When reading recently about the history of women academics at my institution, the University of Glasgow, I was shocked to discover there were only five women Professors in the University in 1990.

This was the year I began my own postgraduate studies in science, society and ethics, without daring to imagine that I myself might ever be a Professor let alone a member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.

Like many academics who are the first in the family to go to University, I still struggle with the occasional pang of imposter syndrome, even although things have moved on considerably since the 1990s. I don’t mind admitting I had to be encouraged to apply for the Council and doubt I would have applied on my own initiative. I approached the interview process with trepidation and worried I did not have the right background or expertise on bioethics. I distinctly remember fretting over whether or not I would be seen as someone who knew how to properly deliberate about contemporary bioethical challenges on the train down to the interview.

Thankfully I joined a Council Executive, Membership and Trustees who had been working to broaden the membership, contributors and audiences for their inquiries and reports for some time and I have been fortunate to be able to take part in some careful and open discussions about how much more work there is to be done to make the Council a place where more people feel they belong. Like many organisations, the Council is grappling with how the legacies of colonialism and other concentrations of power and wealth affect our work as we negotiate our place in ongoing cultural and political debates about expertise, accountability and public trust.

There is no easy solution to this, but we are trying to make progress. We know we need to do more to involve under-represented groups in our work, especially black, disabled, trans and queer scholars, advocates and other kinds of experts - as members of the Council and as part of working groups and other initiatives.

Our latest advert for new members is here. This time around we are looking for people with a background in philosophy. As we note in our advert:

‘We value diversity and are keen to encourage applications from all sections of the community including those from groups that are currently under-represented on the Council. We particularly encourage applications from minority ethnic candidates, those who are LGBTQ+, or who have a disability.’

Please consider joining us and help us to make the Council a place where all different kinds of perspectives and experiences of bioethics belong.

Comments (1)

  • Francis P. Crawley   

    Anne, thank you for this beautiful reflection on the evolution of our institutions of higher education and science regarding the needs they must address today. This belongs well within the framework of how The Nuffield Council should be viewing its membership as well as its overall role in society. During my studies at the Institute of Philosophy here in Leuven, Belgium, all my professors were women and all were Flemish, with the exception of one from The Netherlands and one from Switzerland. Teaching was ex cathedra and examinations based on rote memory of what the professor said. During the five years I was responsible for the international BA, MA, and PhD programmes in philosophy, I still faced challenges to integrate the foreign students into a faculty often coloured by national and linguistic adherences. I introduced the Socratic method into teaching in order to create a more open and inclusive environment. These are uneasy frameworks, particularly in a context of historical colonialism, however they need to be addressed and remedied. One hopes that in this next appointment of a philosophy to The Nuffield Council as well as in future appointments, there will be the courage to redress these shortcomings that hinder the development of science, ethics, and global health.

    • Anne Kerr   

      Thank you Francis, this is really important work you're doing and it is great to have your support

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