will do this by thinking through (2) using feminist lenses to understanding our world, data, research, and academia.

At this point, it’s hard for me to distinguish precisely which disciplines I am inspired by, which is also making it increasingly hard for me to figure out what disciplines my work contributes to.

While this is of course on one hand quite terrifying when working in a system as rigid and academia – where we are constantly told to do interdisciplinary work, but when we require pragmatic and material resources to be able to do this we are met with barriers.

On the other hand however, combining and interweaving approaches, methods, thinking, and collaborations to entangle different worlds is incredibly exciting for me. As I think back at my 6 or 7 years of research in Higher Education settings, I am now able to point towards what I think has been driving my explorations and research: an attempt to better understand what we mean with research, action, collaboration, and technologies.

I will take you through my research journey so far, pointing towards particularly important projects for my own learning and development, point towards how feminist theories and practices gave me the space to be courageous with my methods and work, and show you some new things I’m currently working on. However, I am also taking this opportunity of a ‘keynote’ to not necessarily present the resarch I do, but to think more holistically about my journey and work as an academic.

Hopefully, some of the ways of thinking I present in my presentation will be useful for you to think through your own research from a slightly different perspective. But even if you don’t see any of what I say in your own work, or if what I say is completely at odds with your own work perhaps, I do want you to take away something from today: no matter what it feels like to you right now, regardless of where you are at in your PhD…I want you to know that the PhD is not an end-point, it is a starting point.

To start off, I want to give you a boraod understanding of my background of my academic, epistemological, and to a degree also ontological journey of discovery. I started off with a bachelor’s degree in primary school education which I did at a teaching university in Linz, Austria – this was a practice-focused degree where almost every single person in my cohort of 200+ students went on to be teachers, teaching assistants, or are now school directors in Austria. I went on to do an MA in International Development and Education, as at the time I was hoping to work in that space. I did my teaching degree so I would know what I was talking about, but really I was interested in activism and advocacy, and in improving worlds with and for people. At the time, even though I had worked in third sector organisations for more than 5 years by then, I was still quite naïve and looking back also probably quite arrogant to think of my work in that way.

As I was working on my MA, I read more and more about poverty, about globalisation, and the role that ‘international development’ has had in the oppression of those who are already made marginal. This was also the first time I considered doing a PhD – or even really saw it as a viable option for myself (a daughter of parents who have GCSE equivalent degrees of formal education).

At this point, technologies were something that I was only marginally interested in – instead, I wanted to learn more about informal learning networks – which led to thinking about peer learning, self-organizing systems of support, and care at later points. During the research, however, the importance of technologies (particularly facebook and mobile phones) and their multiple situated uses came out as a really important part of informal learning among people experiencing homelessness in Bucharest, Romania.

So that led me on to my PhD of looking at relationships between technologies, peer support, and design methodologies.

At this point, I moved away from homelessness and the research became more about stigmatized communities and their use of digital technologies to support their safety and activism more broadly. In the PhD, this related specifically to sex workers, but later turned into thoughts about criminalized communities and the importance of research as mechanisms of social justice – but I now also think a lot about the arrogance of design and technology researchers based on technosolutionism. This really was a starting point for me to develop new ways of thinking and working, and it allowed me to experiment with differet methods and theories – which I have made more nuanced, diversified, and gotten sued to more in the last 2 years since finishing – an dI look forward to working with PhD students now to be part of their journeys and to further think through new concerns and topics – it really was the beginning of something that is still beautiful to me.

After that, I worked as a REF Impact Case Study author at Swansea University – working on the student sex work project case studies. Not quite a year later, I applied for and (to my surprise) was actually successful in getting a lectureship at Northumbria University’s School of design.

This way of thinking of course developed throughout my academic journey and is likely to change again as time goes on. However, it is also part of my move into a design school a year and a half ago – which has shaped my thinking more than I thought it would.

I don’t know whether it’s the high of passing my PhD viva and finally being out of what seemed very stressful and complicated departments, or whether it was a change in gear in my brain by being surrounded by so many amazing resaerchers and teachers who truly cared about the nuances and difficulties in craft and co-creation, or even just being a more mature researcher and person…but this last disciplinary change has given me the courage to think about work in a different way – to think about reserch through co-creative making and from a more high-level look at epistemology and meanings of resaerch work. It has given me the ability to start things that I never would have dared think about as ‘work’ previously.

At the same time though, it has also laid bare a lot of difficulties of being an Early Career Researcher (or ECR) in general, and an interdisciplinary ECR in particular. the majority of the research work I have done in this time has been unfunded – and took place alongside writing funding applications, teaching, doing academic service work, and building up capacity for PhD students and feminist research in the department. It also happens alongside trying to publish work in different venues and disciplines, contributing to different academic conversations, and honestly – trying to find the conversations that I want to be a part of.

It is taking place during a global pandemic, which has impacted all of us in unprecedented and unexpected ways.

All of this messy and complicated work also comes at a time where I am trying to figure out who I am after completing my PhD research. Where I am asking myself questions like: What kinds of work do I want to read? What kinds of statements do I want to make? How do I go back on what I have previously written if I have changed my mind or learnt more about a topic and so wish I had provided more nuance in earlier arguments?

To try to draw this academic learning and development journey all together, I started off in a very different place to where I am today, and while it might seem like it makes no sense as to how I got to where I am on paper…(from primary school education to international development, to computing, and now design??) this all makes sense to me; and looking back there are many things in my current teaching, research, and academic service work that I do the way I do because of that primary school education degree, because of my learning about epistemologies in computing disciplines, and because of my understanding of some criminology literatures and non-academic ways of working in UK Higher Education.

One thing that has stayed with me throughout however are: (1) my dedication to understanding and engaging in the politics of what I do – whether that is about genuinely critical and student-centred teaching practice or the importance of including understanding of sex worker rights discourse into the development of digital technologies and service delivery. And (2) my love of creative, participatory, and co-developed ways of working – whether that be in the production of teaching materials at the primary school level or for teaching in Higher Education, or whether that is about engaging in systems change with a national charity in developing a cross-organizational understanding of trauma-informed ways of working through reflexive practice.

These two things lead me to actually explain where I get a lot of what I say from: feminist Science and Technology Studies, theories, design and HCI. One quote I keep coming back to is Maria Puig de La Bellacasa’s statement that “ways of studying and representing things can have world-making effects.”

Taking Maria Puig de la Bellacasa’s words as a starting point in how I think about my research, I often think about not whether my research will have ‘impact’ in the world, but rather what kind of impact it will have. And how can I configure, contextualise, and conceptualise my work in a way that it will not only ‘not do harm’ but instead actually work towards having positive effects?

While this is all very admirable and great to think through theoretically, the practice of this can be very messy, complicated, and filled with anxiety.

It means I have to look beyond the research practice, methods, and outcomes and instead think about what it means to do the work I do. To me, thinking about sewing helps illustrate this. Just like in our research, we present these beautifully crafted pieces, in this case illustrated by this embroidery hoop I am currently working on. In academia, this is perhaps the paper, report, or PhD dissertation that we publish once the project is finished – even if our thinking about those topics is not complete. As early career researchers and phd students, we read these papers and think that research projects were exactly as described in them – that things worked, that analysis is a tidy, clean, linear process, and that the argument makes sense from start to finish. And we try to emulate this – and in some cases are even told to read papers to do things in ways that they describe.

But when we look behind this façade of research, just like we can look behind this embroidery hoop in the slide, we see that things are much more messy. And we can and should do this with our data too.

Resarch is rarely a tidy activity, especially when working in participatory, collaborative, in-the-world ways as I do, it is not linear and clear-cut. Arguments change while doing the work, and there is so so so much work that is done that is so rarely described in a paper. This can of course lead to anxieties among PhD students (or perhaps it was just me?) where I thought: why is my research not as tidy as that described by my academic crushes and idols? How come my data analysis is so much more complicated than what is neatly described in papers? And why is it not enough for me to just say ‘I analysed these interviews’ when really what I did was think about where these interviews took place, the cups of tea that we shared and had before even getting to a point where I interviewed someone, or why do I care so much about what materials and methods we use in our workshops to make people comfortable?

At this point, I want to come back to one of the first slides I showed you about my journey. Something that was not visible in this inter- or anti-disciplinary journey and current ways of working is all the emotional labour, the work that is necessary to make this kind of work possible, the failures, the starting points that didn’t lead anywhere. A feminist ethos and worldview allow me to think of my work in this way.

Thinking of my journey as one that is not only about the presence of disciplines, but the epistemologies I learnt about, and the many ‘invisible’ or ‘hidden’ things I have done have allowed me to read more widely and deeply at the same time. It’s allowed me to interpret the same ideas through different lenses. Through all the different projects and work I have done, I learned that my personal politics about equity and social justice and experiences of volunteering, my activism, and own experiences of violence and oppression were seeping into my research. On top of all of that, I care about the people with whom I work, and the work I do has deeply personal impacts on my own life – or in some instances the research becomes a kind of mirror to my own life.

The traditional research training I had in social sciences and HCI taught me that this would mean that I was being biased in my research. The more critical and participatory approaches I had learnt about would have allowed me to acknowledge these as part of my research process, but that still felt like it wasn’t really enough: to just acknowledge them. The research as experienced, what it reminded me of, and what it made me think about was shaping what I was thinking, doing, how I felt. I could no longer separate my personal life and my research completely. Experiences with participants and research partners made me care and feel things. While at first I tried to keep my life and research separate (with this fear of subjectivity that’s been instilled in me in my training!), deep down I knew this was not sustainable.

Thinking and working in the way I have described often feels like I am going down weird spirals of thought: for example, with the practical work I have done in the last year about systems change in a charity I often think that while the practical work may have some great impact in the real world, I am not always sure about how that can be translated into academic writing.

Ways of reading wide and deep can lead me to overthink – especially at a time where I am trying to figure out who I am as a researcher.

I feel like during the PhD it felt like that was the most important work I would ever do – it is what will establish me as a researcher of a particular area of inquiry. Almost 2 years after completing my PhD though, it feels like that identity is falling almost completely apart. I have had the privilege of thinking more, developing my epistemological understanding, and have thought a lot about what it means to ‘do’ research – which has of course led me to over think.

To go down so many different paths that lead to other ideas and yet more paths. That have made me think about how previous projects have intersected and led to new ways of doing or thinking.

Importantly though, that trajectory of doing a PhD, to having no idea what next steps will be, and then starting to find my feet again, has made me so hopeful and thankful for the journey I have been on – it has made me think about the different people with whom I have shared parts of my path with, the people who’s paths crossed mine at particular points and how those intersections have led to interesting thoughts and conversations.

I feel like as an interdisciplinary ECR, I am building up a different understanding of research altogether to what I was taught and trained in – I have the privilege and anxiety of bringing togheter disparate pieces of knowledge, experience, understanding, thinking, doing, and making: to create a whole that is more than its parts – my own personal approach to being a care-ful and rounded academic.

Now that I am a lecturer, an academic, I am not only thinking about research anymore. So how does this way of thinking and being translate not only into research methodology but also into pedagogy and teaching practices? Into my capacity as a PhD supervisor and mentor to those who are at earlier stages in their careers to me? Into my academic service such as peer reviewing articles, conference organization, and continued activism to build more inclusive and justice-oriented ways of working in academia and beyond?

I often think about and experience different ways in which academia can be toxic and horrible. And now that I am part of this system I need to find ways of making material change within it – slowly, and in collaboration with others, I think I am starting to do so. And I see talks like this one today as part of that work. So I want to share a tidbit of something I have learnt about doing this kind of in-the-world work of research and activism: if you are experiencing a toxic environment, collaboration, supervision, or feel in other ways overwhelmed by the prospects of your PhD and academia; find allies and talk to them. Develop a shared understanding of what you’re experiencing and build each other up to have the strength to deal with it and work against it.

And to the supervisors and management staff in the audience: please listen to and believe the students who speak up. Allow yourselves to feel  with students and please remember that current academia is very different to where we were 20, 10, or even 5 years ago.

Coming back to this quote and way of thinking about research from Maria Puig de la Bellacasa – this of course relates to how we write and present our work, but it also relates to the kinds of data we explore, look for, produce, etc. It relates to what we do with that data, what it means to us, the kinds of worldviews we place upon it, and how it relates to the argument we are building through our research.

From a positivist lense, this might make you flinch and say: but that means our research will be biased! As a constructivist, you might say: yes, and that’s why it’s important to explain how and why we construct our understanding in certain ways.

But to me, taking a feminist lens to this work means we not only acknowledge but embrace and explore the standpoints we come from in our research (which is called standpoint theory) and situate our knowledge in wider contexts, discourses, politics, and actions (which is understood as situated knowledge).

No matter what your epistemology (ways of knowing) are, data will have a very specific meaning to you. And I now want to invite you listen to what I think about data – not in the data science sense, but in the socio-technically complex ways of studying interactions between people, technologies, and our ways of understanding.

These statements stem from my ways of working and interacting with data: based on working with non-academic partners, with communities who are stigmatized, marginalized, or criminalized. And takes a design-driven approach to research: one that examines not just what we do in research but why it is we are doing it and to what end – centered around a feminist way of understanding the world.

To give you a very brief, and very messy overview of feminist HCI or feminist ways of approaching research, here’s what I think, generally:

  • It is an ethos more than a methodology so can translate into all parts of being an academic and a full person
  • It allows me to think more critically about what it means to do research, what data and analysis are
  • It allows me to bring myself, experiences, and metaphors into research practice
  • It goes beyond studying individual things and instead places things into ecologies and systems

It’s important at this point however, to say that this is my interpretation of very specific strands of feminist research – and that one of the beauties of this way of thinking is the importance of plurality, multiplicity, and polyvocality. This means that it is precisely the different perspectives and ways of knowing and understanding that is centered in this way of researching: that we put things in converastion with one another, that we reflect on these conversations, that we analyze individual situations and circumstances as part of wider ecologies and systems; and that we do this through thick understandings of care.

Importantly, and perhaps more so for you as people coming a little bit more from the ‘data science’ end of the spectrum of explorations of data, I want to point you towards Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren Klein’s incredibly important work on Data Feminism. They have 7 principles of what it means to do data science through a feminist lense. I don’t want to go into too much detail here, but their book is filled with examples of how data has been used in these ways to enact positive change in our world with and through the collection, visualization, use, and analysis of data sets (in the more traditional data science way of understanding data).

I’ve talked a lot today, so I want to try to draw things to a close now. and summarise a little bit of what I have talked about related to my research.

Really, engaging in my research (and particularly the PhD) the way I do and did means: working in true collaborations with non-academic partners, reflecting on my the work, data, and invisible labour throughout the projects in creative ways, and putting the research into a wider contexts and political systems. Researching in this way has made it possible for me to see values of research beyond academia without disregarding the importance of academic writing and academic discussions and discourse, even if they happen in the true sense of the meaning of ‘academic’ as being of no practical relevance.

Now, I want to share some concepts and questions with you that we can discuss after my talk. I have thought about some of these more than others, and have only really written about the third, in my upcoming book…but they are all ways in which I am trying to distill my way of working as an academic, not only as a researcher, and think about how I can enact proactive hope for a better academia as an ECR, now within this flawed system we currently have:

-Selfish reading. This is something I feel like I have been doing for a long time, but didn’t have a word for it. Of course my ability to read deeply and reflexively changes drastically – there are weeks and where I cannot read anything usefully, or where I hit a bit of a wall and nothing makes sense anymore. But there are also weeks where I get excited by a paper or book that is only very tangentially related to my research. It’s often when I end up reading these things, out of selfish interest or pleasure, that I learn more about my research projects and practice than when I read specifically for a reason. So I want to encourage you to read selfishly – and ask: What happens when you read things you actually care about rather than things you think you need to read? And what happens when you reflect on how they relate to your own work and the work of others while reading these things?

-Careful curiosity: of course curiosity is very important when working on a PhD or engaging in any kind of research project – and I distinctly remember saying I was a curious person when I interviewed for my PhD! But curiosity can also turn into voyeurism, especially when we work with communities that are in some way made marginal in society – when we study people and their interactions with technologies and data. So I want to advocate for a more careful curiosity and ask:What happens when we slow down in our research and carefully move towards alternative ways of knowing? And what happens to our research when we do it more carefully, treading slowly to try to genuinely, and deeply understand what is happening and why this is the case?

-Praxes of hope: I work with people who are marginalized, in settings that often feel hopeless when working in a political setting as we have – where cuts to social spending seem to constantly be made, directly and negatively impacting the people with whom I work. But working with partners who do proactive work, and also working to make academia a better place for people, especially early career researchers, makes me think about praxes of hope: What happens when we think of our research as playing a part in a wider praxis of hope towards better futures? And how would this way of thinking influence our methodologies to include elements of building, co-maintaining, and co-infrastructuring hopeful actions?

If we engage in selfish reading, careful curiosity and work to enact praxes of hope, we are almost forced to to shift how we think about research as a whole. So I want to now ask you the following question:

What happens in your research when you stop thinking about isolated contributions to knowledge and instead think about how you want to layer existing language and understanding? When you think about which conversations you want to be a part of? And what kinds of world(s) you want to contribute to?

‘Contemporary HCI’ a panel discussion

This week three UK Universities came together to host a HCI Summer Festival: HCID at City University London, Open Lab at Newcastle University, and NORTHLab at Northumbria University. This week started with a panel about ‘contemporary issues in HCI’. Touching on issues of inequality, structural injustice, and working towards more hopeful futures.

I was part of this panel with Prof Abi Durrant, Prof Alex Taylor, and Dr Reem Talhouk. And here’s my part of the conversation. During the panel, this should be read in conversation with the others’ comments, which built on one another. But I do not want to post their notes here. As always, I like to ad-lib a little bit when I speak, and it’s actually a bit strange for me to write out a script for what I was going to say, but I felt I needed to say some things that were difficult for me to say. So here is what I was supposed to read out about contemporary issues in HCI:

We’re at a time in HCI where we have moved towards at a time in HCI where we have moved towards doing research in-the-world, but where many areas of HCI research are also still engaging with traditional experiments.

We have people working on projects that aim to advance social justice ideals and are developing interdisciplinary ways of understanding technologies.

  • Postcolonial computing
  • Crit disability studies
  • Crit race studies
  • Different forms of feminism
  • And many more

But at the same time, we continue to see work that re-enforces the technologies and approaches some of us have been critiquing for years. We are not just the social justice HCI community, we are a wider community of disparate conversations that are at great odds with one another.

But HCI isn’t just about the research we produce and talk about. It’s about the universities in which we do this work, our research groups, and the wider ‘community’. It’s about who is, and who feels welcome in these spaces.

We can’t talk about ‘contemporary’ HCI without talking about recent discrimination experienced by the RACE Diversity and Inclusion team.

And we can’t talk about that as an isolated incident. The bravery of the authors of the blogpost cannot be understated, but we also have to ask ourselves, and I have to ask myself, what I have done, and continue to do to perpetuate this system. And then I must act on those reflections.  

This is not the first time people have spoken up about mistreatment and discrimination in relation to SIGCHI or the ACM. And it won’t be the last.

I know of papers that have received shocking reviews that discredit the work for years, to then receive best paper awards when the publication venues was ready.

Articles for a Crossroads Special Issue were heavily edited or forcefully removed by senior editors when they were deemed inappropriate. And it required the work of so many, building on anger, tears, and fear for their safety in response to an awful keynote in 2018 for people to come together to write an open letter that was read at the town hall meeting that year.

Fempower.tech and I were heavily involved with this letter and have been told that this played a part in the establishment of the inclusion teams, of which RACE is one. And now the teams that were born out of inequities and exclusion are themselves experiencing marginalisation. But this time perhaps this is even more harmful for those involved: before it could be explained away as indifference or ignorance but what are we going to do now?

We write so carefully about inclusion, inequities, and social justice in our researcher. We now must also live this way of working.

I want to read a segment from the 2018 open letter in response to the keynote, which seems incredibly relevant again two years later.

This discrimination is a “catalyst and symptom of wider issues in HCI and CHI that we have chosen to strategically avoid over the last few years. Yes, there have been campaigns, policies, and actions, but the fact that this happened, shows that inclusion is still a work in progress. […]

We need to learn to encounter, address, acknowledge, and constructively deal with these differences democratically and collectively, rather than relying on top-down decision-making consensus. […]

This letter is a call for social change that is complex, and nuanced, and necessary. Something we have to work on together, and something that is an ongoing conversation about intersectional inclusivity of varied experiences across ACM membership.

We need to stop the self-congratulation about being the ‘best’ conference in relation to diversity and inclusion in the ACM, as this gives the false impression that the job is done. Instead, we must celebrate our small victories and simultaneously work towards becoming a better, more welcoming and retaining, space for the most marginalised in our SIGCHI community.”

The fact we are having these conversations is a step in the right direction, but they are little steps, often difficult and potentially hurtful steps, but they are steps that we must continue to take.

Sewing Through The Pandemic

Changing Lives women’s services and I have worked together on a number of projects over the last five years. These include The Partnership Quilt and The Red Umbrella Archive, but also include some writing projects such as the reports and academic papers that accompany those projects, as well as some forthcoming work related to our overall relationship.

Earlier this year, we started working on a new project: I was invited to explore the meaning craft activities have for staff and the women they support in their drop-in and group-work services. We were going to work on these through embroidery workshops and interviews, which would then be turned into an interactive exhibition. We even already had our exhibition venue sorted, as we were going to combine it with their ongoing ‘Forever in Bloom’ project led by a paper artist and one of their domestic violence services workers.

Since the UK went into lockdown about 6 weeks ago though, we paused this project. Instead, we have been working on a new idea: the Sewing Through the Pandemic project. This is a project where we invite women across the different services Changing Lives provide (eg. housing, domestic violence, criminal justice support, etc.) to sew a page of a collective diary. Together, we would develop an embroidered, collaborative, and mindful diary of the covid-19 pandemic.

As part of a regular welfare check, case workers would be able to take a toolkit to create one page of this stitched diary to a woman to complete. The purpose of this activity, is to allow us to name our emotions, engage in mindfulness practice, and build hope together.

Each pack contains: a square piece of white fabric, an embroidery needle, thread in 7 colours, and instructions. Each colour represents a different feeling or emotion. For example, yellow means ‘I feel happy and excited’ while grey means ‘I feel tired and grey’.

Every day, the women are invited to stitch a few stitches in the colour that best represents the feelings on that particular day, creating a stitched diary day by day. The women are aware that others are also working on their own pieces of fabric, and that we will come together when it is safe to do so to see each others’ work.

Throughout the time of social distancing, self isolation, and the lockdown, we will use this activity as a way of staying in touch asynchroneously; as a way to be in touch without talking to one another.

When it is safe to do so, we will host a series of events where women can come together to talk about their experiences, show their work to one another, and to turn the individual squares into a banner, quilt, or stitched notebook.

I have created a video explaining how to create the toolkit, and include a list of materials (including links of where to get them) below:

Remember, if the items on my list are sold out, any other brand or online shop will do as long as you’ve got some white fabric and the right colours of embroidery thread!

If you don’t know where to start with the embroidery or are looking to learn some new stitches, the “Cutesy Craft” YouTubve channel has a series of different stitches, which they have collected in a playing list: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThrKhhlaolA&list=PLVpHtgzOMJ6RHIFMboFAqerCQJI_I9DQ- (though video 2 in the list would probably be a bit much as it includes pattern transfer, which the women won’t need to do). The actual stitch videos are all very short, detailed, and well-explained, though

Getting Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy…it’s a process

I’ve not blogged for a while…and there have been quite a few changes since I last wrote a post. So this will be my semi-regular attempt to get back into the blogging, which will inevitably end with me just stopping. But I’m trying something slightly new. I want to write a series of blog posts on the process I’m goinig on over the next 18 months to get Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy. I need to get this to pass my probation as a lectuer, but it’s also something that I am actually quite interested in doing – maybe not so much the actual title (FHEA), but more so the opportunity to learn about how to teach in the Higher Education sector. I feel like erverything I’ve been teaching so far has been based on my experiences and learning of my undergrad degree in Primary School Education. This can be useful, but also 18+ year old students probably need slightly different skills and ways of being taught than 5-13 year old kids!

In my current job, I’m able to take part in the PGCAP course, which is an 18 month, 3-module part time degree that will result in me having a PGDiploma (I think?) and hopefully also the FHEA. So far it seems like a lot of bureaucracy (lots of paper filling for the sake of paper filling), but we also have a 2h session every Wednesday where a very enthusiastic and caring man is giving us some tips about how to teach but also providing us with some theoretical backing for lots of different teaching and learning styles.

It’s been really interesting to get back into pedagogy and to think again more deeply about what I am teaching, how I am teaching it, and why I am teaching it in this way! For the first couple of weeks, I’m going to try to focus on improving diversity and inclusion in my teaching. I started this over the summer when I added a few different readings to the (very small) reading list on the design brief for students that are maybe a little bit out of designers’ comfort zones, but that are so important! I added Alex Ahmed’s ACM Interactions Viewpoint titled ‘Beyond Diversity’ (https://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=3225621) and Joyojeet Pal’s alt.chi paper ‘CHI4Good or Good4CHI’ (https://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=3052766). I think both of these raise really important issues, particularly for a module where students are supposed to think about critical design, design fictions, and the societal implications of design.

On top of the reading list though, I’m trying to cover a diversity of topics, that I hope will relate to different students (and I’m asking students what ‘trends and futures’ they’d like to cover as part of the module!). I’m also trying to cover these topics in diverse ways, to facilitate learning for students in different ways – group work, solitary work, research, design, sketching, ideation, etc. again in an attempt to meet students where they are – to develop existing skills but also perhaps sometimes providing them with something slightly new that they maybe havn’t encountered so far.

So, I’ve not said much in this post, but here’s what I’m trying to say: I’m going to use this PGCAP course as an excuse to try to write some blog posts again. They’re going to focus on my teaching, reflections on what has worked and what hasn’t, perhaps some case studies of activities I’ve done with the students, and an analysis of some of my teaching materials.

I’m not going to say whether this series will be weekly or monthly, it’ll probably be when I have time and energy to do this. But I’m hoping writing reflexively throughout the semester (and really the 18 months) will help me develop my teaching in different ways. Maybe it’ll also help me with the assignment(s) I have to submit as part of the PGCAP, but hopefully it’ll also lead to some conversations about learning and teaching in Higher Education (particularly in design eduation) on social media. So here goes.

Design For Good – on why we need to consider what we actually mean with ‘good’

I’ve been invited to present some of my work at the HCID Open Day 2019. This is a day organised by the Human Computer Interaction and Design research group at City University, London and this year’s theme is ‘Design For Good’. The programme looks amazing, and I’m very honoured to have been invited to share my thoughts on the topic alongside so many people I really admire.

In an attempt to share my work a little more widely, and to try to be a little more accessible with my presentation, you can have download my slides by clicking here: HCID2019-strohmayer

In my talk, I will go through some of my learning around ‘design for good’ from designing with and for charities over the last 5 years. I also take into account my experiences of volunteering with charities for years before then, and then go into detail of what ‘design for good’ means when we are designing in socially and legally complex spaces – where not everyone agrees what ‘good’ is. I use the framework of ‘Justice-Oriented Ecologies’ which I developed as part of my PhD (you can read more about it in a book chapter I wrote), to bring some theoretical framing to my discussion. At the end of the presentation, I provide some questions that I hope will help people reflect about what and whom the ‘good’ they are designing for represents.

Here’s the abstract I wrote for the organisers of the day, when they asked me to provide one. I hope my talk covers everything I promised, and I’d love to chat with you if you have thoughts on my slides or the abstract! The abstract:

“In this talk I discuss the work I have carried out with Third Sector Organisations to design, develop, or appropriate digital technologies into their service delivery. Together, we reflected on their current use of digital technologies as well as the development of novel approaches to integrating exploratory and mundane technologies into existing service delivery. Learning from my collaborators and the communities they support, I will address issues related to justice, particularly when working with stigmatised or criminalised communities. I will discuss some of the lessons I have learned about justice-oriented technologies along the way to provide insights and considerations for researchers and designers wanting to ‘design for good’ with Third Sector Organisations.”

You can find out more about the day, and have a look at the awesome lineup of speakers, here: https://hcidopenday.co.uk/

CHI2019

It’s that time of year again where lots of people prepare their presentations for the annual ACM conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems – the CHI conference.

This year, I’m presenting a paper titled ‘Technologies for Social Justice: Lessons from Sex Workers at the Front line’ that I co-authored with Jenn Clamen from Stella, l’amie de Maimie (a sex worker rights organisation in Montréal, Canada) and Mary Laing from Northumbria University. You can read the pre-print of the paper here: https://tinyurl.com/StellaPaper and can also have a look at the visual, non-academic report we created based on the project here: https://tinyurl.com/StellaTechReport

If you want to come to my session but want to see the slides on your own laptop rather than the screen at the front, you can download them here: StellaSlidesColours

If you’d rather have them simplified with yellow text on black background (incl. image descriptions), you can have a look at my slides in that colour-combination and format here: StellaSlides-yellowblack

I am presenting in the ‘Social Justice’ session on Monday the 6th of May 2019 in the 11:00-12:20 session (I’m the second paper!) in Hall 2. The amazing Michael Muller is chairing the session and the other papers also look really great! 

I also co-authored a paper with the fabulous Rosanna Bellini which she just so happens to be presenting in the same session as me! Right before me! Both papers received Honourable Mention awards, which is also very exciting.

I got a permanent academic job!

I’ve been really quiet on here lately, and have also been struggling to tell people about my post-PhD job life in general. So let me quell some rumours that seem to be going around about whether I am moving back to Newcastle, when I am moving back to Newcastle, and what I am moving back to Newcastle for!

In September 2019 I will be starting as a Lecturer in Communication Design at Northumbria University! It’s a full time, permanent position in what my mum calls my ‘dream university’ as I haven’t shut up about how great so many of the people who work there are for the last 3 or 4 years. There are still a couple of things that need to be ironed out, but I am absolutely delighted to be starting in a School and Department with so many caring, friendly, welcoming, smart, and thoughtful people.

But how did I even get here??

Before submitting my dissertation, I started working at Swansea University as a Research Officer – a weird role that I still don’t fully understand. I managed to land the job last summer in early June and started working down in Swansea in August 2018. Since it is a one-year fix term contract though, I never really stopped looking for jobs. It’s fantastic that I managed to snag a post-PhD job even before submitting my PhD, but the job wasn’t really what I wanted, and I was still trying to find a permanent position that I felt qualified for and that really fit what it was I was wanting to do.

So in October 2018, I was sitting on my sofa with my boyfriend sharing some of the frustrations I was having with fixed term contracts, precarity in academia as an ECR, and having to essentially live between two UK cities that are at opposite ends of the country (Swansea and Newcastle). Being the fabulous person he is, he listened to me attentively and built me up, and emphasised that our current long-distance situation was only temporary (I guess, thanks to the fixed term contract?). He opened a laptop and we started setting up job alerts for lots of Universities in the North East.

While we were setting up the notifications, and because I am an incredibly nosy person, I decided to have a look at Northumbria University’s current job listings. And there it was. An open position for a Lecturer/Senior Lecturer in Communication Design.

As far as I remember, this was a Wednesday and the deadline for the job was that Friday. Remembering back at the application I wrote for my current job and other jobs I had applied for simultaneously, I sighed when I saw the job after showing C; lamenting the fact I wouldn’t be able to put nearly enough work into the application to even be considered for an interview. It being an application for either a lecturer or senior lecturer position definitely contributed to my imposter syndrome in this particular instance! And besides, there was no point in me applying anyway as they’d surely pick someone with more experience than me, with a better funding and publication track record, or at least someone who had completed their PhD!

C, not being in academia, said that my thinking was nonsense and that I should apply anyway. It didn’t matter. If I didn’t apply I wasn’t going to get the interview, and if I did apply and didn’t get an interview at least I’d tried and practiced writing an application. He then also asked me the dreaded: what would a white, middle class, straight, white man do?

He was right.

So I started working on my application and had a draft of the whole thing done that evening. The next day I looked over it again, agonising over the language I used and making sure I really tailored my experience to the job description; using similar language to what they used and really studying the departments’ research and figuring out how my own research aligns with and builds on it.

I had an application ready to go within two days. We sent it off the next day and celebrated. A week went by and I didn’t hear back. And then a month passed. Then it was Christmas and New Years, and I still hadn’t heard anything. I just assumed I hadn’t made the cut. I was a little sad, but moved on and went looking for other ways I could move back to Newcastle and join this University. I was determined.

On the 22nd of February, though, I heard back! It seemed like a joke when I read the e-mail from HR inviting me to an interview the following Friday as I hadn’t heard anything from them since submitting my application in October the previous year (not even a confirmatory e-mail that my application had been received!). After getting over the initial disbelief and shock, I began to thoroughly prepare for my interview, bought myself a new shirt to wear with the one suit I own, booked some Annual Leave and my transport to Newcastle, and off I went! (I might write a post about all the prep. I did in the week running up to the interview and the work involved in having to negotiate going to a job interview half-way across the country another time – and I fully understand it was complicated enough for me to do this without having to figure out childcare!!)

I won’t go into detail of the interview process – it was very long, quite intimidating, but overall very interesting – except to say that I got a phone call the same evening, informally offering me the job. I didn’t know how to respond on the phone and just went quiet after saying thank you. The following week was filled with phone calls with some people I knew at the University as well as one of my supervisors to help me out with the negotiation process, everyone giving me slightly different bits of advice. Trying to navigate all the advice was difficult and confusing. I had never negotiated for a job before, and had never been confronted with the idea of actually having a permanent post in academia. I listened, thought a lot, wrote lots of notes, and also sent a few emails.

A couple of days later, I talked with the Head of School to ask a few questions before receiving an e-mail from HR with the formal offer for the job a couple of days later. It felt like it simultaneously happened at the same time while taking forever – it made little sense and I’m not sure quite how coherent I was in all these phone calls.

I was incredibly excited, but I also felt like I couldn’t really tell a lot of people about this fantastic development in my career until I had it all in writing. Until I had a contract. It wasn’t until March that I received my employment information from HR, and a a day later after reading through all the documents, I accepted the job. It’s happening. I got a permanent academic position.

Hosting a Workshop: Building a CV and Making Impact with Your Work

As part of my role as Research Officer at Swansea University, I’ve been asked to lead a workshop at the Sex Work Research Hub Postgraduate Research Conference 2019. I immediately said yes to the opportunity because I really want to support this conference. I presented at it twice (in 2017 and in 2018) and now feel able to help out those PhD and Master’s students who are where I was back in 2017.

I’m not entirely finished yet with my PhD, but I’ve managed to get myself a job after my funding ran out…and I’m in the middle of trying to find and apply for jobs for once my current fixed-term contract runs out in August. Given this, I think I’ve got some tips to give to people about CVs, and given that my current role is very ‘research impact’ focused, I feel I can say a few things about this as well. What’s quite nice about doing this workshop though is that I am also still a PhD student. This means I know about some of the barriers and benefits we have as PhD students in relation to having impact with our work, and I know what it is like to have to build a CV for a variety of different jobs for after your PhD.

With this workshop, I hope to encourage PhD students to think a little bit about what it is they want out of their CV and research, and to reflexively address some concerns and opportunities they may have. To do this, the workshop will be discursive, will involve lots of small group work, and will be a chance for all of us to learn from one another. I’ve been to a fair amount of postgraduate seminars where they try to tell you what impact is, and about how you have to do a billion different things to have a decent CV – I hope that this workshop will be different. Instead of telling students they need to work 60h a week to be able to pass their PhD in time (yes, I was actually told this by an academic once at an introduction to the PhD dissertation course attended mostly by 1st and 2nd year PhD students! It made me so so angry!)

But well, instead of doing that, I want to encourage people to think more carefully about the opportunities they say ‘yes’ to, and to not be afraid to say ‘no’. The academic job market is (very) competitive and you do need to go above and beyond to be part of that competition, but at the same time there’s not much you can do if you’re entirely burned out after your PhD. So take time, reflect on what you want out of your PhD, reflect on what you want out of the decisions you make to organise events or publish papers during your PhD, and then make an informed decision based on what you want to spend your time on – and this is coming from someone who did way too much during their PhD and really lost sight of what was important (mental health and balance) at the end of her first and beginning of her second year!

Enough about me though.

I’m not going to go into the details of what I’ll address on here, but for those who want to prepare for the workshop or who may have language or other accessibility needs for slide decks, you can download my slides here: CV+ImpactPresentation. I warn you though, I make a lot of use of phdcomics.com, fempower.tech #CHIversity zine pages, and a few other comic strips.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions about my slides. I tend to not put a lot of text on slides, so these might not make too much sense if you don’t attend the workshop. Please do let me know if you have any questions though, and I’ll try to get back to you with as much detail as possible! I’m probably best reached on Tiwtter @tripsandflips_

The Red Umbrella Archive

December 17th marks the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Historically, on this day sex workers carry red umbrellas and march through the streets of large cities to fight for their rights, reduce stigma, and to make their presence visible in a city. In 2016 Changing Lives organised the first of these marches in Newcastle upon Tyne.We joined sex workers, support workers, police, and other supporters on this march as well as the remembrance service that took place afterwards. Through ethno-mimesis, we recorded our experiences of the march and subsequent service, focusing on the use of digital technologies. Between the march and the service, we also encouraged attendants to partake in our ‘red umbrellas’ activity. Here we used the open source JigsAudio tool to begin to craft a living activist archive of Newcastle’s experiences on the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

With this activity, we have supported Changing Lives service delivery, while simultaneously developing a digital archive of sex worker voices. To our knowledge, this is the first time that experiences of those marching to end violence against sex workers are archived in this format. We archive the voices in a hybrid craft where playful crafting is mixed with tangible technologies to develop a space where the archive is manifested not only through the digital audio recording of voices, but also through the tangible crafted artefact.

The Partnership Quilt

The Partnership Quilt is a collaboration between Changing Lives, Six Penny Memories, and Open Lab at Newcastle University. It started out as an activity for clients of the Girls and Proud project in Changing Lives to do during the Northumberland drop-in sessions organised by Kirsty, but quickly turned into something bigger – clients began sewing at home, while waiting for appointments, or even in the bath! As Kim and Debbie from Six Penny Memories became involved in the project the individual pieces came together and were shaped into a well-balanced quilt. While this quilt by itself is something all those who put a stitch in it can be proud of, the addition of the secondary quilt is what makes this a truly special project. Angelika and Janis from Open Lab used do-it-yourself, flexible, and low-cost technologies to turn the soft and colourful quilt into a living archive of stories and experiences of Changing Lives service delivery in the North East of England. The addition of quilted capacitive touch sensors turns this traditional craft artefact into a contemporary piece of interactive art: by touching some of the rosettes on the quilt a voice is activated to tell a part of the story that lies in the folds and seams of the quilt.

The materials we used allow us not only to continue to share the story of the quilt, but they allow Changing Lives staff to curate the audio recordings and easily exchange the voices that are shared through the quilt. Like this, it can be used for exhibitions, staff training, or focused one-on-one reflection.