“Women in academia are functioning in an institution that was built with a very different person in mind,” Birken said. “It was built for and by usually older white men, and the lives that they lead are very different from the lives that women in academia lead. The consequences are, we have evidence, extensive evidence, of the leaky pipeline — women leaving academia in droves.”
Chapel Hill childcare facilities are known for long waitlists and hefty expenses, which is one problem among many that stands in the way of the academic progress of many women.
Even the policies in place to help with issues that women deal with, Birken said, still have to contend with the stigma that encompasses them.
“We have a culture in academia of full-force, all the time, intense, and it is conducive to policies that really don’t have teeth,” Birken said. “So, while there are a lot of policies that are intended to facilitate an academic life for a woman, the culture that surrounds those policies really strips those policies of their potential.”
Birken said the podcast received seed funding from the Office of the Provost that allowed them to get started, and she hopes to pursue sponsorships to sustain the show long-term.
Mara Buchbinder, a professor of social medicine and anthropology, serves as the podcast’s creative director, giving input as to what types of topics they should cover and helping make some creative choices among other things.
“One of the reasons why I love this project — and why I immediately jumped at the opportunity after I had listened to some of the recordings that Sarah and Whitney had done and learned a little more about the project — is because I think they work so wonderfully together as co-hosts,” Buchbinder said. “I think they have really great chemistry together.”
Buchbinder, a fan of podcasts, said she enjoys the conversational aspect that the medium offers, especially when hosts work well together.
“There’s something about it that makes me feel like I’m really in conversation with people, even if I’m not part of the dialogue with them,” she said. “So that’s something that I’m really excited about helping to create with our audience.”
The podcast covers some issues that aren’t just exclusive to women, like navigating job opportunities and the financial aspects of a career in academia, Buchbinder said. She said other talks delve more specifically into issues that women more often have to deal with, like sexism, harassment and discrimination.
Tamara Huson, a second-year master’s student in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, works as Birken’s research assistant and has helped with the logistical side of AcaDames. Although she isn’t yet as high-up in the academic world as the show’s hosts, Huson said she can relate to what they talk about in the podcast.
“I haven’t lived the experience of being a professor or somebody who’s seeking some sort of professorship, but even given that I wouldn’t consider myself on that same level of academia as they are, even just as a grad student, a lot of the issues they talk about are pretty relevant,” Huson said.
Huson said she believes even those outside of academia could relate to the podcast, which is available on iTunes, Google Play and the show’s website. She also emphasized how important she thinks the show is in initiating discussion.
“I think they’re really just shedding light on some of the things that women are thinking about and that women are feeling on a daily basis that we maybe don’t bring up to partners or even to friends,” Huson said. “I think it’s just a really good conversation starter.”