05 December 2012
By Blanka Sengerová
In the November edition of the RSC News, a membership circular for the members of the Royal Society of Chemistry, I read an interesting interview with someone called Audrey Cameron who is apparently the "first deaf chemistry PhD in Scotland". What struck me was the fact that she was discouraged from an academic career because of her disability.
She was first asked about her university experience, explaining that it was a complete culture shock (after moving from a supportive environment of a boarding school for the deaf) when arriving at Paisley University to study chemistry in 1986. Despite the fact that no further support was given ("when I approached the head of department and asked for additional lecture notes, I was promptly told that would not be possible and I would have to work as hard as the other students") she managed to complete her BSc and later a PhD.
She apparently tried to continue with her academic career but was discouraged from continuing - she says, "during my time at Strathclyde and later as a postdoc at Durham, I was repeatedly told that as a deaf person I would be unable to become a lecturer and thus gain career advancement". This led her to applying for a PGCE and becoming becoming a teacher of (including higher grade) chemistry in mainstream schools. She wonders why she was able to teach school-age students ("as a deaf person I was trusted with teaching school children to the highest level") yet "it was deemed that [she] was not capable of lecturing students".
More about Dr Audrey Cameron here: http://www.rsc.org/Membership/175-faces-of-chemistry/all-faces/audrey-cameron.asp
What strikes me from the interview is the unfairness of the situation she describes, of course, but I do wonder whether things have changed a bit. Do you think that in the current era, disabled researchers would still be discouraged from continuing their academic career? And is it absolutely essential to be a lecturer to go further beyond the postdoc stage in an academic career?