Continuing the Anti-Racist Agenda at the Doctoral College

Back in June this year, the Doctoral College sent out a message to all its researchers declaring its support for the Black Lives Matter campaign and its recognition of the existing racial inequalities in UK Higher Education. Since this time, members of staff within the Doctoral College have tried to take significant steps forward to help make our research environment more inclusive. Here is a summary of some of the things we have been doing… 

For six months, Training Officer Dr Alex Pavey has been supporting PGR Sapphire Lally with the organisation of the Surrey Anti-Racism reading group seminars. This was complimented with several funded workshop events which took place this term on the topic of racist structures in Academia. We thank Sapphire for her dedication and hard work, and all those who have participated in these enriching drop-in virtual discussions.  

In September, the Doctoral College ran an Away Day for our PGR Directors. Along with our researcher support staff, they participated in a Race Equality training workshop focusing specifically on BAME and BLM issues within the context of PGR studies and Higher education. This led to some stimulating discussion and positive actions for the Doctoral College Executive Board to consider and implement in the future. 

At the same time, our Head of RDP Dawn Duke, chaired several confidential focus group sessions, inviting black and minority ethnic researchers to voice their opinions, experiences and concerns in a safe space. This was followed up with a requested Q and A session with the Pro-VC of Research David Sampson. As well as drawing our attention to the levels of inequality within the research environment, lots of strong ideas came out of these discussions which were communicated to the University’s EDI lead, Dr Emily Williams, and are now being used to inform our new developing Doctoral College EDI action plan. 

Each member of the RDP team has been involved in either networking, joining new initiatives or setting personal development goals towards Anti-racism.  

We now have doctoral representation on the University Athena Swan Implementation Team (ASIT) and the Race Equality Chartermark (REC) Self-Assessment Team and steering group. Our RDP coordinator Penny Brewer joined both the University’s REC working group and the Research and Innovation EDI working group this term. She had input into the University-wide Race Equality survey and has been helping us begin to look at student demographics and representation and taking forward actions to improve wellbeing and experiences of our BAME researchers.    

Training officer Dr Neelam Wright has been connecting with and learning from the shared experiences of other BAME staff by joining the newly formed SEED network (Surrey Embracing Ethnic Diversity). She also been thinking about how to adapt inclusive and decolonising curriculum approaches for researcher training and development, which she spoke about at this year’s annual UKCGE conference. 

Our RDP Careers consultants Rana Marrington and Emma Francis were speakers at an event during Contributing to Research Culture week, advising on how to thrive in your career. They talked about positive research culture and building connections to help encourage researchers to take responsibility for driving positive culture change to help engender a more diverse and inclusive culture. Emma Francis has done some self-directed learning (regularly reading articles and blogs and attending online webinars) to educate herself and learn how to provide a more culturally competent careers service and how to be a good white ally. She has been connecting with a careers specialist at another University who is supporting a research project looking into the experiences of BAME Careers professionals, as well as looking to work more with Student experience and the Widening Participation team at Surrey. 

Further changes include planned improvements to the studentship application processes to further avoid racial bias and asking employers who apply for the Doctoral College Placement Scheme if they have an Equal Opportunities/Diversity Policy. We are also working on a proposed bid to fund a project to improve the recruitment, representation and experience of Black Asian Minority Ethnic PGRs.  

We would like to assure our researchers that this is just the beginning, and we know that we have some way to go before we can truly say that we have done all we can do. The Doctoral College team are committed to continue taking further actions forward throughout 2021 and keep striving for Race equity within our research environment and beyond.  

As always, we welcome and value feedback, thoughts and suggestions from our research community on how we can do better: