1st UKCGE Conference on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Postgraduate Research
Our very first conference on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Postgraduate Research – held at Sheffield’s Crowne Plaza on the 2nd and 3rd of November 2023 – opened with a busy programme of talks and breakout sessions, all focussing on race and ethnicity in postgraduate research.
During her welcome address, Maisha Islam (University of Southampton) spoke about the sense of precarity for PGRs from under-represented groups and how the normal challenges of postgraduate study are magnified in their case. Later, she presented a breakout session on her PhD: Building a subaltern community of belonging for British-Bangladeshi female PGR students.
The morning keynote was presented by Professor Jason Arday (University of Cambridge) who observed that, in his experience, black or ethnic minority researchers had always made a conscious decision to enter academia. He spoke about how he wanted to create a blueprint to help more people into scholarly careers and said that studying race is painful at times, because you’re listening to stories about people being denied. However, he added, this difficulty is necessary because it pushes people to change the situation. His talk received a standing ovation from the audience.
To close off the morning sessions, delegates were given an insight into the student experience with a PGR panel. Speaking were Princess Banda (University of Oxford), Anita Chonzi (Sheffield Hallam University) and Garth Dallas (Liverpool John Moores University). The latter talked about how, after challenging his university over how it interacted with local communities, it came up with a positive action programme to get people from diverse backgrounds into PhD study. “You shouldn’t just aspire to climb the ladder – you should aspire to BE the ladder,” he observed.
Day 1 closed with another inspiring keynote (Call and Response: Inclusive Approaches to Supervision), this time from Dr Christine Edwards-Leis (St Mary’s University) and Dr Julie Spencer (ArtsEd). It used the call-and-response format in African traditional music to explore the ways in which black or ethnic minority students might be hampered by the white-dominated ideology of the academy. Unusually, the session involved a capella singing from both presenters.
Day 2 opened with a funders’ panel, with representatives from both the Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK addressing the topic of funding for diverse groups, followed by more breakout sessions. A highlight of the morning was the pre-lunch keynote from Dr Maria Augusta Arruda (Director of the Brazilian Biosciences National Laboratory) who delivered her talk over Zoom. “People will always try to reclaim the power because that’s the way it is,” she observed. “For all of you that feel defeated I just wanted to say: you’re doing the right thing.”
At the end of Day 2, three members of the organising committee – Dr Francis Awolowo (Sheffield Hallam University), Mandy Gill (University of Nottingham) and Professor Hala Mansour (Royal College of Arts and UKCGE Executive) – summed up the event. Dr Awolowo said: “I want to thank every one of you for making this conference a huge success. I remember when we had our first meeting, trying to come up with a theme for this conference, and we felt the need to magnify race and ethnicity – we need to start talking about it – and I’m really glad we’ve done that with your support.”
Mandy Gill remarked: “It’s been a pleasure to meet so many wonderful people at this conference. A highlight was Jason [Arday] – his comment about white academics being able to say ‘I stumbled into it’ really stuck with me – how a person of colour would probably never say that.”
“I’m very proud of you all,” added Professor Mansour, “for engaging and supporting the UKCGE’s first conference for equity, diversity and inclusion. It means a lot. My advice is to close the gap – please take what you’ve learnt to your institutions. Also, student voices matter and we had fantastic contributions from our PGR panel yesterday. I genuinely enjoyed every minute of it.”