AboutBarbara Adewumi joined the University of Kent in 2017, having previously worked as a Social Researcher at Kantar Public UK (TNS BNRB) social research company, and as a Research Consultant at The Work Foundation.
Barbara completed her PhD in Sociology at the University of Kent in 2015 (‘High Expectations: Black professional parents’ aspirations for their children’); an MA in Contemporary Caribbean Cultural History at Goldsmiths College, University of London; and a BA in Sociology and Third World Studies at Middlesex University.
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Why did you want to work in higher education?
I wanted to work in higher education because I get great enjoyment and fulfilment in seeing students learn something new, and make connections between different ways people interact in society.
What is the value of higher education and what made it possible for you to come into higher education?
Higher education’s value is immeasurable because if you are learning something you have a passion for, you don’t want to stop. I feel higher education gives you that opportunity to learn more about something you are really interested in, and there’s no other place you can do that in such a good learning environment, meeting other students and being engaged in debates and conversations.
Where did you study prior to coming to Kent? How does Kent compare with other places you have worked/studied?
My first degree was at Middlesex University where I did a joint major degree in Development Studies and Sociology, then a Masters Degree at Goldsmiths University, called Contemporary Caribbean Cultural History. Because I am of Trinidad and Tobago heritage I originally wanted to return to Trinidad after my masters and join CARICOM, which is like the European Union but a Caribbean version, but to cut a long story short I stayed and had a family. I went on to a career in Sales and Marketing before becoming a Research Consultant, and then joining the University of Kent where I decided to do my PhD.
How did you come to work at the University of Kent?
Well during a PhD you teach as a PhD student, but as I did actually teach in a few colleges before that and had teaching experience so it was quite a natural thing to develop. I had a love for teaching so that’s how I moved into SSPSSR and I’ve since been teaching for about 5 years.
Who has helped you the most in your journey to where you are now?
I would say family wise it was my husband, who encouraged me to do my PhD because he said “Sociology is something people think of as a soft subject, so if you qualify in it to its higher level as a black woman you will be taken more seriously.” So really it was my husband who pushed me to do my PhD.
How has University of Kent transformed you?
Well the university has changed me somewhat to be a far more conscious academic, and it’s also made me more conscious about the platform that I have to speak about certain things. I’m involved in areas with BAME students such as the Diversity Mark project which has recently won a Talis award. Diversity Mark is about looking at reading lists and observing how they are quite Eurocentric, which in terms of diversity needs to change, so for example there needs to be greater black, Asian and female representation on reading lists.
What is it that you value the most about teaching students?
I value seeing their fulfilment. To me, seeing them actually achieving something which they didn’t think they could achieve a year ago in terms of assignments and getting good grades, that’s what gives me real gratification in teaching students here at the University of Kent.
What is it you value the most about doing research?
What I value most is the actual field research, actually interviewing people, it’s really interesting. I know it sounds corny but everyone has a different story to tell, and because I use critical race theory in a lot of my research the narratives are like gold dust when you hear about their experiences of perhaps being in a marginalised group, for example in a white space like in Kent. You get to hear real sensitive and nuanced interpretations of their life which is really valuable.
What is your most memorable moment at the University of Kent?
My most memorable moment I would say was when I graduated for my PhD and took my daughters and my husband with me. I’ve got three girls who are now teenagers, and allowing them to see me achieve something so great like a PhD has really motivated them even more to study. I didn’t come from a privileged background so I worked really hard to get where I am, and it shows them that by working hard you can achieve something.
What have been your biggest challenges since you joined the University of Kent?
My biggest challenge since joining the university is actually keeping my job. I was on one of those precarious contracts (sic), where towards the end of every academic year you don’t know if you have a contract for the next year, even though your teaching has been acclaimed as really good and the students like your seminars and so on, so that’s been quite challenging. Now I am thrilled to have a Research Associate post with the Student Success Project where I believe I can make effective change to improve students’ experience at Kent.
What has been one of your greatest achievements since being at the University of Kent?
Since joining the university I’d say it would be working on the Diversity Mark project, and for that pilot project to win a Talis award. Talis is a national award so the project has been recognised as being able to highlight the student voice, and to me, because I am very engaged with my students it is my key achievement so far at the University of Kent.
What are your plans for the future? What are your next projects/goals?
I plan to widen the Diversity Mark project because it was only initially done in Medway as a pilot, so the plan is to work for the next two years on rolling that out in Canterbury across SSPSSR programs. So that’s what I plan to do, doing more research amongst students and getting to work with students.
How do you see the future of the University of Kent? How could it strive to be a better place to work and study?
Well at the moment, the university is in a position where financially it may not be that great, so the future could be very diverse because of the changing demographics at both campuses. But it's an opportunity to have a greater input into widening participation and diversity amongst staff and students, so I see us being pioneers in terms of university leadership.
What is it motivates you in the work that you do?
The students motivate me and get me up in the morning really, those who really want to learn, and who understand and recognise the privileged position they have as a trainee professional. That's what they are, young trainee professionals, who will hopefully go into the wider world of work with a good degree. So what really motivates me is getting them to move from a 2:2 to a 2:1 degree, and the special skills you need in order to do that and to be recognised for improvements in your work.
Do you have any tips that you would like to give to students?
I would say seize the opportunity you now have, and do something that you didn’t think you would achieve last year.