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  • Writer's pictureSarah Koops

Being a Research Assistant for WISC

Updated: Sep 3, 2022

My Name is Sarah. I am a 26-year-old student from Germany, living in the rainy city of Kiel, currently finishing my dissertation in a Masters subject called ‘Migration and Diversity’ at the Christian-Albrechts-Universität. With this blogpost I want to give you an impression of what it’s like being a part of the WISC network. You might wonder what a person studying a social science subject like I do has to do with a STEM related community like WISC. Well, that’s what I did anyway, when a staff member of the University of Kiel asked me if I could imagine working as a Research Assistant for the network.

What could I offer to supramolecular chemists?

Knowing that I was interested, but without a lot of information about what I could offer or would do, in 2021 I wrote an e-mail to Anna McConnell (Vice Chair Organisation, and also based at Kiel) telling her that I heard WISC was searching for a Research Assistant and that I was interested in applying. I had never worked as a Research Assistant before and didn’t know what it would entail. A few days later I found myself in a Zoom Call with Anna and Jen Leigh (Vice Chair Research), talking about my experiences and skills as a social scientist. I remember being incredibly nervous. These women had already achieved so much, and I was sitting in my apartment, stammering something into my laptop and thinking that I was not qualified to do this job. Nevertheless, they appointed me, and I started working for WISC in May 2021 for four hours a week. In the beginning I had to deal with a lot of imposter syndrome feelings I am sure many of you might know. Working for so many talented and ambitious women scared me. Could I live up to the expectations placed on me? But WISC supported me in many ways. They let me get involved in projects that interested me and I often had the chance choose between different tasks. In addition, everyone was so helpful and caring that all these imposter feelings became increasingly faint.

To structure my work and discuss upcoming tasks, Jen L., Reader in Higher Education at the University of Kent (UK), and I met every Monday for a half-hour MS Teams meeting to check in and catch up. I always worked remotely which gave me the opportunity to work when and where I wanted to. As WISC work on different projects on equality in supramolecular chemistry, I contributed to some of them. During my time at WISC I was involved in numerous projects from survey design, data analysis, evaluation reports, and literature reviews, which meant that my tasks were varied, some more creative and others more theoretical. I was involved in the data analysis of a project on “Managing research throughout COVID-19: Lived experiences of supramolecular chemists”. In addition, I have been heavily involved with WISC's latest project, which focuses on first-generation students (1st Gen) in supramolecular chemistry and conducted a semi-structured literature review together with Jen. Being 1st Gen myself, my perspective and own experiences were highly valued during this process. I also participated in a project which is evaluating the impact of creative and reflective approaches on scientific progression.

Besides the work for WISC research projects, I helped organize a social event for the mentoring cluster, and got to work on updating the WISC homepage and website together with Mariam Yacoub, who is a KMTV film producer working with WISC on creating content for a public engagement YouTube channel and social media presence. In July 2022 I supported the WISC board at the 16th International Conference on Calixarenes (Calix 2022), which was held in New Orleans (USA) on July 10 – July 14, 2022. WISC organized a reflective workshop to offer all participants (men and women) the opportunity to creatively reflect on their research, their career path and other aspects of academic life.

Working on all these different projects has shown me the importance of a social science perspective for STEM-related fields.

For me, it was fantastic to see how one can approach such a field of research on an intersectional level and which multi-layered problems must be taken into account. Through the work in the various projects I was able to apply what I had learned in my studies, and also gain completely new perspectives. In addition, I learned a lot about different methods and approaches. As an intersectional feminist at heart I found it really inspiring to work with so many dedicated women who have built a network with great influence and are working on so many different and important issues regarding equality for marginalised groups in supramolecular chemistry. All members put a lot of effort into their work and provide an appreciative and supportive working environment. Also, my weekly meetings with Jen were not only about my work, but also about encouraging and inspiring feedback on my skills, discussions about my future career and a safe space to talk about questions and fears. I was always shown more trust and appreciation than in most other jobs I have had before. My time with WISC will end August 2022 when I finish my Masters studies.

I am looking forward to the next phase of my career and excited about what’s to come!

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