An interdepartmental team from the University of Bath has been awarded £527k to launch a programme to improve equality, diversity and inclusion within science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The project is one of 11 funded across the UK by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) through the Inclusion Matters call. It’s the first initiative of its kind and has been launched as part of the collective approach by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to promote equality, diversity and inclusion.

The ‘Reimaging Recruitment’ project led by Professor Jonathan Knight, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research), aims to drive a change of culture around the transitions from PhD, through Postdoctoral research and on to permanent employment. The project is inspired by activity in the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Statistical Applied Mathematics at Bath (SAMBa), which has been successful in fostering an open and inclusive research culture between students and academics at different career stages.

Beginning in December 2018 and running for two years, the project team will lead a nationwide network of partner institutions to deliver a series of “Collaborative Incubator” events aimed at giving scientists from across the STEM fields first-hand experience of the benefits of working in diverse teams. At the same time, an interlinked programme of psychology research will be conducted, examining experiences of early-career researchers in STEM subjects and the efficacy of possible alternative recruitment strategies.

Dr Tim Rogers, Programme Director for ‘Reimaging Recruitment’, says “Ask a typical eight-year-old to describe a scientist and they will likely repeat the stereotype of the lone genius: a middle-aged white man in a lab coat. We now know that in fact, the best research is produced by collaborative teams of diverse membership who each contribute different skills and perspectives. Nonetheless, the stereotypes remembered from childhood are sadly persistent and research shows they can negatively influence the recruitment process.

“To begin to tackle this issue we will run a programme of innovative Collaborative Incubator events - academic research workshops in which senior academics work alongside early-career scientists, in an accessible and inclusive environment to tackle cutting-edge research problems. Simultaneously, we will be conducting psychological research into the experiences of participants in these events and how the positive environment created can be leveraged to improve culture around early-career recruitment. Ultimately we aim to develop new evidence-based policy to drive cultural change in science and technology.”

Dr Alison Wall, EPSRC’s Associate Director, Building Leadership, said: “The Inclusion Matters call projects display ambition, creativity and a commitment to addressing the pressing equality and diversity issues facing engineering and the physical sciences.
“Through new research, innovative approaches and a broadening of activities, they will inform and shape significant cultural change across institutions and share their learning with the whole sector. By furthering equality, diversity and inclusion we want to ensure that researchers from all groups are able to fulfil their talent and ambitions.”