Glass: The Poetry of Science

The Glass ceiling, cliff, closet and elevator

Dr Kate Carruthers Thomas explores gender in the workplace with a unique presentation.

By Alison Cranage, science writer at the Wellcome Sanger Institute

Scientific research finds its way into the world in many ways, but the standard formats that are a part of everyday life for most scientists are written journal papers, posters and oral presentations at meetings. Dr Kate Carruthers Thomas, a Senior Research Fellow at Birmingham City University, recently joined us with a more unconventional approach. She was presenting her work on how gender affects people’s experiences of work and careers in higher education.

Her presentation took the form of a poem, composed from selected findings of the research. The poem, ‘glass’, features a composite of the participants voices, taken from research interview transcripts. The poetic sequences fit into four metaphors; the familiar concept of the glass ceiling, plus the less well-known glass cliff, escalator and closet.

Dr Kate Carruthers Thomas reading her poems: Glass

Kate spoke to us about how the performance aspect of her work came about.

“It wasn’t my intention at the beginning of this project to turn it into a poem. But as I became familiar with the interview transcripts, I saw how they could fit into the four metaphors.

“The poetry is a powerful way of getting different participants voices across. It gives a sense of emotion and allows me to play with the images people unwittingly give.”

“It’s quite freeing to go beyond the standard format of the conference presentation. It’s an entirely different way of engaging with audiences, it really opens up conversations.”

Kate also produced the illustrations for the glass metaphors featured above, as part of a graphic essay about the research, even though she’d never put pencil to paper like this before.

Kate had advice for any researcher who wants to explore using different formats to present their work.

 “I would say to be brave, be adventurous and enjoy it. It’s great doing something different.”