Mutual inspiration: Gillian and Janet
In the run-up to International Women’s Day on 8 March, female academics and students describe what they admire in each other.
Professor Gillian Hampden-Thompson, Head of the School of Education and Social Work
I knew I was going to be supervising Janet, but I hadn’t met her until she came up to me after I gave a talk about data trials. She was so smiley, exuberant and excited. It’s fantastic when someone is that excited about working with you.
When I heard Janet’s stories about her childhood in Ghana, I was struck by how tenacious she had been in her life, particularly around education. She was teaching other children to read when she was only eight, and she sold butterbeans at market in order to pay for the exam to get into secondary school. Despite the expectations of her family, she didn’t want to go to the technical school, which would have led her down a less academic route.
I am impressed by Janet’s absolute drive and determination to succeed, despite a lot of challenges and barriers, and really not letting anyone say no to her.
This applies to her life outside of the University too. She became a ward councillor in Lewes in 2016, and the next thing, I hear, is that she will be the next mayor of Lewes – making her not only their first black councillor, but also their first black mayor. She is on the inclusive advisory board for East Sussex County Council, and works with disadvantaged children for the charity Breaking Down Barriers.
This story is unique to Janet and it speaks to her character. But it’s a journey shared by a lot of women in countries like Ghana and, I would say, in western countries as well. Maybe the fight will vary from individual to individual. But the will that’s required to aspire to something that you have always wanted to do – in Janet’s case to want a certain type of education – is something I really admire.
Janet Baah, PhD research student in Education and Social Work
I had already started my PhD looking at the quality of private and public schools in Ghana when Gill became my second supervisor. So I went to one of her lectures because I wanted to see her without her noticing me, to see if we would get on. At the end I was jumping up and down within myself. She was warm, very enabling and extremely humble as well.
I did my first degree in political science in Ghana, and my Master’s in Public Administration at the University of Brighton, but my husband Anthony had done his PhD here at Sussex and I really wanted to do mine here too.
I knew I needed a supervisor who understood their student. And Gill does that. She has this way of making you feel like you are the professor and she is the student. She always comes down to your level. She takes many steps just ahead of you to tease out what you are doing. I had so many things going on in my mind, so that if I went away and wrote my abstract I would try to cram everything in.
She says, ‘Janet, what is your focus and who are you actually studying?’ If am lost, or I start waffling, she will try to guide me and help me articulate what it is I am trying to say. She challenged me about some of my research data and she was absolutely right. I’m so grateful that I listened to her.
Gill is someone who genuinely wants you to succeed. I had some difficulty in my second year when I had to intermit. I have lived in the UK for 17 years but, because it was less than half my life, I was still classed as an international student. But Gill being Gill, she still kept in touch with me and we went out for coffee often. She wanted to know how I was doing. She continued to be in contact and supportive. That’s what she is like.