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Researchers help launch government inquiry into diversity in STEMM funding

11 Mar 2019

Dr Jessica Louise Boland among 200 scientists behind governement inquiry into equality, diversity and accessibility in STEMM funding

 A new parliamentary inquiry into how funding policies affect equality, diversity, inclusion and accessibility in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) has been taken up by House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee. 

In November 2018, an open call was launched using the hashtag #MyScienceInquiry, which invited the STEMM community and general public to propose ideas and areas of concern that they believed would benefit from a rigorous inquiry by the Committee. 

A diverse group of over 200 signatories working within both academia, industry and science communication came together to propose the inquiry, which is printed in full below. This group was led by Professor Rachel Oliver at the University of Cambridge and consisted of several scientists from underrepresented groups. 

Dr Jessica Louise Boland, Lecturer in Functional Materials and Devices at the University of Manchester, supported the proposal, as she believes that current funding processes are not accessible and pose several barriers to disabled academics. She states: 'Current funding schemes often pose several challenges for disabled academics. Many grant applications have quick turnarounds and tight deadlines and do not allow for part-time working and/or career breaks. The applications themselves can often only be submitted online and supporting documentation is usually in an inaccessible format. Even further down along the funding process, there are significant issues for disabled academics. Interviews can pose problems for applications who struggle to travel, are D/deaf and struggle with speaking in public. It is therefore essential to look into how current funding bodies operate and to engage the community to put forward suggestions for removing barriers and making the funding process more ac  cessible.'

Dr Boland assisted in writing the proposal for #MyScienceInquiry, providing evidence focused on accessibility in STEMM. This initial submission led to a pitch to the Committee by Prof. Oliver,, who instigated and led the proposal. Professor Oliver said: “The lack of diversity in STEMM shrinks the available pool of talent and ideas and hence limits the excellence of our research. I suggested the #MyScienceInquiry looks at equality, diversity, inclusion and accessibility in the research funding ecosystem because funding is hugely influential in controlling the research career pipeline, and so has a big influence on diversity in STEMM. I'm delighted that this proposal was chosen by the select committee. The pitch I made was developed by a team of scientists from across the UK, working together to get our point across. The success of our pitch just shows how powerful diverse teams can be.”

The pitch was successful and the Committee have now pledged to launch the inquiry within the next 12 months. Dr Boland will be actively involved in collecting and presenting evidence to the inquiry on barriers for disabled academics in STEMM funding. She is currently engaging with Chronically Academic and the National Association for Disabled Staff Network, led by Dr Hamied Haroon, a research associate in Biomedical Magnetic Resonance Imaging at the University of Manchester, to discuss their experiences. She adds: 'I am incredibly excited about this inquiry. It will be an amazing opportunity to understand what is good practise and really make a difference and ensure equality, diversity, inclusion and accessibility in our research funding bodies. I am hopefully that this will led to a more diverse science community in the future

You can read the full proposal here