UCL Changemakers


Networking opportunities for BAME students in Chem Eng to improve the overall learning experience

This project enabled us to facilitate networking opportunities for BAME students in Chemical Engineering to improve their overall learning experience.

15 Sept 2021 

Case study by: Dr. Sudeshna Basu, Chemical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering.

What did you do/what happened?

Through this project, we created suitable networking opportunities for students from minority ethnicity, who are typically under-represented in STEM workplace. There were opportunities for them to be mentored by and interact with, chemical engineers who were also from minority ethnic backgrounds, working in different sectors (energy, water, pharmaceuticals) as well as academia.

Staff and students planned the networking events together in May, focusing on what would be most beneficial for students within the scope of the project.

Students from minority ethnicity, particularly those who faced additional challenges such as disability issues or being the first generation university attendee from their family, were invited to express their interest to participate. Participants were drawn from that list, ensuring equal number of male and female students. Students with additional challenges were prioritised.

Staff discussed with AFBE-UK focal point to plan and schedule the events.

Two career events were organised in June:

  • Preparing for the Job Market (interviews, CV preparation and upskilling);
  • Overcoming challenges within the professional workplace (panel discussion with industry academic/professional).

Three mentoring sessions were organised in July. In these round-robin flash mentoring sessions, students were placed in groups of 4 and 5, with each group getting an opportunity to speak to three mentors from different sectors in turn.

An opportunity for a summer internship with Northumbrian Water was communicated to students and they were encouraged to apply.

Why was this project important? How would it improve the learning experience of students?

Students from minority ethnicity are unlikely to have role models or ‘people like me’ as their white peers, in which case, facilitated, directed networking opportunities can help. Positive networking will not only enhance students learning experience, but will influence their aspiration to continue in their field of study as well as improve their university attainment on a longer term.

I got an understanding on the points about the potential market and what employers are looking for in your CV.  (Salar Namin, 2nd year student) 

COVID-19 has considerably reduced employment and networking opportunities of students, particularly those belonging to minority ethnicity. This project created and facilitated networking opportunities of these students at multiple levels to widen their engagement among peer groups and externally in the broader professional field. The students engaged in networking with role models from minority ethnicity, who provided guidance with career planning, by sharing their professional experiences. This project is aligned to UCL’s and the departmental commitment to racial equality in HE.  

What was your role?

I was the staff project leader and the main point of contact, who took the lead in envisaging and planning this project, scheduling the events, preparing survey, liaising with the AFBE-UK lead and coordinating with other staff and students collaborators. I updated the department (Head of Department, Deputy Head Equality Diversity & Inclusion, and Departmental Manager) regularly on the progress of the project. I also presented about this project in a departmental coffee morning, so that all staff with teaching and pastoral care responsibilities of students remained aware of this initiative.

What roles did other team members play? And how did staff and students work together on the project?

Other team members were actively involved in planning the project and provided input to design the survey. Student members also facilitated panel discussion sessions with AFBE-UK, taking on leadership roles in breakout rooms. They liaised with staff and students to communicate feedback on each session, identifying where they can be improved for the future.

It is important to highlight that student partnership was critical to blend their perspectives, specific needs and expectations, with that of staff and AFBE-UK to plan these events. In our partnership, student co-applicants shared responsibilities towards planning, surveying, and taking on leadership roles during the sessions, and providing timely feedback. With staff and students together, the time and commitment of everyone was fairly distributed taking into account examinations and other academic engagements. 

What was involved in terms of approach, logistics, time or resources?

The application was prepared by me with feedback and inputs from all team members. I collaborated with AFBE-UK to finalise the schedule. Each session lasted for an hour and quarter (total nine hours). There was emphasis on planning the sessions well and in advance. In this context, myself and AFBE-UK leads had several meetings before the start of the project and, after each session.

What difference has this made to staff or students?

We carried out an initial survey to check how the students feel about their job prospect having a chemical engineering background. We also asked if they felt confident in terms of their preparation for the job market and if their identity (ethnicity, gender and any other relevant attributes) might affect their success in the job market. Since the number of students participating in this project is just 16, of which only 25% completed the survey, the data is too low for meaningful statistical analyses. But we noted that a number of students felt they were unprepared for the job market and their identity can impact their chances in the job market.

It was nice to be able to share experiences on job hunting. (Prince Mondal, 3rd year student)

We collected feedback, which indicated that a number of students benefitted from this project.

What are your plans for the future?

We plan to continue with this project in the department, in collaboration with AFBE-UK increasing the number of participants to 35 this time (from the current number of 16), with a blend of online and face-to-face events. We will continue to offer sessions focusing on CV writing, tips for interviews and mentoring by professionals from the industries. In addition, for interested students from the first batch of this project, we will identify suitable industrial opportunities towards trainings, internships, job shadowing and mock interviews.

I have really enjoyed the session and I have found it really interesting and informative. I love the warmth that the speakers have while they speak. The event was really well structured. I only wished we had longer or more sessions with them. (Anonymous, MEng student)

The department complemented funding received from UCL Changemakers that enabled more number of students to take part in this project. For wider implementation, to ensure continuity of this support to students from minority ethnicity during their entire study period in the department, collaborating with AFBE-UK, we estimate a funding requirement of ~2500 GBP for this academic year. We will seek this support from the department. We will also look for further opportunities from UCL (e.g. UCL ChangeMakers, BAME Awarding Gap) to broaden the scope of this initiative (e.g. addition of more f2f sessions, staff-student attendance to relevant workshops, conferences and trainings, students’ stipends).

By continuing with this project and widening this scale, we would like to identify how networking can enhance students overall learning experience, impacting their academic attainment and bring it to the attention of the UCL academic community and beyond.