Recognizing the underrepresentation of black scientists, leading scientific community, The Royal Society, introduces an initiative setting aside significant financial support for young black researchers to reduce disparities in the field. As part of this novel scheme, five black scientists will receive grants amounting to £690,000 per annum, to be disbursed over a four-year period.
A persistent issue, according to Royal Society President Prof Sir Adrian Smith, is the unacceptable dearth of black scientists in the UK. To address this, the scheme is designed to nurture and financially support each year, five researchers to form their own research groups at institutes across the nation. It’ll also provide mentorship and networking opportunities, critical assets in academia.
Although the number of fellowships is small, there is a pervasive optimism that they will be a catalyst for significant and sustainable change. Dr Mark Richards, one of the UK’s senior black scientists, believes the scheme will provide role models and advocates for better representation in the scientific field.
Dr Yolanda Ohene, an early-career black physicist at the University of Manchester, endorsed the proposed initiative, acknowledging the hurdles faced by researchers of Black heritage, from completing a PhD to obtaining a permanent university position.
Black scientists have frequently voiced their experiences of feeling unsupported and passed over for promotions. They’ve reported facing bias in their grant applications and have expressed their belief that the UK research system may be institutionally racist.
The Royal Society remains intent on maintaining a healthy scientific landscape in the UK, considering it a duty to provide support to retain talent and prevent any potential ‘brain drain’. If the pilot proves successful, other underrepresented groups may be included in the fellowship initiative.
Interestingly, research data has suggested a trend of black scientists at the initial stages of their research careers exiting the field, with a decreasing number rising in the ranks to become professors. The statistics showed that a greater proportion of black scientists were leaving the field at every career stage compared to their white counterparts, indicating a possible underlying issue.
“If critics suggest that this programme is a form of positive discrimination for individuals with the potential to secure research funding on their own merit, they should answer why so few black scientists exist”, responded Dr Richards.
Last year, a similar initiative was launched by The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) to amplify the number of black researchers in chemistry. The positive influence such schemes could have on minority researchers is vast, as noted by Sandile Mtetwa, a black PhD student at Cambridge University, who stressed the importance of community support and mentorship in academia.
There is a concurrent expectation and hope from future applicants and scientists that the new scheme will bring impactful change. The Royal Society’s fellowships are set to begin accepting submissions for research project ideas this November.