EDI in practice
Breaking down career development barriers
Childcare and caring costs can often be a barrier for early career researchers to stay in academia, particularly women. So we’re piloting a supplement to help people with childcare and other dependant costs, to alleviate some of this financial burden. We’re looking at other ways to help, too. For example, by setting up career and wellbeing mentors who can offer young researchers the support and advice needed to balance a busy research career with other demands, and progress in their careers.
We’re introducing a Substitute PrincipaI Investigator (PI) programme for staff who take parental leave, where a senior postdoctoral fellow would cover for the member of staff on leave, as ‘acting head’ of the lab. The hope is that this will reduce the pressure female PIs may feel in returning to work early due to PI responsibilities, and also encourage male PIs to take up shared PI leave for longer.
Our job ads have now been amended to include an optional career break section. This means candidates can share the reasons for career breaks such as parental leave or caring responsibilities, if they wish. This information allows our recruitment panels to consider personal circumstances that might not be visible on a CV or list of publications, with the aim of reducing discrimination in academia related to time off work, particularly for women.
Improving diversity in leadership
Our work to improve gender diversity and progression has formed the basis of our recent 2021 Athena SWAN applications. We currently have five awards (one Gold, four Bronze). Athena SWAN continues to be an important focus for us, as it’s helping us to tackle a common problem in STEM: a lack of gender diversity in top academic positions, and the academic leaky pipeline. Read more about our work on Athena Swan.
UCL now has the highest female to male ratio of the top 20 universities in the world for Biological Sciences (57:43) (Times World Rankings 2021). We’ve increased the visibility of female role models, too, with Sainsbury Wellcome Centre now averaging 50% female speakers and Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit going from 14% female speakers in 2017 to 37% in 2021. Sainsbury Wellcome Centre has appointed two female group leads in the last two rounds.
Increasing access to education for all
As a university, and Faculty, we want to encourage students from all backgrounds to consider studying science with us, including those who may not have considered it before. Taster days and events for primary school children have led to an increased uptake in applications from different socio-economic groups, for programmes such as Pharmacy.
Mentoring at secondary school level, through programmes such as In2Science, the Social Mobility Foundation, is helping increase interest too – giving young people from low income backgrounds the chance to explore science education and where it could lead to as a career.
We’re also opening up opportunities for African and international students to learn cutting edge techniques in computational neuroscience. The Imbizo Computational Neuroscience Summer School, co-founded by one of GCNU’s faculty, and a GCNU PhD student, provides educational opportunities for BAME students who don’t have the tools or resources to enter this field.
Closing the awarding gap
Across higher education, universities are still failing to award BAME students good degrees in the same ratio as they do white students, despite these students coming to university with equal skills and qualifications. One of our key actions here has been to develop a new training resource for new first years, to help alleviate this disparity. Before arriving at UCL and during their first year, students now engage with activities that have been scientifically shown to help close the awarding gap, on the topics of belonging, assessments, faculty interactions, growth mindset and the benefits of diversity.
Improving the research culture
We provide scholarship opportunities to PhD students from any nationality, allowing us to create a thriving international student community that brings diverse nationalities, languages, customs, and ethnicities to our departments. Our current PhD cohort of over 580 students comprises students from 62 different nationalities.
However, the number of BAME students entering postgraduate research is still extremely low. We’re working to rectify this with events and mentoring that promote postgraduate opportunities to BAME students. Much of this work is about debunking the myths that surround postgraduate study – that some students feel it’s not for them or that they need to choose between working and earning, and a research career. So we’re running events, to give them the chance to meet inspirational Black leaders and find out about scholarship and part-time research opportunities.
We’re also involved in in2Research, a new mentoring initiative that gives students research experience and advice on following a research career. And we’re working with the Simons Foundation Collaboration on their Global Brain Undergraduate Research Fellowship programme. Although in its early stages, we already have several undergraduate students from underrepresented minorities now working with us on part-time, paid research alongside their studies.
Finally, when it comes to research, funders have highlighted differences in grant success between genders. But after delving into our own data for Biosciences, we found that application and success rates weren’t notably different between men and women. However, women tended to ask for, and obtain, less money. To address this gender funding gap, we’re recommending establishing peer grant review panels and protocols, to include assessment of grant budgets, and ensure that each proposal is budgeted fairly and appropriately.