‘What do women need to progress in academia?’

Information and guidance to help you submit your career narrative

Project summary

The underrepresentation of women in senior academic roles is well documented. UK figures show that in 20/21 fewer than 30% of all UK professors were women, only a third of university senior management roles were occupied by women and a higher proportion of female academic staff left their position than men. Imperial College London is committed to promoting an excellent research culture in which everyone has opportunities to progress their career should they wish to, regardless of gender, background, or other personal characteristics.  

A new project commissioned by Imperial’s Postdoc and Fellows Development Centre (PFDC) will focus on the question ‘what do women need to progress in academia?’. The emphasis of the project is to:

  • examine the factors that support women’s progress in research and academia,
  • identify any barriers to progression
  • explore women’s experiences of academia at different stages and choice points in their careers.

The findings from the research will be used to generate evidence-based recommendations to inform future provision and practices across the College that support inclusive opportunities for career progression. The project will be conducted between March – July 2022 by an independent team of researchers from Research Coach Ltd and contributions are sought from colleagues from all faculties and career stages.

We need your ‘career narratives’

Your experiences of your career and the factors that shape your career choices are unique to you. To get to the heart of women’s experiences of academia and to be able to understand the variety of factors that impact (positively & negatively) on women’s career progression in academia, we need to to hear about your experiences in your own words and on your terms. This is why we are inviting women who are currently academics/researchers at Imperial and those that are now pursuing careers beyond academia to provide your unique career stories/narratives in a format of your own choosing. There are two options to submit your career story:

  • Structured career narrative – Answering a series of free text questions to guide your reflection on your career story, the form will take 5-10 mins to complete
  • Creative media career narrative – Sometimes it’s hard to put career experiences and the emotions that accompany them into words.  You can use words, photographs, wordclouds, moodboards, phrases, doodles, cartoons, crafts, song, poetry, lego or any other media that helps you to reflect on and explore the factors that shape(d) your academic experiences and progress.

We know you are busy and we do not expect you to spend lots of time on your narrative. As long as your submission gives us an insight into your career experiences, it can be as simple and short as you like, and definitely does not need to polished or perfect. It will only be seen by the project team and will not be published, so don’t worry about crafting a masterpiece! It is your reflections on your career story that we’re interested in. All of the examples on this page took about 10-15 mins to develop.


You have until Friday 29th April to submit your career narrative and all the information you need to submit your contribution to us is detailed below along with some ideas and examples for creative approaches of representing career stories. If you have any questions about this process, please contact Natalie.James@researchcoach.co.uk and Jo.Collins@researchcoach.co.uk 

Following your submission you will find a link to enter our voucher prize draw to win up to £100 vouchers to be spent at outlet(s) of your choice. For every career narrative we receive we will also donate £2 to our selected project charities:  https://www.refuge.org.uk/ and https://www.unhcr.org/

Questions to consider

Some questions to consider to help you in developing your career narrative are:

  • What characterises your experience of being an academic woman at Imperial?
  • What are the factors that have helped you to progress in your career to date?
  • What (if any) challenges/obstacles have you encountered for your career progression so far?
  • Can you identify any specific career turning points?
  • Who has influenced your career?
  • What were the highs and lows of your career so far?

When crafting your story, feel free to talk about other factors that have shaped your life and thus your career e.g. children, relationships, living or coming from abroad, other caring responsibilities, health, finances etc.

Please consider if and how your gender, race, class, sexual orientation, dis/ability, nationality has played a role in your career.

Formats for your narrative

The format of your narrative is up to you! You can choose to complete a structured narrative, where we will guide you through some reflective questions about your career, OR you can get creative and use any chosen media to represent your career experiences – a non-exhaustive list of ideas is below

(Please note: if you are submitting images/visual media we will require a brief explanatory note to accompany your contribution.)

  • Written account
  • Voice note (MP3)
  • Artwork (photographed with explanation) e.g. poster, doodle, cartoon, crafts, collage, sculpture, mood board
  • Short video/film (MP4 max 3-5mins)
  • Diagrams (with explanation) e.g. flowchart, process map, timeline, career graph
  • Photographs (with explanation) e.g. one meaningful object, or a sequence of photographs
  • Song, Poem
  • Story or segment of a play
  • Pseudo-article e.g. scientific/journalistic
  • Describe your career as a river

Examples for creative approaches to career narratives

If you feel like representing your career story creatively, there are many ways to do this. Click on the images below to see some example career narratives from the project team to demonstrate some of the different ways you can represent your career experiences. Whilst this is a complex topic, it’s ok to get creative, playful and expressive to capture your thoughts – if you let your mind wander you’re likely to uncover new insights. These examples are just a few ways of approaching career narratives, anything goes, find a medium that works for you and see where it takes you.

If you feel a bit daunted by the creative approaches, don’t worry! You can choose to submit a structured career narrative instead where some questions will guide you in describing your career story.

How we will use your narratives

The project team are all women with their own lived experiences of academia. We will treat your narratives with the utmost respect. These narratives will be anonymous at point of submission.  The data you provide will be combined with other project data collected from interviews and action groups to identify key themes. With a designer, the project team will develop a series of composite visual case studies representing experiences of women at different career stages/choice points. The case studies will inform (a) our solutions-focused ‘story to solutions’ action groups which are running as part of the project and (b) our final report and recommendations. Individual contributors will not be identifiable and we will not reproduce your images/media/written contributions in any of our reporting. The copyright of your career narrative contributions remains with you. For further information about how your career narrative contribution will be used please see the participant information sheet.

The raw data you submit will be destroyed at the end of the project.

Submit your career narrative

To send us your career narrative please follow the one of the links below depending on your chosen format (structured or creative). Your submission is anonymous.

If you are submitting a creative narrative you will be able to upload a maximum of 2 files (e.g. the file containing your narrative and a separate file with your explanation if submitting artwork or other media that requires an explanation). If you have any difficulties uploading your narrative, or require any assistance with this please contact either Natalie.James@researchcoach.co.uk or Jo.Collins@researchcoach.co.uk

The links will be open until 5pm (BST) 29 April 2022.

File types for creative media narratives

Qualtrics will accept the following file types:

  • PDF
  • Presentation (PPT, PPTX)
  • Document (DOC, DOCX, TXT),
  • Spreadsheet (CSV, XLS, XLSX, ODS),
  • Graphic (JPG, PNG, GIF)
  • Video MP4 (Max 3-5 mins)
  • Audio MP3 (Max 5-10 mins)

Please note that once a file is uploaded, it cannot be removed. However, you can replace the uploaded file with a different file.

Please also note that the maximum file size we can accept per file is 30MB