4S Mentoring Award 2018: Sarah Franklin

We are delighted to announce that the 2018 Mentoring Award goes to Professor Sarah Franklin, Chair of Sociology at Cambridge University.

The committee evaluated nomination dossiers that documented the impact and importance of mentoring work, describing the ways in which mentors, in particular, can craft the education of future colleagues and a new generation of scholars to facilitate their growth as independent researchers; introduce students and colleagues to STS at multiple career stages, from undergrad though mid-career points; work to draw their own advisees into broader scholarly networks and communities, without concern for credit or publicity; guide young scholars through the complex infrastructures for crafting knowledge; dedicate work to building strategic new infrastructures for the development of the next generation in new directions; exercise leadership in ethical and effective ways; draw newcomers into networks and communities that extend beyond the boundaries of departments, disciplines, nations; and exemplify and model human care and warmth in scholarly communities.

Sarah Franklin started her university career at the beginning of the 1990s at Manchester University, then worked for several years at the University of Lancaster and is now at the University of Cambridge, where she is the head of the Sociology Department. In 2012 she founded the Reproductive Sociology Research Group (ReproSoc), an interdisciplinary and international research community that includes master and doctoral candidates, postdoctoral researchers, visiting researchers, and lecturers dedicated to the social study of reproduction.

Reprosoc has turned into a privileged space where Sarah has put into action all her academic and mentoring skills. By means of formal advising encounters, work in progress meetings, workshops, discussion of documentaries, community engagement, and informal social gatherings, she has developed a mentoring style oriented to foster interdisciplinary intellectual innovation, a supportive academic environment, and a culture of cooperation among members, all tempered with a commitment to social justice, respect, gentleness, intellectual humility, and good humor.

Mentoring, in Sarah´s style, does not only involve dedicating time to her students and offering them detailed feedback to their scholarly work. Encouragement, celebration of the student´s new ideas and accomplishments, and the construction of an atmosphere of trust and safety are just as important. Moreover, concerned with the difficult times post-docs and new scholars face these days to construct their careers—at this very moment a strike is spreading among UK universities—she tries her best to introduce her students to new professional networks, obtain resources to ensure long term postdoc appointments, and create  institutional structures and research projects that actively support younger scholars.

Last, but not least, it is important to note Sarah´s commitment to change Cambridge University to ensure equality and equal access to education. She has created opportunities to support women in academia and to ensure LGBTQ students’ rights, and is a strong leader in the Decolonise Cambridge initiative in her role as Head of Department in Sociology.

In a nutshell, as one of her students puts it, Sarah is a generous, inspiring, wise and kind mentor who combines fostering intellectual rigor with a radical sense of care for students’ and scholars’ wellbeing.

Mentoring Award Committee 2018: Noela Invernizzi, Universidade Federal do Paraná, Brazil (Chair); Anita Say Chan, University of Illinois, USA; and Oscar Maldonado, Universidad del Rosario, Colombia.

Acceptance Statement

Thank you to the 4S for this great honour, and it is both a privilege and a pleasure to accept. This is the first award I have ever received from a professional society and it is in the most important category! We all know how much the people who supported us along the way have given us, often at key moments in our careers, and how much we have learned from their advice and encouragement. I was incredibly fortunate to have outstanding mentorship from very early on in my career — from Marilyn Strathern and Donna Haraway in particular. Their ability to combine rigorous criticism with humour, wisdom, kindness and generosity has always inspired me. I would like first of all to thank all of the incredible mentors I have had in a career of more than 3 decades: you are too numerous to list here but you know who you are and many of you are still helping!!

Mentorship is, of course, a reproductive technology — and the academy has complicated reproductive politics. Now more than ever we need to think about the politics of reproduction in the academy because our Universities are in the midst of significant transformations worldwide, and the question of what kinds of values we want to protect as members of the academic community is very much on the table. I have made questions about the politics of higher education increasingly part of my teaching and research in the past decade, in part because I have had to take on more senior managerial roles that offer all too revealing vantage points on how top level decisions are made, who makes them, and why. But mainly because there is a lot at stake for our sector right now, and we need solidarity to fight for what is best about the great privilege of belonging to a University community.

That said, Universities have always been difficult places to work for many reasons — and many of the problems we are facing are not new. Many people can feel excluded, undervalued or undermined in the academy, which is known for its traditional hierarchies and disciplinary conservatism as well as its much championed freedoms. So to me, both mentorship and management are about asking who feels comfortable, who feels protected, and who feels supported within the everyday fabric of departmental life? And it is above all about creating cultures in which collaboration can thrive and a positive cycle of mutual support and feedback becomes a mutually enabling norm.

We all know how uniquely inspiring and powerful our academic networks can be and how much support we derive from them. Scholarly work is a community effort. I have benefited enormously from the research communities I have been part of and I thank everyone who has contributed to my nomination for this award. May our communities continue to prosper from the gift that keeps on giving — shared intellectual projects that energise our worlds and create new means of understanding them together.


Sarah Franklin is the Chair of Sociology at Cambridge where she directs the Reproductive Sociology Research Group (ReproSoc) — an amazing group of researchers who mentor and support her on a daily basis. Franklin leads several major research initiatives, many of them funded by the Wellcome Trust, including both outreach and engagement as well as basic social science in the area of reproductive technology and bioscientific translation. Her most recently funded project, with Marcia Inhorn from Yale, and a group of 34 researchers worldwide, is entitled ‘Changing In/Fertilities’. This 3 year project is designed to generate a general sociological theory of post-ART fertility change, and to position reproduction more centrally in accounts of social, political, economic and technological change.