Skip to main content

'Breaking our Silences' Workshop

Breaking our Silences Poster


As PhD students, we often hear the refrain ‘if you want to get into academia, doing your PhD alone is not enough’. But with the subsequent requirement to produce papers, teach, organise and attend conferences, participate in additional collaborations or project work, not to mention keep up online engagement with those in our fields, what time is left for self-care, activism, or the care of others?

This one day workshop aimed at PhD students offered a space to critically reflect on our personal experiences and the structures which shape them, and to hear from those slightly further down the academic career path.

The aim of the workshop was to build on our critiques by exploring strategies that can be applied to overcome negative aspects of academia, including those of resistance and support which we can implement. To do this, we considered the following through a combination of keynote speakers, participant papers and workshop sessions:

  • What are particular processes of casualisation, extensification and elasticisation, and forms of neoliberal performativity (Ball, 2003) (e.g. dynamics in the PhD common room, ‘You should be writing’ and other social media feeds) occurring at the PhD level?
  • How have these, or might these, be resisted?
  • How can we help one another?

We recognise that such processes impact individuals differently according to (dis)privilege so our aim was to foster a strong intersectional ethos in our discussions. The workshop was followed by a wine reception and a performance by Shit Theatre, an improv duo touring their feminist show ‘Woman’s Hour’.

This event was generously funded by the University of Warwick ESRC Doctoral Training Centre, Warwick Sociology, Warwick History, CADRE, Centre for the Study of Women and Gender and Warwick Social Theory Centre.


Blogs about the event

'Silences Broken?' by Victoria Cann, Res-Sisters



Our fabulous zine...

Breaking our Silences zine

...and in case you want to print it (it's even better if when you do).

How to print a zine

The workshop sessions included Warwick's Dr. Maria do Mar Pereira on neoliberal performativity, Dr. Meleisa Ono-George and Dr. Julie Walsh on personal experiences and institutional issues, and Dr. Laura Schwartz on anti-casualisation in academia and grassroots feminist campaigning. The University of East Anglia's Dr. Victoria Cann spoke about her experiences of collective writing as part of the Res-Sister's Collective and Dr Lena Wanggren, Dr. Órla Murray, and Dr. Muireann Crowley from the University of Edinburgh ran a fantastic zine making session to finish off the day. Both Dr. Cann and Dr. Wanggren have produced chapters for the forthcoming Being an Early Career Feminist Academic: Global Perspectives, Experiences and Challenges, edited by Rachel Thwaites and Amy Pressland.

9 – 9.30am Registration – Tea and coffees
9.30 – 9.35am Welcome and introduction
Kate, Liz and Heather
9.30 – 10am Struggling within and beyond the performative university
Dr. Maria do Mar Pereira, University of Warwick:
  • Maria do Mar discusses her latest paper for Women’s Studies International Forum (based on ethnographic research with academics) and reflects on her experiences as a PhD student and early career academic
10 – 11.15am Workshop 1: Personal experiences, institutional issues
Small group work reflecting on our personal experiencesFacilitator: Dr. Julie Walsh, University of Warwick and Dr. Meleisa Ono-George, University of Warwick
  • Framed in the context of doing PG / PhD work – start from embodied experiences of doing a PhD and the problematic practices that wear us out
  • Who are the feminist academic community and what does it take to be part of that community?
  • Who is worn out and left out? Feminist PhD students not pursuing academic work, ableist assumptions at the heart of contemporary academia, and institutional racism within universities
  • Contradictions and ambiguities: we may critique excessive demands, workloads and institutional frameworks but at the same time not willing to compromise on intellectual rigor or quality of outputs (teaching and research) (Vihlman, 2009)
11.15 – 11.30am BREAK – Tea and coffees
11.30 – 1pm PARTICIPANT PAPERS: 20 minutes presentation, 10 minute Q&A per paper
Chair: Dr. Maria do mar Pereira or Dr. Maud Perrier
  • Kanwal Khilji, Coventry University: ‘One working class, BME, Female PhD reflection’
  • Astrid Aminoff and Sini Erholtz, University of Lapland: ‘Academic freedom? Performativity, neoliberal womanhood and lifestyle blogs’
  • Holly Winters, University of Warwick: ‘My ‘Malfunctioning’ Body: The pressures of Neoliberal Performativity on Postgraduate Students with Illnesses and Disabilities’
1-2pm LUNCH – relaxing activities and student support advice available fromWellbeing Service at Warwick, about PhD research and mental health.
2-3pm ‘Feminist Practices Have the Answer’
Dr. Victoria Cann, University of East Anglia, and part of Res-Sisters Collective – on self-care, caring for each other and doing things differently
  • 20 minute talk on working collectively and their experience of writing collaboratively on an upcoming chapter for ‘Feminist Beginnings’ book
Dr. Laura Schwartz, University of Warwick
  • 20 minute talk on anti-casualisation in academia and grassroots feminist campaigning
  • 20 minute Q&A
3-4pm PARTICIPANT PAPERS: 20 minutes presentation, 10 minute Q&A per paper
Chair: Dr. Maria do mar Pereira or Dr. Maud Perrier
  • Holly Dunbar and Isaac Gustafsson Wood, University of Southampton: ‘Our Fight to Improve the Experience of Postgraduate Research Students Who Teach in the Humanities at a Russell Group University
  • Carli Ria Rowell, University of Warwick: ‘Writing retreats as sites of self-care and the care of others? Reflections from the Sociological Review’s Early Career Writing Retreat with Rowena Murray’
4-4.15pm BREAK – teas and coffees
4.15-5.30pm Workshop 2 : What can we, as PhD researchers, do differently?
Facilitator: Dr. Lena Wanggren, Dr. Órla Murray, and Dr. Muireann Crowley, University of Edinburgh (also has chapter in upcoming book ‘Feminist Beginnings’). Discussion of writing collaboratively on ‘Feminist Beginnings’ chapter and then move onto zine making in small groups, bringing together ideas from the day.
5.30pm onwards Wine and pizza reception followed by a performance by Shit Theatre, an improv duo currently touring their feminist show ‘Woman’s Hour’