Women Are Boring: the research blog putting paid to a harmful myth

22 Jul 2016

Two PhD students at Dublin City University have set up a blog for women researchers to write about their work and the issues that affect it. Claire O’Connell found out more.

Women are boring.

Wait… what?

If those three little words got your attention, then it’s worth checking out a blog of the same name run by two PhD students at Dublin City University (DCU). The Women Are Boring blog is a place for women researchers to write in an accessible way about their research and tackle issues that affect research and funding, such as Brexit.

Inspirefest 2017

And the name? “We had come up with the idea of the blog already, and what we needed was a name,” explained Catherine Connolly, a PhD student at DCU’s School of Law and Government who co-founded the blog with Grace McDermott, a PhD student at the university’s School of Communications.

“I was stuck in traffic on the bus to DCU one morning and the phrase ‘women are boring’ popped into my head,” said Connolly. “So we Googled it and found lots of forums where men and women were talking about how boring women are, and the previous week the hashtag #womenareboring had been trending in Arabic on Twitter.”

The name Women Are Boring has ‘shock factor’, McDermott added. “If I saw that, it would make me angry, and we were looking to get some attention,” she said. “It worked.”

Indeed. Since the blog launched in May, it has attracted more than 15,000 views from 94 countries and has featured posts written by women about their research on topics such as stigma and gender-based violence, performance art, health inequalities, sexual abuse by peacekeepers and how to solve childhood inactivity.

“It has had a lot of attention very quickly,” said Connolly. “We were very pleasantly surprised.”

Women Are Boring founders

Grace McDermott (left) and Catherine Connolly, the exciting duo behind Women Are Boring

Reaching a wider audience

Giving women greater visibility is one rationale behind the blog. “We know from working in this space and being researchers that women’s research doesn’t get published as much as men’s research in academic journals,” said McDermott. “And there is a lack of female intellectual role models – we don’t hear [enough] about women who are achieving in academic or professional spaces.”

Public engagement about research is vital if we are to encourage more women to take part, added Connolly. “If we want girls to realise that research is a cool thing, and to know about what people do, there needs to be more public engagement,” she said.

“Looking around our offices, the people do such interesting research but, unless you also work within that academic discipline or if you are friends or family, you may never hear about the research.”

The blog has had no shortage of contributors – with plenty more lined up – and the condition is that they write in a way that a wide readership can understand their work. “As an academic, you want your work to have an influence, so it is good to be able to present it in a way that people understand it,” said Connolly.

Research in the mix

Another raison d’être for the blog is to encourage researchers to learn more about work outside their own field, as Connolly and McDermott did when they met in classes they had in common in DCU.

Connolly is doing a PhD on how the use of language around drones for targeted killing is impacting international law, and McDermott is studying cultural identity in the newsroom, focusing on Middle Eastern and North African journalists in the US mainstream media.

“I was sitting in a classroom in DCU with all these really brilliant people, men and women,” recalled McDermott. “In DCU, PhD students from different schools do classes together, but otherwise we might not have met and learned about the other research that is going on, some of which is relevant to your own research.”

Connolly and McDermott now have “big plans” for Women Are Boring and, in the longer term, hope to move to a model where they can pay contributors. More immediately, in August, they will be featuring blog posts with a creative twist.

You can follow that progress at womenareboring.wordpress.com and on Twitter.

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Dr Claire O’Connell is a scientist-turned-writer with a PhD in cell biology and a master’s in science communication