Reflecting on the impacts of the Broadening Horizons programme
Building a more inclusive and diverse chemical sciences community inspired us to start the Broadening Horizons programme. As we near the end of the first year of our three-year pilot, it seems like a suitable time to reflect on some of our cohort's experiences.
We are taking active steps to support chemistry students and graduates from minoritised racial and ethnic backgrounds to pursue careers in chemistry.
Our Missing Elements research in March 2022 showed that talented Black chemists leave the profession at every stage of their career path after undergraduate studies. People from Black and minoritised ethnicities are underrepresented at senior levels in industry and academia.
Broadening Horizons aims to change this. One of its key benefits is giving participants chance to explore a range of opportunities, experiencing industrial research and work environments first-hand by visiting partner company sites. These visits have been offered by all of our 10 partner companies for this year’s cohort, from some of the most promising SMEs in our sector to the biggest companies in the world.
The 2022-2023 cohort has been a huge success, and with applications for 2023-2024 now closed, numbers for the second cohort – which will run from June 2023 until summer 2024 – are also looking very promising.
Here, some of this year's group have reflected on a busy and productive year working with us and our partner companies.
Offering new opportunities
As well as sharing knowledge and insights, Broadening Horizons is creating new avenues for young chemical scientists from minoritised racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Some members of this cohort have already accepted jobs and placements with partner companies made available thanks to Broadening Horizons. These early-career openings are hugely important as they provide real insights into life in industry.
Grace Odunlade, a medicinal chemistry student at Trinity College Dublin, says of these opportunities: “I think this puts us, people who are underrepresented, on an equal footing.
“I know in Ireland that many industrial placements require you to know someone in the industry to work there.
“I feel like this is me breaking into the industry. These industrial visits would have eluded me if I wasn’t a part of this programme; I would not have known what it’s like to be a chemist. I also would not have known how to apply my academic knowledge in the real world without this programme.
“Research says that many black scientists and scientists of other ethnic backgrounds are leaving the industry at all stages and we need diversity. We need different opinions, we need fresh ideas and we need everyone at the table when it comes to science.”
Breaking down barriers
Getting the chance to see what chemistry looks like outside of an academic setting is not always easy. To fully assess the different avenues available in industry requires getting to know a whole new world - and that is where the site visits that are part of the Broadening Horizons programme have been particularly helpful.
Xiaoyue Wu, a PhD student in physical and computational chemistry at the University of Leeds, said: “I really enjoy the programme because I feel like it gives me an opportunity to see how my skills can be applied to industry and also the possibilities outside of academia, which is not something we get offered at university.
“So it's a really eye-opening experience and also gets rid of the barriers to visiting this industry – it's very costly, but Broadening Horizons supports us financially. I'm really, really grateful for this programme.”
Seán Thompson is a postgraduate chemistry student at the University of York, who recently visited Broadening Horizons industry partner company Oxford Nanopore. Reflecting on the day and the programme, he says: “It's been such an amazing experience. I've had the opportunity to meet so many different people from around the country at different universities.
"I've also had the opportunity to network with a bunch of different companies I might have never talked to or even known about, and also learn about people's journeys in those companies and where they are now, what they’re doing, in careers that I would never have thought about or considered at all.
“And then again, the opportunity to actually go and visit these companies as well has been amazing. Everything's been such a great learning experience that I would 100% recommend doing.”
Geofrey Njovu joined Seán on the visit to Oxford Nanopore. He explains: “I graduated in July 2022 from the University of Edinburgh where I studied chemistry and then I'll be off to do a PhD in Oxford starting next September.
“A lot of my degree was spent during the pandemic, so I didn't have opportunities to do internships at proper science centres. And so the opportunity to get people from industry talking to us and sharing their career journeys has been really inspirational.
“For example, on a visit to Oxford Nanopore we had a tour of their labs. Getting to see some of the things that we saw at university being applied in the company allows you to believe that actually you've got the knowledge and the experience that can allow you to make an impact in the real world and that you can put yourself forward.
“So it's been really inspirational, but also connecting within our cohort as well, because often when you're in a chemistry lab, you’re the only person from your part of the world, and so having this programme that brings us all together allows us to have that sense of community.”
Another key benefit of the Broadening Horizons programme is that members of the cohort get advice tailored to their situation from a mentor in industry.
The insights gleaned from these one-to-one discussions can make a huge difference when it comes to approaching job interviews or even just applying for roles in the first place.
Derecash Anokye, currently studying for a MChem in chemistry with medicinal chemistry at the University of Warwick, says: “The Broadening Horizons programme, I think is just the perfect example of large companies trying to really diversify.
"I think the biggest issue for me personally while looking for a placement was just having someone there to get me through the process. And I feel as though the programme hugely emphasises the fact that you are that you can contact them and they will help you throughout.
“I have a mentor that I am in contact with very often and he is always sending me new information to think about any potential opportunities. He's even telling me what to expect during the interviews. And I think it's just a great way to help me get my foot in the door into the world of chemistry.”
Zakariyya Dar, a third-year chemistry student at Keele University echoed that sentiment, saying: “The programme has been amazing. It's really kick-started my professional development.
"I got to meet numerous experts in the chemical industries, was able to network and build upon my LinkedIn and get help from a personal mentor with job applications and interviews. So overall, it's been an amazing experience and I'd highly recommend anyone to apply for it.”
Gain confidence and skills for the future
Carla Aldington is a PhD student at Imperial College London and has a message for potential Broadening Horizons applicants. She says: “Absolutely go for it, don’t even think a second thought about it.
“The RSC are so supportive – any barriers you think you might have, they will support you throughout the whole process and they will do that on an individual basis because they understand that we are all coming from completely different backgrounds.
“On a general level, it’s just one of the best experiences if you want to gain some confidence, learn new sets of skills that you might not have had previously, and also be with people who have had similar experiences to yourself.
“Coming from my experience, where I grew up and also the university I went to, it wasn’t very diverse so being in a room full of chemists that look like me is the best feeling ever, I can’t even describe it because I’ve never felt anything like it before and I hope that I get to have that feeling again in the future!”
To find out more about our Broadening Horizons in the Chemical Science programme, visit our dedicated webpage.
You can also learn more about some of our first cohort and their stories through this series of short profiles.
Contact the Inclusion & Diversity team
- +44 (0) 1223 432463
- the team
- +44 (0) 20 7440 3351
- Send us an email