What have you discovered so far?
We are yet to complete and analyse our data collection, but it is clear that a strong theme is finding a sense of belonging and identifying what that means. “Belonging” is such a simple word but it’s surprising how multifaceted the definitions can be in a social science perspective. On a personal level a poignant moment for me was one day I was waiting for a delivery and looking at our department’s noticeboard with pictures of all the academics on–it’s a really helpful resource especially when you’re new and don’t know people’s names. I was sat there twiddling my thumbs and suddenly thought “oh my gosh – nobody here is Black!” It had never crossed my mind before – I grew up in quite a white area and I am from a mixed race family and had never gone out of my way to analyse diversity in specific areas before. But that was the moment the penny dropped for me and I realised “this is exactly what all the data about lack of diversity in our field means”. It created quite a visceral response for me and really made me analyse my own sense of belonging in that work place, and it was quite an emotional experience. I am now beginning to think that low uptake of mentorship or careers programmes may be related to these individuals feeling out of place and as if they don’t belong in that space.
What will the outcomes of your project be?
I hope to create a resource that is free for all, trustworthy, and most importantly based on scientific research and evidence– our goal is 60-100 participants so it is quite a big data set when you consider the size of the interest group. I want these resources to be constantly evolving as new information comes out and for it to be accessible to anyone, at any stage of their chemical sciences career – from A level students to lecturers. I want these resources to listen to the community and to be specifically tailored to their needs.
I want to foster a sense of community for Black chemists, and plan to achieve this through a newsletter and our website which is currently under construction. I want to create a community space where everyone can go to find transparent and clear information or links to resources, whether these are for career progression advice or examples of community success stories. For example, if you are first in your family to go to university a lot of things that are often assumed to be known are not known – things like you don’t actually need a Masters to do a PhD. With Masters courses often looking at fees of over £10,000 this kind of help can really play an important role in an individual’s decision making.
I also want to speak to academics who are hiring for new students and ask them “what makes an attractive candidate?” I want to reach decision makers themselves to help them become well informed – so if you are running a module or a programme, are in charge of employing someone etc. that you are knowledgeable yourself about who may be there and how they could feel in the university space.
What is the ID Fund specifically paying for?
Overall, the ID Fund is helping us create a trusted, recognisable brand and identity. It’s amazing – it would have been such a shame to spend all this time and effort on the research and then not have a product that reflects its quality. The money is mainly going toward a prize draw to encourage participants to take part and the development of our website. We also intend to have an Instagram and twitter page to reach as many people as possible with the data and resources as they come out. We also hope the website will open opportunities for engaging further people we cannot reach right now.
What do you think can be done to encourage more projects like yours?
Something that I would like to talk about is the equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) burden. If you are interested in this work it is typically additive to your existing workload. I intend to put an overview of the Bond Chemistry Project in my PhD thesis – it is scientific work and it is based in chemistry. In a practical sense this work is arguably advancing the chemical sciences further than my PhD of research! We need to make sure that EDI funding can be utilised in a way that doesn’t just end up giving an enthusiastic applicant burnout as it can greatly increase workload and these funds are often taken up by busy individuals who already have a lot on.
Finally, how has it been working with your brother?
Well overall it’s OK and of course I do love him dearly, but he is my little brother and I’d be lying if I said he doesn’t need a few reminder texts and emails…