UCL Earth Sciences


Marguerite T Williams Award for Student Initiative on Race/Ethnicity

The prize will be awarded to a student who has gone beyond their usual studies, working on activities such as (but not limited to) lack of role models, discrimination, barriers or unconscious bias.

UCL Department of Earth Sciences introduced a prize for a student working to determine, address or improve issues relating to race and/or ethnicity in our department. It is named after Marguerite T Williams, a black woman born in Washington D.C. in 1895 who would become the first black person to be awarded a PhD in Geology [1].

The prize will be given in June.  The criteria for awarding will be based on a recent publication about ethnic minorities in the Geosciences [2] which sets out a ‘What can we do about it’ section of comprehensive recommendations.

We embrace diversity in our Department at all levels, particularly to further enhance academic excellence which will benefit from diverse perspectives and backgrounds.

Professor Williams was awarded her PhD in 1942, following completion of her MA in 1930, and retired in the 1950s having dedicated her career to teaching [1]. As a result she is a less well-known academic than some, though few can doubt that she was a pioneer in her achievements and an inspiration to anyone who has a passion but does not ‘fit the mould’ of those who went before them.

60 years on from the award of Professor Williams’ PhD, there is still work to do - those from minority ethnic backgrounds in the UK are still under-represented in the physical sciences, and Geosciences in particular, for various reasons [2]. We hope that in awarding this prize we recognise, support and encourage students, staff and partners of the department to consider how our actions and culture can produce an equitable, diverse and inspiring academic environment for everyone. In particular, we aim to improve the working environment for students and staff from minority ethnic backgrounds so that they can thrive in their roles.


  1. Diaz, S. (2017, November 15). Marguerite Thomas Williams (1895-ca. 1991). BlackPast.org 
  2. Dowey, N., Barclay, J., Fernando, B. et al. A UK perspective on tackling the geoscience racial diversity crisis in the Global North. Nat. Geosci. 14, 256–259 (2021). DOI