Student Journalist Alina caught up with Professor Gudrun Moore to hear the story behind Talking to Titans - the recently launched UCL Minds podcast series featuring inspiring UCL women - as well as advice for women at the beginning of their careers.
There are many different ways to celebrate International Women’s Day. Some people buy flowers for women who are important to them, some donate to women’s charities; others write heartfelt messages on social media.
There is no right or wrong way to do it, but some gestures are definitely more powerful than others and it is to this category that Gudrun Moore’s project belongs to. Professor of Molecular Genetics at UCL’s Institute of Child Health, Gudrun is the creator and co-host, along with Cathy Giangrande, of Talking to Titans, a podcast series by women and about women in academia which launched in occasion of International Women’s Week 2020.
The idea for the series, of which each episode features a different female member of the UCL senior team, came to Gudrun back in September 2019, as she was remembering the inspiring speeches that women had given at an event organized by the Institute of Child Health for International Women’s Day. "These brilliant women came and talked to an audience of 40 or so - they got huge applause and then left - and I thought ’what a pity not to record them’", she tells me.
In fact, each episode of the series features one of seven senior UCL women, whose stories about their impressive careers are a joy to listen to. But what struck me most as I binged episode after episode, were the complexities of these women’s personal lives as well as their professional ones. When I told Gudrun about this she was thrilled.
"We must not get complacent about the gender pay gap and also the numbers of women particularly at the top, so we wanted the series to highlight these issues’, she says, ’but what I really wanted to show is that, yes, these women are amazing and inspiring, but they are also human and life isn’t always a straight path to where you want to be. There will be twists and turns along the way and what is most remarkable about these women is that they didn’t take these bumps in the road as failure, instead they found a way around them. They may not have ended up where they initially thought they would, but they made it work and gained a wealth of knowledge and wisdom along the way."
On the topic of wisdom, Gudrun and Cathy talk a great deal about friendship and professional mentorship between women on the podcast. When I ask why she thinks it so important to cultivate relationships with other professional women, Gudrun says "you need friends who understand your working and home stresses and achievements, to laugh and cry with, to sound out ideas with, to keep you sane..."
From my own experience as a student and young professional, I understand the value of finding someone you can relate to and knowing that someone else is going through the same struggles. So it feels natural to ask Gudrun if there are any stories on the podcast she relates to, as an academic herself.
"Oh yes many", she says, "I waited to have my children until I could have paid maternity leave. I had to negotiate my salary up. I don’t know anyone in my age group (60+) who hasn’t experienced sexual harassment in the work place. Belittlement by senior people both male and female in committee meetings; token women on committees when no one really cares what you think; being passed over for promotion unless you shout out; imposter syndrome; poor mental health support; it goes on..."
Now that she’s been thorough all this and come out the other side, Gudrun is happy to share advice with women and men at the beginning of their careers.
"Go for it! Find allies, talk to people who are already in you field of interest. Get all the training - try an internship just to try it out - you may hate it, so allow yourself to change your mind. And allow for life to happen.
Believe in your own abilities and that you can do the job. Ask if you will get a mentor/buddy in work training. Ask about maternity cover, wellbeing and agile working. And don’t be afraid to ask for help, even if it can be intimidating."
"That’s another thing that I wanted to show in interviewing these women, they are more than these intimidating titles they have achieved, they are human and their humanity allows them to practice a completely new type of leadership. Look at Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand Prime Minister and the way she reacts to tragic events in her country - totally with her heart and her emotions - it brings the country together when these awful things happen rather than the usual ’we can do this, we are strong’ rhetoric."
This kind of strength that comes from the courage to be vulnerable and genuine is something that, coming from a matriarchal family, I was familiar with, and of which I was reminded of with each episode of Talking to Titans.
I ask Gudrun what she hopes people will take away from this podcast. "Hope, inspiration and kindness", she says, and these are the words she leaves me with, not before hinting at a return of the podcast next year. "If all your readers listen in, I am sure the new Provost might fund series 2?", she teases. "Perhaps we will focus on Early Career Staff next year."
So, what are you waiting for? Stream the podcast series now.