Gendered Journeys/UBDC

Well-being for women studying STEM – experiences of intensity and negativity in Higher Education in India, Rwanda and the UK

In recent years there has been a global expansion of publications concerning mental and emotional health, with well-being dialogue increasing in the wake of the pandemic.

A survey of 21 countries explored growing up in modern societies and found that 36% of young people (aged 15 to 24 years) felt frequently worried, anxious, or nervous. In addition, 19% said they repeatedly experienced feelings of depression.

In this blog, Daniel LeytonProfessor Catherine Lido, and Zyra Evangelista examine the Gendered Journeys project data, exploring well-being for women and men studying STEM in India, Rwanda and the UK, using preliminary large-scale survey data, supplemented by student interviews.

Mental health is an increasingly urgent issue in Higher Education, for staff and students. Recent systematic reviews show rising levels of mental health issues amongst students, alongside decreased access to mental health support, with increases in anxiety and depression worsening in universities through the pandemic.

While the global presence of anxiety and depression may be increasing for students and the general population, such feelings are likely unevenly distributed across demographic groups. Women, mature students, working-class students, and those from LGBT+ groups may feel marginalised in multi-faceted ways within broader cultures and, more specifically, within university department micro-climates.

Mental health can be particularly problematic in STEM (Sciences, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines, where high levels of competition and achievement may be prioritised over personal welfare, with women particularly vulnerable to stress, anxiety, and depression. This may be exacerbated in male-dominated disciplines, where women may feel ‘othered’ or ‘tokenised’.

The Gendered Journeys Project aims to map patterns of gendered experiences in STEM. As part of this research, we surveyed over 650 STEM students attending different universities in the UK, India, and Rwanda. Here we present some of our preliminary findings on well-being and mental health issues experienced in general by our respondents, and how men and women studying STEM might differently experience emotional outcomes during their studies.

Well-being in Female STEM students

For a full discussion of our methodology, please see our past UBDC blog on Gendered Journeys: mixing methods, datatypes, and contexts to explore gender in STEM. In the online survey, we asked questions about different affective experiences in their institutions and careers of study, such as feelings of self-efficacy, learning support, belonging, safety, connectedness, and well-being, as well as their experiences of long-term mental health issues, among others. Responses were measured using Likert scales from 1 (low) to 5 (high). We emphasise that gendered identification is not binary, yet due to low trans and non-binary response rates, we were only able to statistically analyse those identifying as male or female from birth; our qualitative interviews will explore non-binary identities more richly. As can be seen in Table 1 below, for all affective experiences, male students in our sample reported significantly higher levels than women on average.

Bar chart showing gendered perceptions of social-psychological dimensions, as explained in the text

Figure 1. Gendered perceptions of social-psychological dimensions

For instance, men studying STEM in our cohort felt more confident that they would find a job related to their field after finishing their studies. Regarding feelings of empathy and connectedness, women students studying STEM reported lower levels of feeling welcomed and respected by university staff than male students. In our sample, women studying STEM, on average, felt significantly less connected to their university staff, including lecturers, and reported feeling significantly less understood and supported by their university. Crucially, these feelings may be detrimental to women students’ experience, intensifying loneliness and isolation within STEM and wider university contexts while reducing the opportunities to share and elaborate on personal problems that may be relevant for their welfare and academic trajectory. Our future work will explore the gendered ratio of their chosen subjects to see if male-dominated disciplines have worse outcomes for women who may feel further ‘othered’, as well as national policy and practice implications affecting women’s experiences cross-culturally.

Perceptions of being supported in their learning process also varied. Men studying STEM rated higher levels of satisfaction than women in our STEM sample, likely through greater recognition of their work by teachers and the feedback and encouragement received from them. Men also reported higher levels of support from their peers than their female counterparts. Concerning feelings of well-being, male respondents reported feeling calmer and more relaxed at university than women studying STEM and having their studies filled with topics that interest them, in contrast to their female classmates. On average, men also rated higher levels of feeling cheerful, fresh, active, and vigorous. However, this pattern was reversed in our Rwandan sample. This trend is worth exploring in future cross-cultural research.

On the whole, in all these aspects, the differences between male and female responses were significant, with men scoring an average of 0.4 points higher than their female peers’ average. As can be seen in the Violin boxplot in Figure 1, analysis was run for an overall measure of well-being based on the World Health Organization. This analysis (using ANOVA) revealed that Indian and British male STEM students reported higher levels of well-being than their female counterparts. Conversely, Rwandan female STEM students reported higher levels of well-being than their male counterparts. Therefore, despite the overall pattern of gendered differences, international differences are also emerging, and are being considered using a Discourse Analysis of national policy and practices.

Violin boxplot for national and gender differences in WHO well-being

Figure 2. Violin boxplot for national and gender differences in WHO well-being

A gendered pattern of feelings

We have shared a brief overview of gendered patterns for STEM students across our three-country cohort, focussing on how these students feel when studying STEM at their universities. This analysis revealed that affective and support-related outcomes were consistently rated more positive for male STEM students. In contrast, women’s average scores illustrated less affectively positive experiences in their studies, featuring lower levels of connectedness with their staff and teachers at university, as well as lower levels of support in their learning process from their lecturers. These women are studying and progressing toward their careers but with more anxieties regarding their future in the labour market. It may be that for women studying STEM, knowing that gendered inequalities are systematic and striking in the world of work may be impacting them early in their undergraduate studies, regardless of national contexts.

It is important to understand the ways students experience STEM study and belonging within their universities. We must also recognise how affective experiences may follow different patterns according to gender, as gendered norms and inequalities are translated within the micro-climates of universities and departments. As such, they can become entrenched affectivities – damaging to women’s sense of feeling supported and belonging in STEM study in their respective institutional and national contexts. When we analyse how those experiences – e.g., well-being, support, confidence, recognition – follow a different pattern for women and men studying STEM, we are also exploring how patriarchal power relations work through different affective qualities and intensities. Moreover, within higher education, STEM subjects are typically associated with a dominant masculine culture used to overt and subtle discriminatory practices and barriers against women. Though the proportion of women in STEM has increased – and in some cases, they are the majority – masculine gender norms persist (as some of our data reveals). Our survey data is supported by interviews, as well as secondary data, corroborating this persistent pattern of stark gendered inequalities across national samples.

The next steps for the Gendered Journeys project will be to explore our data further, and integrate the voices and narratives from interviews, to examine what cultural features and values in STEM and higher education are associated with positive emotional, experiential and achievement outcomes. We will also explore the needs of employers – within the national policy contexts of India and Rwanda, in particular. In this sense, we hope to illustrate global challenges and present solutions for persistent gendered inequalities in STEM study and onward career trajectories.

Please follow us on Twitter @STEM_journeys, or subscribe to our newsletter on the Gendered Journeys website. For more information on Urban Big Data Centre, please go to


ACCESS journal Special Issue launch featuring Dr. Barbara Read

On 23rd November 2021, Barbara Read, PI of the Gendered Journeys project, gave the keynote at the special issue launch for ACCESS: Critical Explorations of Equity in Higher Education. The title of the talk was ‘Precarity and authoring gendered knowledges in the Academy’.

Dr. Barbara Read’s title slide for ACCESS journal Special Issue launch

Barbara spoke about challenging higher education structures to tackle precarity in the academic workforce and the gendering of subjects, including STEM as explored in the GJ project. In particular, groups who are already disadvantaged and underrepresented are likely to be in more precarious positions in both education and employment environments. Barbara linked this with whose knowledges are published, valued and visible in these different contexts. STEM disciplines tend to be valued within HE institutions and by governing powers, making these knowledges visible and valued. However, within these fields, there are complex patterns of inequality that must be explored and understood intersectionally. Those in precarious positions within STEM in HE tend to be from underrepresented and disadvantage groups. Therefore, despite the value associated with STEM, these academics and their work are less visible within HE environments, and subsequently struggle to make successful applications to lead projects, progress their careers and move out of precarity. As a topical example of the difference in visibility and valuing of knowledge, in the UK, female and black and minority ethnic academics are much less likely to be approached for comment on the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic in the media. The complex inequalities and disparities in HE need to be approached not only intersectionally – taking into account the impact of race, gender, class among other factors – but also locally, considering country and regional contexts.

ACCESS journal:

Barbara’s talk:


The Gendered Journeys survey is open now!

Please take part in our University of Glasgow ethically approved research funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), that looks at inequalities in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education and the transition to STEM employment in India, Rwanda and the UK. Participation in the research is anonymous, voluntary, and confidential. You will have right to withdraw at any time, and the data collected will not be linked back to you in any way. However, this research and your participation is really important to understand and tackle inequalities in STEM.

By completing the survey and entering your email address at the end – which will be stored securely and separately from your responses – you will be entered into a prize draw and could win up to £50 in vouchers!

To take part in the research, complete the survey here:

Please share this widely with your friends and peers, and follow us on Twitter!


Happy Hours

An Evening with Angela Saini

By Sumi

March 18th, 2021 marked the gathering of our second Happy Hour with 21 attendees tuning in from various places. The connections formed during our first Happy Hour had rendered us full hearted and ready to collaborate with others to continue engaging in gender and STEM issues. As hoped, we were able to work with FemEng and UofG PhD Society in bringing in science journalist, Angela Saini for a short discussion on her book, Inferior. Her book, published in 2016, walks its audience through the gender bias in science research, while simultaneously questioning if any level of scientific credence can be placed in gender stereotypes.

Before meeting, we had encouraged those interested to read the book, post questions on a Padlet dashboard, and vote on other questions posted by fellow readers to give us an understanding of what topics intrigued individuals, and which question(s) had captured those the most. Using this, we were able to direct our conversation with Angela more fluidly.

Screenshot of questions posted on Padlet dashboard by readers about Angela Saini’s book, “Inferior”.

The evening of our Happy Hour brought together individuals from Glasgow, Innellan, and Abuja to initially share our thoughts and give us the opportunity to ask our attendees a question that kept coming up in our minds as we read the book: Is Science democratic, and if not, can science ever be democratic? Being a group of individuals across different disciplines in STEM and social sciences, this question sparked commentary that ultimately landed on questioning what we understood “democracy” to be in the first place. The discussion seemed to have led to more questions than answers, but nonetheless brought forward the perspective of subjectivity within objectivity, a lens often obscured for those in STEM in particular.

A capturing of locations from where our attendees were from using

The time for Angela to join in had come as we were ready to ask her the questions that had received the most attention. The book dives into various pieces of writings that had previously been used to justify strong distinctions between those categorized as males and females, but takes it a step further by exploring more current research into gender and sex differences at a genetic, neurologic, and physiologic level. In our time with Angela, we were able to explore topics on gender binary rhetoric, the choices we can make in how we want to to affect change, self-empathy, and the highly networked and multi-layered-ness of science through the lens of intersectionality.

Our evening with Angela Saini ended with much gratitude and food for thought. Our Happy Hour had allowed for a diverse group of individuals to come together and question our understanding of science and the realities it has pushed onto us. For some, it might have brought to light their own biases, a realization that can be difficult to face on one’s own, but within the space of the Happy Hour, is a welcoming experience that comes with the support of many. Taking the words of Angela into resonance, we hope to continue to find our allies so that we may continue to keep our minds alert and kind; so that we may affect change in the eyes of equality and empathy.

Till next time!


Doing knowledge exchange during the COVID 19 pandemic – What lessons have we learnt?

On April 29th, 2021, Srabani Maitra, Co-I on the Gendered Journeys project had organised a workshop in collaboration with the College of Social Science’s (CoSS) Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMIC) network. The workshop was titled, Doing knowledge exchange during the COVID 19 pandemic – What lessons have we learnt? and was geared towards researchers, PhD students, and early career researchers to explore together the impact of the pandemic on research related Knowledge Exchange activities and to learn from each other about alternatives strategies to mitigate the impact. A number of experts from across the world were invited to share their experiences along with Barbara Read, PI on the Gendered Journeys project. Other speakers included,

  • Prof Charles Nherera – University of Zimbabwe / UKRI International Panel Member (Zimbabwe)
  • Dr Raul Valdes-Cotera – Senior Programme Specialist and Programme Manager of the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities/UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (Germany)
  • Prof Mario-Delos Reyes – Dean at the University of the Philippines School of Urban and Regional Planning /International Co-Investigator for the GCRF Centre for Sustainable, Healthy, and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods (Philippines)
  • Dr Kaustuv Bandyopadhyay– Director at Participatory Research in Asia (India)

The workshop was inaugurated by Srabani and Ana Miranda, Knowledge Exchange Associate – Low and Middle Income Research Network, College of Social Sciences | University of Glasgow. Srabani, while introducing the workshop, spoke about the need for knowledge exchange based on nurturing and deepening of relationships with impact partners. She pointed out how the pandemic has further exacerbated the diverse economic, social and political inequalities that are differentially experienced. Thus, she emphasised the need to find “productive pathways” and “contact points” for new modes of scholarly exchange that can work against the harrowing consequences of the pandemic (Levander and Mignolo, 2011). Barbara discussed the plans the Gendered Journeys project initially had for knowledge exchange, influenced by Rethinking Research Collaborative’s (2018) report for the UKRI, Promoting Fair and Equitable Partnerships to Respond to Global Challenges. She then moved on to outline the difficulties in engaging in equitable KE during the pandemic and alternatives that the project team has been instigating, and plan to conduct in the future.

Below you will find the downloadable power point presentation of Srabani Maitra’s talk


Gendered Journeys: mixing methods, datatypes, and contexts to explore gender in STEM

By Emma Seddon 

Our timely Gendered Journeys project, supported by the UKRI Global Challenges Research Fund, will contribute to ongoing debates around gender inequality in STEM, where women are routinely underrepresented. Our international, interdisciplinary team will explore this area holistically and longitudinally, viewing the journey through higher education (HE) and onto skilled employment. It is at key transitionary points that women and other minorities in these STEM fields, particularly the so-called ‘hard’ sciences such as Engineering, Maths and Physics, often do not take the next step proceeding linearly in their studies or career pathways. This research seeks to understand why gendered inequalities persist worldwide and have in many (non-biomedical) areas even worsened.

The present mixed methods project has three main strands of study, each with a particular data strand, to provide a rich and textured picture of the experiences of our participants and the wider cohorts they belong within. Firstly, we have begun working with large-scale administrative Higher Education data within each country – for instance, 10+ years’ worth of HESA data accessed via UBDC. This vast, individual-level dataset offers us the context of STEM education in the UK from 2000 to 2015, and beyond. We have begun to observe trends and explore three key areas of interest: withdrawal from studies, academic attainment, and progression onto employment. We will be exploring how gender, class, socio-economic deprivation, ethnicity, and disability inter-sectionally impact upon attainment and progression outcomes for under-represented student groups in STEM. We will compare these findings with similar secondary datasets from India and Rwanda that will give us the ‘lay of the land’ in these different geographical and cultural contexts for gendered progression into HE STEM subjects and into skilled employment within these areas.

The following strand of study involves a large-scale online survey recruiting STEM undergraduate students in the UK, Rwanda, and India. This will begin to give us a more detailed understanding of the experiences of STEM students in these diverse cultural contexts. In addition to detailed demographics, we will employ standardised scales focusing on wellbeing, belonging, identity, peer networks, and satisfaction within the course and HE institution. We seek to explore how more nuanced indicators influence the journey of demographically under-represented learners throughout the journey of academic STEM. To explore the trajectory of our participants, we will follow up the survey one year later, to offer insight into the academic experiences of students in STEM and how they shift over one year of their studies.

For the third strand of the Gendered Journeys investigation, we move to more fine-grained data of qualitative methods, which will take the form of semi-structured interviews with two key groups in India and Rwanda: STEM students and STEM employees. Using a timeline of their route into STEM HE and/or employment, we will explore key points along their journey, role models and supporters who facilitated their journey, as well as barriers they encountered. This will be further explored in focus groups, where we will ask STEM students and academic staff to discuss some of our initial findings from the data. We will also conduct observations in HE institutions, taking notes of learning interactions in STEM classrooms, lecture halls and online meetings (e.g. Zoom). The interviews, focus groups, and observations will give us the chance to delve deeply into individual experiences and narratives, ‘fleshing out’ our quantitative analyses. This primary quantitative data from India and Rwanda will be complemented by secondary qualitative and mixed methods datasets from the UK via the UK Data Service to explore cross-cultural comparisons in their lived experiences.

The final strand will also be complemented by social media data, such as Twitter, where we will qualitatively and quantitatively analyse the growing social networks for women and minorities in STEM disciplines. By bringing these various methods and datatypes together, we will investigate and analyse the experiences of STEM students and graduates across three countries. It will be fascinating to explore the similarities and differences we can see play out on individual, cohort, and national levels. Follow the project on Twitter (@STEM_journeys) and Facebook to join our discussions.

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Happy Hours

The First of Many Happy Hours

By Sumita Chatterjee

The Gendered Journeys project is a 3 year ESRC-funded project investigating the experiences of women in India and Rwanda entering a STEM field through higher education, graduation, and their progression into skilled employment. The project hopes to understand potential experiences, factors, and events that may be contributing to the gender inequality seen within these fields; however the project simultaneously aims to bring together a cross-disciplinary network of people to a space in which ideas, experiences, and support can be exchanged. To reflect that aim, the Gendered Journeys Happy Hour was created as a way to bring together the minds of the diverse many, in hopes to learn from, and with each other.

November 26, 2020 was the commencement of our first Happy Hour event which brought together 15 individuals residing in various parts of the UK, India, and Nigeria. These 15 individuals carried with them a knowledge base that ranged across STEM, gender identity, gender inequality, and education. The Happy Hour also brought together representatives from other research and network groups such as FemEng, UofG Phd Society, and STEM Equals, giving us the opportunity to become aware of each other, and the other resources available to us.

The evening was spent compassionately sharing our experiences with one another. Some explained their experiences of being a woman in STEM and the moments in which they came to not only see the inequalities happening to themselves, but also the moments of recognition in which they, themselves, had unknowingly enabled, and even perpetuated, the biases present. Some went on to describe their experiences of actively choosing to no longer participate in dynamics that kept them from expressing their true potential, and the backlash that came with such a choice. Others talked about their experiences of being men who have dedicated their life’s career to studying gender inequality and the negative commentary that came from their peers for being more “effeminate” as a result. This experience they described came juxtaposed with having to manage such commentary, while simultaneously actively exploring the responsibility that came with their position of privilege within such topics. For others, this came with the added intersection of sexual identity, and their feelings of extreme vulnerability as a reflection of the level of acceptance for their orientation in their society. Finally, some came to listen; to be present for those opening up, thus upholding the space for those wishing to share.

The evening ended leaving many with a smile. The event had successfully allowed connections to be formed and a wider perspective to be gained for the multitudes of experiences of those from such diverse realities. It had re-enforced the importance of open dialogue and the necessity for the presence of varicolored voices during such discussions in order for us to understand how to lift up and move forward together. Ultimately, those of us in Gendered Journeys were left feeling optimistic and hopeful that the trend of this event would extend into our future events, and that our network of people would continue to expand within the UK and internationally, thus continuing to broaden and clear the path towards more equitable and sustainable solutions.


International Women’s Day: The Gendered Journeys Project

By Barbara Read, Jane Umutoni and the Gendered Journeys team

International Women’s Day comes hot on the heels of the UN-sponsored International Day of Girls and Women in Science, held on 11th February. This day is held in recognition not only of continued gender imbalances in the field of Science and other STEM fields, but also of the crucial need for gender equality as a pillar of any plan to achieve the 2030 global sustainable development goals.  It is in this context that the Gendered Journeys project has been established – a three year international, interdisciplinary project exploring the gendered experiences and views of undergraduate STEM students through higher education and into skilled employment, in India and Rwanda, with some comparative work also being conducted in the UK. The project consists of team members from the University of Glasgow, University of Rwanda and the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, and is due to run until 2023.

At present, girls and women are markedly underrepresented in STEM areas both as students and in the workforce in most countries across the globe. At Higher Education level, roughly 30% of students enrolled in STEM studies internationally are (identified as) women (UNESCO, 2017).  In certain STEM areas the picture is even starker – for example the percentage of women in ICT internationally is given as 3%, and at 5% in natural sciences, mathematics and statistics. This of course masks a lot of variation across countries and regions – for example 16% of students in natural sciences, mathematics and statistics in Côte D’Ivoire are women, compared to 86% in Bahrain (UNESCO, 2017). These variations support arguments that patterns of gender representation in STEM cannot be understood as the result of fixed, unchanging biological differences between two neatly categorised sexes – rather we need to look further at the role of social and cultural influences.

Taking this view, a lot of valuable work has been done and continues to be done to try and encourage girls and women into STEM study and careers. There have also been big movements to address the issue of the numerical under-representation of women in STEM at HE level and into the skilled workforce. There are a few pitfalls, however, if we only aim to achieve a numerical gender ‘balance’. One issue is that we can fall into a trap whereby girls/women and boys/men are perceived as two simply defined, uncomplicated, and diametrically opposite categories. This can leave aside more complex issues such as the large variations between the ways in which people identify in relation to gender, and the ways human experience is always intersected with other aspects of identity or position– such as, for example, ethnicity, sexuality or socio-economic background (Carlone & Johnson, 2007; Gorard & Huat See, 2009; Gagnon & Reggiani, 2019).

Work in this area can also focus overly on the level of the individual at the expense of interrogating broader institutional and socio-cultural influences (Archer et al., 2017). Focusing primarily or solely on the encouragement of individual girls and women into STEM pathways – at the expense of addressing potential inequities in established educational and organisational cultures and practices – can risk implying that the main, or only thing we need to do is to ‘fix’ individuals’ lack of motivation or self-confidence.

Taking such a broader perspective, feminist research indicates the need to challenge and change institutional cultures and practices (see e.g. Leathwood and Read, 2009; Cebula et al., 2020), as well as challenging widespread social discourses that construct girls and women as seemingly innately less able in relation to STEM subjects in comparison to boys/men. Such perceptions infuse teacher and parental expectations, and influence students’ own self-perception as to their capabilities, enjoyment and interest in a line of study (Archer et al., 2012).  At the University of Rwanda (UR), where Gendered Journeys team member Jane Umutoni is based, we have sought to address the impact of such perceptions not only by developing and supporting mentorship and role modelling initiatives, but also in work that attempts to engage education practitioners and wider communities in developing a gender aware, gender responsive and conducive environments. As the saying goes ‘charity begins at home, one cannot give what they do not have’. This has included a recent partnership between UR’s Centre for Gender Studies and UNICEF to develop gender-responsive pedagogy toolkits for secondary and primary school educators.

There has so far been less focus on the influence of ‘gendered’ academic cultures and practices at higher education level on the retention and success of women and non-binary students in STEM sectors – particularly in low and middle-income countries (see EGHE, 2018). Retention research in HE stresses the importance of conceptions of belonging at university and supportive social connections (Tinto, 2006; HEA, 2010). Students who are from more financially disadvantaged backgrounds, those who have had a break in education, and/or those with family/caring commitments (the majority of whom will be women) are even more likely to face challenges in achieving a sense of belonging, staying on and succeeding at university (Atuahene & Owusu-Ansah, 2013, University of Rwanda, 2017).

Research has demonstrated that intersectional inequalities persist across higher education, from entry into certain subjects and institutions, to attainment and progression. The move from higher education to skilled employment represents another stage where underrepresented groups tend to face additional barriers (Shaw and Stanton, 2012). As discussed in our recent blog post, it is at key transitionary points that women and other minorities in these STEM fields, particularly the so-called ‘hard’ sciences such as Engineering, Maths and Physics, often do not take the next step in their studies or career pathways. Furthermore, research by VisNet, a project exploring the gender gap in STEM academic careers, has shown that, once in work, underrepresented genders in STEM struggle to form the networks and connections that allow them progress in their fields, with women overrepresented in junior roles (van den Besselaar & Sandström, 2017).

Our Gendered Journeys project looks at the ways in which gender, intersecting with other aspects of identity, may play a role in the experiences of STEM students once they are already enrolled at university, and onwards into skilled employment, in India and Rwanda. As well as facilitating support networks, we aim to utilise the study findings to construct ‘toolkits’ that can be used as a basis for discussion and reflection in relation to gendered assumptions and barriers, amongst academic staff and students, as well as employers and employees in STEM fields.  In doing so, we hope to contribute to work in this field that looks at ways in which we can challenge established gendered cultures and normative practices, a crucial undertaking if we are to achieve progress towards meeting UN 2030 gender equity goals.

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