March 15, 2019

Sarah Birken, PhD, assistant professor of health policy and management at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, has won UNC-Chapel Hill’s University Award for the Advancement of Women.

Dr. Sarah Birken, by UNC/Jon Gardiner

Dr. Sarah Birken

The annual award recognizes faculty and staff members and graduate and undergraduate students on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus who have elevated the status of women, helped improve campus policies, promoted recruitment, retention and upward mobility of women, and participated in professional development or mentorship for women.

On March 19, Birken and four other awardees will be honored at a 1 p.m. ceremony on the UNC campus at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History.

Birken, a 2011 alumna of the Gillings School, joined the School’s faculty in 2014. An avid runner, mentor, wife and mother of two, she became active in UNC’s Committee on the Status of Women and began to explore how other women in academia were juggling their many obligations while balancing their work and home lives.

As co-host of a podcast called AcaDames, Birken meets with other women to discuss issues such as salaries, tenure, job security and being a mother in academia. The immediately popular podcast was downloaded more than 1,500 times after only three episodes.

Birken’s AcaDames co-host is Whitney Robinson, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology at the Gillings School.

Fixed-term faculty such as herself are predominantly women, Birken said, often because “the most intense period of an academic’s career coincides with the most intense period of a woman’s life.”

Those who drop out or slow down for personal reasons, as she did, may forgo tenure-track positions, she said. While she has strong support from her department chair, fixed-term faculty in general are vulnerable because they work on short contracts at the will of their department chairs or deans.

“They [may be] more guarded in what they say and what they research because they don’t have the security of tenure,” Birken said.

Other 2019 winners of the Award for the Advancement of Women include DeVetta Holman Copeland, resiliency and student support programs coordinator in Student Wellness and founder of the group, Sister Talk (staff award); Leah Bowers and Jennifer Fulton, graduate students in chemistry and leaders of Allies for Minorities and Women in Science and Engineering (graduate student award); and Grace Langley, senior psychology and sociology major and resident adviser of the Women Engaged in Learning and Leadership Residential Learning Program (undergraduate student award).

The awards are sponsored by the Carolina Women’s Center. Read more about all the awardees in the University Gazette.


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