Monthly Archives: October 2017

Can #WomenEd break the education system?


Have you ever wondered which UK universities were ranked as being more female friendly as an employer? The Athena SWAN Charter gives recognition and provides such ranking information in the form of their Gold, Silver and Bronze Awards (see for more info).

It crossed my mind therefore that the #WomenEd community may wish to vote with their feet in support of these universities, both in terms of seeking them out as a potential employer if working in HE, or purely to endorse them with your presence as a student on the various Educational teaching courses provided.

Below, I’ve listed the silver award universities first, with a focus on those delivering university level courses on education. I’ve then listed the remainder of the silver award winners that didn’t seem to offer education. Finally, I’ve listed all bronze award universities, but did not seek out any education specific course information from those (please feel free to do so yourself).

Wouldn’t it be great if the #WomenEd community were able to break the current university ranking system by shifting our attention purely to those institutions who were treating women really well in the workplace? It’s food for thought. Females do very well in education generally, but then lose out in the workplace and at senior level representation. Maybe this is another way we could start to command more attention.

My lists below only include UK institutions, see for other country and other establishment lists. Also, some departments within other universities have Athena SWAN awards, while their university as a whole does not – please see for more details.


Universities with the Athena Swan Silver Award



Imperial College  Edu courses: university level teaching and learning PG cert/dip or Med



Newcastle University


Teachers can book a visit from graduate ambassadors for different subject disciplines


Education specific undergrad courses:

Education BA Honours (X390)

Humanities and Social Sciences International Foundation


Education specific postgrad courses:

Education (Clinical) MPhil, PhD

Education and Communication Integrated PhD

Education Doctor of (EdD)

Education MPhil, PhD

Education Research MA

Education: International Perspectives (Development and Education) MA

Education: International Perspectives (Leadership and Management) MA

Education: International Perspectives (Teaching and Learning) MA

Education: International Perspectives (Technology in Education) MA

Educational and Applied Linguistics Integrated PhD

Educational Leadership PGCert

Educational Research and Innovation PGCert


Education CPD other courses


Leadership Programmes, Personalised (Accreditation optional)

Team Leaders Programme (Accredited by CMI)

Education (Clinical)Clinical Education, MClinEd, PGDip, PGCert (60-180 credits)

Queen Mary, University of London


Medical Education (Intercalated) BSC (Intercal)

Education for Clinical Contexts PGCert

Education for Clinical Contexts MA


Queen’s University Belfast


Postgrad Education Courses

Doctorate in Education (EdD)

Clinical Education MSc

Educational Studies Med

Education: Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE)

Educational Leadership MSc

Inclusion and Special Needs Education Med

Educational, Child and Adolescent Psychology (DECAP – Doctorate)

Children’s Rights MSc

Applied Behaviour Analysis MSc


University College London


Education Studies BA

Psychology with Education BA/BSc

Postgrad taught courses:

Digital Technologies in Education


Education: Art, Design and Museology

Education: Early Years and Primary

Education: English

Education: Higher and Professional

Education: Humanities

Education: Learning, Teaching and Assessment

Education: Music

Education: Science, Mathematics and Geography

Educational Leadership and Management

Psychology and Special Educational Needs

Teacher Training

Postgrad research programmes:

Education EdD , EdD, PT

Education MPhil/PhD , MPhil/PhD, FT, PT

Education (Online) MPhil/PhD , MPhil/PhD, FT, PT

Education, Practice and Society MPhil/PhD , MPhil/PhD, FT, PT

Educational and Child Psychology DEdPsy , DEdPsy, FT

Educational Psychology DEdPsy , DEdPsy, PT

Educational Psychology (Professional Educational, Child and Adolescent Psychology) , ,


University of Cambridge



Education, Psychology and Learning

Education, Policy and International Development

Education, English, Drama and the Arts


PGCE Study : Faculty of Education

Graduate Study: PGCE Progression to MEd : Faculty of Education

Education (Educational Research) MPhil

Education (Globalisation and International Development) MPhil

Education EdD

Education (Educational Leadership and School Improvement) MPhil

Education (Psychology and Education) MPhil

Plus many other options


University of Edinburgh


Childhood Practice BA

Community Education BA

Physical Education MA

Primary Education with Gaelic MA

Clinical Education PhD (or online distance learning MSc, PgCert, PgDip)

Dance Science & Education MSc, PgDip

Digital Education (Online Distance Learning) MSc, PgDip, PgCert

Education MSc, PhD, MPhil

Inclusive Education MSc, PgDip, PgCert

Language Teaching MSc, PgDip

Learning for Sustainability MSc, PgDip, PgCert

Outdoor Education MSc, PgDip, PGCert

Outdoor Environmental & Sustainability Education MSc, PgDip, PgCert

PGDE (Primary/Secondary)

Transformative Learning and Teaching MSc


University of Liverpool

Doctor of Education | EDD Programs | University of Liverpool Online

Medical Education PGCert/PGDip/MSc – Overview – Postgraduate Taught Courses

Overview – Medical Education MPhil/PhD/MD – Institute of Psychology Health and Society

Plus other courses


University of

Education Marts

Education BA


University of Sheffield


Education, Culture and Childhood  –  BA

Education – MA

Education, Applied Professional Studies in – MA

Education, Early Childhood – MA (distance learning)

Education, Early Childhood (Malta) – MA (School of Education website)

Education, Globalising: Policy and Practice – MA

Education, Postgraduate Certificate in (PGCE) – see Education, Postgraduate Diploma in (PGDE)

Education, International Postgraduate Certificate in (iPGCE) (online course)

Education, Postgraduate Diploma in (PGDE)

Education, Psychology and – MA

Education, Psychology and – MSc (conversion course)

Educational and Child Psychology, Doctor of

Educational Studies – EdD (School of Education website)

University of Southampton

BSc (Hons) Education

BSc (Hons) Education and Psychology

MSc Education

MSc Education Management and Leadership

MSc Education online

MSc Education Practice and Innovation

PGCE Physical Education

PhD (Integrated) in Education (4 years)

PhD Education (3 years)


University of Warwick


Education Studies (Full-Time, 2018 Entry)Psychology with Education Studies (Full-Time)

Education Studies (Full-time)


Religions and Education – MA, PGCert

Religions, Society and Education (Islamic Education) – MA

Centre for Education Studies

Psychology and Education – MA

Foundation Research Methods in Education – PGA

Drama and Theatre Education – MA

Postgraduate Diploma in Education (FE and Skills) – PGDip

Global Education and International Development MA

Religions, Society and Learning (Christian Education) MA

Career Education, Information and Guidance in HE – PGCert, MA, PGDip

Drama Education and English Language Training – MA

ELT with a Specialism in Teacher Education MA

Professional Education – MA

Challenges of Careers Work in Higher Education – PGA

Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE)

Educational Studies MA

Educational Innovation MA

Centre for Educational Development, Appraisal and Research (CEDAR) – research courses

Educational Leadership & Management MA

Plus more


Athena Swan Silver Award University Providers, non education teaching / research specific:


Babraham Institute –


Institute of Cancer Research –


John Innes Centre –



Universities with the Athena Swan Bronze Award

Abertay University

Aberystwyth University

Anglia Ruskin University

Aston University

Bangor University

Birkbeck, University of London

Birmingham City University

Bournemouth University

British Antarctic Survey

British Geological Survey

Brunel University London

Canterbury Christ Church University

Cardiff Metropolitan University

Cardiff University

Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Coventry University

Cranfield University

De Montfort University

Diamond Light Source

Durham University

The Earlham Institute

Edge Hill University

Edinburgh Napier University

Glasgow Caledonian University

Heriot-Watt University

James Hutton Institute

Keele University

King’s College London

Kingston University

Lancaster University

Liverpool John Moores University

Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Loughborough University

Manchester Metropolitan University

MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit

MRC Toxicology Unity

Northumbria University

Open University

Oxford Brookes University

Pirbright Institute

Plymouth University

Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh

Rothamsted Research

Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh

Royal Holloway

Sheffield Hallam University

SOAS, University of London

St George’s, University of London

Swansea University

Ulster University

United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority

University of Aberdeen

University of Bath

University of Birmingham

University of Bradford

University of Brighton

University of Bristol

University of Central Lancashire

University of Chester

University of Dundee

University of East Anglia

University of Essex

University of Exeter

University of Glasgow

University of Greenwich

University of Hertfordshire

University of Huddersfield

University of Hull

University of Kent

University of Leeds

University of Leicester

University of Lincoln

University of Manchester

University of Oxford

University of Portsmouth

University of Reading

University of Salford

University of South Wales

University of St Andrews

University of Stirling

University of Strathclyde

University of Sunderland

University of Surrey

University of Sussex

University of the Highlands and Islands

University of the West of England, Bristol

University of the West of Scotland

University of Westminster

University of Winchester

University of Wolverhampton

University of York

Wellcome trust Sanger Institute

Buckinghamshire (Bucks) New University

City, University of London


The Francis Crick Institute

Goldsmiths, University of London

Institute of Food Research

Leeds Beckett University

Liverpool Hope University

London School of Economics and Political Science

London South Bank University

Met Office

Middlesex University

Moredun Research Institute

MRC Harwell

MRC Institute of Hearing Research

National Oceanography Centre

Natural History Museum

Nottingham Trent University

Robert Gordon University

Royal Veterinary College

The Sainsbury Laboratory

Science and Technology Facilities Council

Scotland’s Rural College

SKA Organisation

Staffordshire University

Teeside University

University of Bedfordshire

University of Bolton

University of Cumbria

University of Derby

University of East London

University of Northampton

University of Roehampton

University of Worcester

Zoological Society of London


The Importance of Having a Narrative: What’s Your Narrative?


“I don’t have a narrative at the moment – I feel lost”, said one UK SLT member who had landed herself in a job in a school and team which didn’t fit her values at all. “I’ve got to get my narrative right, then I’ll be fine.” She moved on and seems happier now, but not quite as strong as she used to be before she ‘lost’ her narrative. At least it seems that way to me. Before that she was in a school she loved, with values that matched her own, and a head she loved too. But then things changed, as sadly they can. She wanted a career move, the next rung on the ladder. So, she took the leap. It wasn’t the right move for her due to mismatching values, which can happen to anyone. And then she had to start from scratch with her narrative again.

Having a narrative made her feel strong, and it was perhaps the seat of her strength. Not having a narrative made her feel weak. Having a narrative rooted her firmly and gave her security. Being in the right place, with matching values allowed her to flourish.

My PhD, years ago, focused on the use of diaries to help managers learn and make sense (sense-making) in their day to day working lives. The act of writing a diary, as with a reflective log, got people engaged in articulating a narrative. Reflecting, articulating thoughts, reifies the self and makes you stronger. Each time you write from the ‘I’ you are defining and redefining yourself, reinforcing your own identity and making your own presence in the world stronger.

Connecting this process with knowing what values are important to you, and then being able to align that self-knowledge with the values of work and/or a workplace is very powerful. Continually expounding your narrative (your story) to yourself is also an act of invention and reinvention. Creation and recreation – a key survival tool in life in a world of constant change and instability. 

But, does your narrative always have to be public? Is it always for public consumption? The Johari Window, as with the Japanese 3 face theory, reminds us that we share only part of our narrative with the world, perhaps a little more and different shades of another narrative with personal friends and family, and then keep a larger narrative private for ourselves. It’s true that some people can benefit from hearing your public narrative, but I don’t believe you have to tell them everything. If you do share all, it’s like Samson telling Delilah that his strength came from his hair, and then while he slept she cut it off. Unfortunately, we can’t rule out that we live in a competitive world, so I don’t advocate telling everyone the full narrative all the time. You don’t have to. But it is your choice.

Some people seem to find it empowering to share everything. Some people feel strengthened by keeping it in. Te impsum nosce: know yourself. You’ve got to figure out what’s right for you.

At any rate, there IS power in developing and reflecting on your narrative often. That personal dialogue is essential. Some people bang on about ‘knowing your why’ – I guess that might be another way of putting it (fusing values with personal narrative and intent, with a view to developing bigger, soulful purpose). But you don’t have to share it all the time, do you? What do you think?

The Power of Criticality: Are you using your critical power?


So you’ve been told to be more critical but you aren’t sure what that means. Maybe your approach has revealed a tendency to just blindly accept sources, ideas, theories and models. Maybe you have just been summarizing what others have said, or been purely descriptive of theories and models. This won’t allow you to make insightful interpretation though, and will restrict how evaluative and innovative you might be in your own work.

In academic writing, and in many other domains, you may need to engage in critical reviewing, usually with a view to identifying areas for improvement or further innovation, research and development. So where do you start? Below are some question prompts and ideas to get you going…

First of all: Who is the author? What’s their background? What’s their frame of reference? I.e. where are they coming from academically? Do they have an established reputation in their field? Are they an emerging author? What is their own motivation for producing the source?

What’s your overall view of the source you are critiquing? What’s your opinion on it? Assess the strengths and weaknesses. Provide either or both negative and positive criticism. Judge the value of it (a paper, book, argument, philosophy, model, theory, etc).

Unpick the way the author produce the work – how did they do it? Was it successful in meeting its aims by doing it that way? Could it have been done better in another way?

What do you understand of the background of the subject area being put forward? Do you understand it better after engaging with the source you are critiquing?

Do a quick summary: what are the main points? Highlights? The good, the bad and the ugly?

What evidence is used? Does other evidence from another source suggest problems with this source?

Are there different schools of thought on this matter? What are the other arguments? Who are other key authors in the field?

Are you in agreement with the main arguments or ideas proposed yourself? Why or why not? What other suggestions would you put forward instead? With what justification?

Are there any errors of fact, accuracy or omission? Are there errors of interpretation? Has any key literature been left out and unconsidered? What biases are evident in the source?

Does the source lack clarity?  Are there underlying presuppositions and assumptions that have not been clearly articulated?

What methods did the source writer use? Have they articulated their research approach so it can be replicated?

What style of source is it? Is it objective, or subjective enough? Would it benefit by a greater inclusion of representative voices, a bigger sample size, or more narrative and thickly descriptive case study material?

What gaps does this work identify? What further work or research may be needed and therefore could you recommend to fill such gaps in knowledge?

References and further reading:

Practical Tips to Help Bridge the Gender Gap: For Men AND Women in the Workplace


I’m inspired to write this based on an online newspaper article I read 2 months ago about a female, Emirati mechanical engineer who was making a plea for change in male dominated industries (see full article at

My starting point is to say that the WEF Global Gender Gap Report (2016) makes it abundantly clear that men and women and the whole of human society all stand to gain by achieving a Planet5050 and full gender parity in health, economics, education and politics. As such, we’re in this together, and although women may be working very hard, nay, fighting, to make it into hard to reach senior positions in so-called male dominated industries, it’s not just them who have to do all the work to make the transition an easier one. It’s also up to men too. And it isn’t just a case of “If you can’t stand the heat, stay in the kitchen!” Men also have to be prepared to meet women half way, even in the board room, and change their behaviours too perhaps.

Perhaps having reached a position of senior authority and leadership in an organization, a person may have subscribed all their hard working life to models and theories of leadership that bolstered a ‘one man leads the ship’ leadership style. Typical theories and models that would give them confirmation bias in this regard would include ‘Great Man Theories’, ‘Trait Theories’ and many ‘Behaviouralist Theories’ of leadership. These models give rise to thinking that leaders are born, or the potential to be a leader can be predicted and measured, or at least people can be trained to behave as a so-defined leader should in certain circumstances. The mold is set and leadership is a pretty narrowly defined, patriarchal, sometimes head swelling and arrogant, condescending affair. Obviously, those who hold fast to such beliefs of leadership may have a hard time giving leeway to someone, a woman perhaps, arriving in the boardroom, who doesn’t necessarily display the expected list of characteristics. They just aren’t man enough. They don’t fit the My Fair Lady, Henry Higgins model of leadership – ‘why can’t a woman be more like a man?’

But my argument is that they shouldn’t have to be. Authentic leadership, servant leadership, transformational leadership, distributed leadership and collegial leadership models all allow for a greater diversity of starting points that would integrate an array of different people engaging in leadership roles in an organization and beyond. So, based on Mariam Al Hendi’s viewpoint as expressed in the above mentioned news article, here’s some tips for all who mix in a two gendered workplace:

1)      Actively listen to the voice of the other gender

2)      Nurture the curiosity of newbies in environments they aren’t used to working in

3)      Make the other person feel comfortable

4)      Be approachable

5)      Encourage the participation of the other gender in single-gender dominated meetings

6)      If someone appears to be lacking the ability to chip in, perhaps invite their views and input

7)      If you are mixing in a one gender dominant work situation – e.g. around the coffee machine or water cooler, or another break time semi social context, make the effort to reach out to a minority person

8)      If someone looks like they are having a socially awkward time of it, what can you do to help break the ice and include them?

9)      Consider that excluding people is a form of bullying and that you might not like it if the boot were on the other foot

10)   Include the other gender in your water cooler or coffee machine chats – don’t exclude them by talking about subjects they might be unfamiliar with

11)   Don’t be patronizing

12)   Work it out

13)   Make it work

14)   Make the other gender feel heard, seen and recognized

15)   Acknowledge what the other gender says – don’t just listen and then move on quickly

16)   Make the other gender feel included, and an equal and an effective part of the team

17)   Use emotional intelligence

18)   Ditch aggressive behavior

19)   Don’t retaliate to hostile behavior but deal with it in an appropriate way

20)   Don’t stay in your comfort zone – work on being 10% braver: whichever gender you are, it’s up to all of us to bridge the gender gaps!

What tips do you have? Please add in comments below!

Update on Dubai women in leadership and education events and activity

1-woman-leader-with-group-of-menYesterday afternoon I was really happy to be able to deliver a one hour seminar at Middlesex University Dubai on the topic of  global and local gender issues. There was a great turn out and some enthusiastic responses, comments and contributory input from the audience along the way and at the end.

I’ve listed some further groups and projects of interest below that bring together the women in leadership agenda in the Dubai region, where possible with a focus on education. Also some links of relevance that I highlighted in my seminar yesterday. Hope to see you at an event soon!

American University in Sharjah:

1) Women in Leadership Course: The Women in Leadership course was created by the School of Business and Management’s Dr. Linzi Kemp and Linda McLoughlin, faculty members at the departments of marketing and management, respectively. The course aims to introduce the skills and development necessary for female leaders to succeed in today’s environment.

2) Centre for Women and Leadership in the Middle East

University of Wollongong in Dubai

Women in Educational Leadership Summit 2017 (WELS) – October 21st, Dubai: to register and find out more info go to:

Dubai Business Women’s Council:

UAE Women’s Leadership Programme:

Dubai Women Establishment Majlis: Arab Women’s Leadership Forum:

Arab Women Leadership Outlook:

Women in Boards Initiative:

Women Leadership Exchange Programme (UAE- Sweden):

Global Women’s Forum Dubai: Women’s Forum Dubai: @e7banat

World Economic Forum: Global Gender Gap Report 2016

Schwab, K, 2016, ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution: What it Means and How to Respond’, a World Economic Forum publication

UN #HeforShe Initiative:

BBC documentary “No More Boys and Girls”

Current issues in global and local gender: Why feminism is important again and why it’s for men too – Seminar this week!

Current issues in global and local gender: Why feminism is important again and why it’s for men too

Seminar this week by Dr. Carol Webb, at Middlesex University Dubai (Dubai Knowledge Village, Block 16, Oasis Lecture Theatre, 4-5pm). All welcome!


This seminar will outline current developments in society at the global and local level pertaining to current issues in gender. Principally, this equates to a resurgence in activities and movements which could once more be labelled feminist, in seeking to continually strive to achieve the UN goal of #Planet5050 in harmony with the global sustainability goal of gender equality. Obstacles and challenges in achieving these goals differ from country to country, social group and culture – as always, diversity abounds. Of key relevance locally are some strong case studies of initiatives led by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, where in particular, his Leadership Development Programme is helping to even up lack of female representation at senior levels of Emirati leadership and decision making, seeing women break into hitherto male dominated industries and sectors such as oil and gas in the desert, high profile legal case work, and cabinet membership. In the UK, Minister Justine Greening has led the initiative requiring all organisations to reveal gender pay gaps by latest April 2018. As a result, we have already seen the backlash from high profile female BBC presenters who have discovered how much less they are paid than their male counterparts. It is stated that by eliminating the gender pay gap in the UK that GDP could be boosted by 150billion GBP yearly. In a post Brexit world this is a key economic driver that will now no doubt be addressed. The UN has launched a variety of initiatives such as #HeForShe to make the issue one for both men and women in global society. However, many challenges exist that make gender equality, as most social inequalities, a systemic and structural issue. This seminar will explore the topic further and raise questions about what interventions could be led to make further advancements in this arena.


Dr. Webb obtained her Ph.D. in management learning in 2006 from Cranfield University and is now employed as a lecturer on the International Foundation Programme and MA Education at Middlesex University Dubai. She has worked in education as a teacher in a variety of roles and at a variety of levels since 1996. This has brought her a significant breadth and depth of knowledge and experience in both adult and secondary education in a wide range of national and international settings, including: HE, FE, government-funded training establishments, offender learning environments, LA/academy status secondary schools, and a private, independent international all-through school.  Dr. Webb has more than 6 years of experience as an active researcher working across multidisciplinary fields and has supervised the completion of more than 15 masters level dissertations. She has also lectured on undergraduate, masters, and MBA courses, and led many Ph.D. level workshops and contributed to Ph.D. level supervision activities having had the benefit of Ph.D. supervision training. See her giving a 6 minute presentation at the 2014 SLT Teachmeet in Stratford:

Emirate’s Woman of the Year 2017 Advises on What to Say if HH Sheikh Mohammed Walked Through the Door

Jumana and Carol

I was very proud and honoured to have met Ms. Jumana  Abu-Hannoud, the Managing Director of SOS Children’s Village International, Gulf Area Office at Middlesex University Dubai today, where she was presenting on issues of global importance. Jumana won the Emirates Woman of the year and the Humanitarian of the year award 2017. She has an amazing background of leadership and works hard to empower women in the region, offering mentoring through various organisations and ‘Reach’ (see Offering lots of advice and nuggets of wisdom today, a key message from Jumana was that you always had to be ready with your ’10 second elevator pitch’ – if HH Sheikh Mohammed walked through the door right now and asked you what support you would like to reach what goals and to make what impact, what would you say? Would you be ready? What if it were another organization?

For Jumana, the secret is in knowing who you are talking to, their interests, their needs, and aligning your interests with theirs. A good person for all aspiring leaders to chat with.

Jumana’s Bio:

Jumana Abu-Hannoud comes from a seat of policy making in the humanitarian and public service field, having served as Chief of Staff for HRH Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, wife of UAE Vice-President and Prime Minister, Ruler of Dubai HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

During her five-year tenure with HRH Princess Haya, Jumana started out as Communications Director and was at the heart of the development of several national, regional and international strategies and projects in the fields of health, education, social development, peace and humanitarian aid.

She was appointed by Royal Decree as Member of the Board of Directors of the International Humanitarian City, a dedicated free zone authority of the Dubai Government that facilitates humanitarian aid and development work. She was also tasked with the restructuring and transitional management of the IHC for two years, during which she also managed the humanitarian portfolio of HRH Princess Haya as a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador and Messenger of Peace.

In 2010, Jumana ventured into entrepreneurship and established a first of its kind agency specializing in CSR, fundraising and humanitarian communications. She then became a partner at FEEL Brands, where she leads responsible branding and consulted on projects for WFP, UNICEF, Dubai Cares and Plan International. She also worked as a Public Information Officer for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and supported the SOS International Children’s Villages, Gulf Area Office in a voluntary advisory capacity for 3 years prior to joining the organization as Managing Director of the Gulf Area Office.

Committed to women’s leadership, Jumana is a Founding Partner of Reach Mentoring, the first non-profit incorporated organization in DIFC, dedicated to female mentoring and professional development in the Middle East. She is also a co-founder and Steering Committee member of the 30% Club GCC chapter, a collaboration platform for businesses and individuals to accelerate representation of women on boards and in senior executive positions. She also headed Corporate Affairs & Sustainability for Hills Group, owners of the largest outdoor advertising agency in the Middle East among 13 successful multi-sector businesses.

Jumana is a graduate of the University of Jordan, a certified Chief Sustainability Officer by the International Leadership Management (ILM) organisation in the UK, and a member of the Wharton Executive Education alumni.

Throughout her 18+ years of experience in executive management, entrepreneurship, corporate affairs, sustainability, external relations and fundraising she worked for government, United Nations, NGO’s, start-ups and the private sector where she was heavily involved in designing national and international campaigns and strategies. She currently heads the Gulf Area Office for SOS Children’s Villages International as Managing Director.

Developing your Academic Writing & Language Skills: Are you in a Low Level Vocabulary Prison?


“The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is like the difference between lightning and the lightning bug” –Mark Twain

In the film, ‘My Fair Lady’, Rex Harrison’s character sang contemptuously of Eliza Doolittle’s lexical range: “Look at her”, he said, “a prisoner of the gutter – condemned by every syllable she utters!” His argument as a linguist was that he could empower her with social mobility if he gave her elocution lessons and changed both the way she spoke and the content of how she said it. It wasn’t just her accent or the regional dialect that ‘condemned’ her – it was her social background, class, lack of education, occupation, and gender, among a range of other factors that had locked her character into the trap of social deprivation and inequality. It was only through a hypergamous marriage that she could ever hope to socially mobilize herself.

Since the late 1800s, education and academic engagement is one mechanism that has sought to free many such Elizas from the gutters and prisons of impoverished lexical range. The aim has not been to simply raise the level of speech in society – far from it really – but to facilitate empowerment of intellectual thought, critical thinking and scholarly activity, which would also educate the voting public and hypothetically lead to economic and social amelioration.

Beyond those aims, words are simply powerful, create impact, and the good news is that we can choose whether we use a loaded language gun or remain languishing on our lexically limp lettuce leaf.

It’s not about keeping things simple for the sake of it, which can then evolve into dumbed down ‘Janet and John’ and a reduced capacity for intellectual reasoning. It’s about elevating our choice of vocabulary so that our strategic aims can be reached more effectively. Use of specialist, academic language permits precision and allows erudite and succinct discussion. Specialist vocabulary can reduce long-winded explanations and cut down the number of words used per sentence, thereby enhancing perspicacity: the beautiful art of obfuscation prevention.

Entering a professional world of scholarly thinkers requires that you are able to converse on an equal footing, with grace, dignity and aplomb if possible. What easier way to do so if you are able to put the vernacular to one side and slip into a more suitable choice of words. Engaging in an academic conversation through writing essays and production of papers also requires you to use a more intellectual register in order to accomplish your goals more effectively.

My top tip of the day with respects to this endeavor, is to read challenging scholarly articles and publications, looking up new vocabulary as it arises in a text, and then make attempts to turn this passive vocabulary into part of your active academic vocabulary. What new words have you learned this week? What new words and phrases with high impact will you try to use in your writing and academic conversations?

Below are some links to web-based resources that allow you to make incremental improvements in your word choice and phrasing. Please share any other useful links in comments.