SEPnet’s 3rd annual diversity workshop, hosted by Surrey this week, focused on a range of key issues facing universities today. Professor Averil Macdonald OBE led the day by describing the systemic barriers to attracting female and BAME students to do physics pre-16 and beyond and explained why equality of experience isn’t equality of opportunity. Peter Main, Head of Physics, King’s College London went on to challenge myths about the BAME attainment gap suggesting traditional explanations such as choice of curriculum and unconscious bias in assessment sit uncomfortably with recent data that show that attendance and attainment may be linked.
Alex Johl, Head of Operations for Student Experience and Wellbeing at Birmingham, reflected whether HE is making our students unwell and offered practical solutions for embedding wellbeing into the undergraduate, PGR and staff experience. Empowering and supporting PhD students was the focus of discussion where ‘imposter syndrome’ can be a real barrier for some students. Noelia Noel in Astrophysics at Surrey suggested we need to change the medical practice approach of ‘I went through this so you should too’ and support students to share concerns about coping as well as giving them the option of leaving academia to pursue other careers without feeling they’ve failed.
Finally, Sally Jordan, Head of School and Josie Fraser, DVC at The Open University, gave practical advice for addressing lack of diversity at the top describing how choice of language in recruitment adverts can discourage women from applying for roles and setting an example to staff by adopting a healthy work life balance is crucial to changing a long hours culture.