UCL backs inquiry into diversity in STEM
28 February 2019
A UCL-backed proposal calling for a Science and Technology Select Committee inquiry into diversity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects has been successful.
The Committee announced that a new inquiry into the impact of science funding policy on equality, diversity, inclusion and accessibility will be launched in the next twelve months.
It was selected as one of four ‘My Science Inquiry’ pitches to take forward from a short list of ten which included a UCL-led proposal by Dr Gesche Huebner (UCL Energy Institute) to hold an inquiry into the impact of climate change on health and productivity in the UK.
The diversity in STEM proposal was led by Professor Rachel Oliver (University of Cambridge) with the support of 203 signatories, 22 of whom are UCL staff and students.
In particular, Dr Vanessa Diaz (UCL Mechanical Engineering), Dr Ying Lia Li (UCL Physics & Astronomy and Women in Physics Group), Professor Alexandra Olaya-Castro (UCL Physics & Astronomy), Professor Anson Mackay (UCL Geography), Dr Inés Pineda-Torra (UCL Medicine) and Professor Helen Wilson, the first female Head of UCL Mathematics, helped Professor Oliver with the pitch.
"I'm delighted that this proposal was chosen by the select committee. The pitch I made to the committee was developed by a team of scientists from across the UK, working together to get our point about equality, diversity, inclusion and accessibility across. The success of our pitch just shows how powerful diverse teams can be," said Professor Oliver.
The signatories argue that an ever-increasing body of evidence shows that research in science, technology, engineering and mathematics has greatest impact when carried out by a diverse community, providing fresh thinking and creativity.
They called upon the Committee to open an inquiry into the extent to which funding policies, procedures and cultures are marginalising and excluding individuals from a wide range of backgrounds, a problem that threatens the productivity and future of UK STEM disciplines.
“Best practices in equality, diversity and inclusion in the scientific enterprise are as much a case of advancing science as they are about social justice. Evidence is showing that scientific progress in several STEM areas is to a large extent stagnated, and one of the reasons as to why this is happening points towards the lack of diverse of thinking in the scientific enterprise,” explained Professor Olaya-Castro.
“If we are to move forward, we need to stop perpetuating the cycle of injustice and be committed to take effective action to enable a wide range of creative minds to contribute to science.”
The team say that progress towards rectifying this imbalance has been incredibly slow and the problem is compounded by government and public body funding allocation policies.
“There is a lack of joined-up thinking in our research funding landscape. Decisions are often taken based on a view of research excellence that is strongly based in the status quo, with little or no consideration of the effect that changes could have on minority groups. And yet the evidence is growing that more diverse teams produce better research,” said Professor Wilson.
In November 2018 the Committee launched the ‘My Science Inquiry’ initiative, which invited the public to suggest potential inquiries for the Committee’s future work programme.
It received 86 submissions, of which ten were shortlisted to deliver a five-minute public ‘pitch’ to the Committee earlier this year.
Following the initiative, the Committee announced it will be launching new inquiries into commercial genomics and the role of science and technology in addressing challenges to food security and biodiversity, in addition to diversity in STEM.
Although Dr Huebner’s proposal into the impact of climate change was not selected as one of the final four, the Committee has pledged to write to the Minister of State for Energy and Clean Growth to explore these issues and to understand what actions the Government could take to address the concerns raised
Rt Hon Norman Lamb MP, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, said: “We were really impressed by the high quality of all submissions received during this inquiry and the broad range of subjects covered. The Committee is very grateful to all members of the science and technology community, as well as the general public, who contributed ideas.
“It is vital that Parliament does not lose sight of the issues that matter most to the public. It is the role of Committees to ensure these areas are given the parliamentary scrutiny they deserve, and it was a real joy to listen to and read the various submissions we received.”
Dr David Albrecht, Postdoctoral Researcher, MRC Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology at UCL
Dr Joanna Barstow, Royal Astronomical Society Research Fellow, Department of Physics and Astronomy
Dr Anna Bogush, Research Associate/Fellow and STEM ambassador, Department of Earth Sciences
Dr Linda Cremonesi, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Physics and Astronomy
Dr Siân Culley, founder of Royal Microscopical Society Women in Microscopy database, postdoctoral researcher, MRC Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology at UCL
Dr Vanessa Diaz, Reader in Bioengineering, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Ms Helen Higgins, Departmental Manager, Department of Mathematics
Ms Tamara Kohler, PhD student in Computer Science
Professor Simon Lewis, Professor of Global Change Science, Department of Geography
Dr Ying Lia Li, EPSRC Doctoral Prize Fellow, Department of Physics and Astronomy
Professor Anson Mackay, Professor of Environmental Change, Department of Geography
Dr Victoria Male, Sir Henry Dale Fellow, Division of Infection & Immunity
Professor Mark Maslin, Professor of Earth System Science, Department of Geography
Professor Alexandra Olaya-Castro, Professor of Physics, Department of Physics and Astronomy
Professor Christina Pagel, Professor of Operational Research, Clinical Operational Research Unit, Department of Mathematics
Dr Pedro Pereira, Postdoctoral Researcher
Dr Ruben Perez-Carrasco, Postdoctoral fellow, Department of Mathematics
Dr Ines Pineda-Torra, Associate Professor in the Division of Medicine
Dr Philip Pogge von Strandmann, Reader in Isotope Geochemistry, Department of Earth Sciences
Dr Luciano Rila, Mathematics Education Coordinator, Department of Mathematics
Dr Michael Sulu, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Biochemical Engineering
Professor Lidunka Vocadlo, Professor of Mineral Physics, Department of Earth Sciences
Professor Helen Wilson, Head of Department of Mathematics
- UK Parliament (credit: Jovica Trajkovski, source: Wikimedia Commons)
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Email: r.caygill [at] ucl.ac.uk