Corporate report

Ethnicity and race inequity in our portfolio: Findings of our community engagement and actions for change

From:
EPSRC
Published:

Introduction

Increasing representation and inclusion for researchers and doctoral students from Black, Asian and other ethnic minority backgrounds in the engineering and physical sciences and, in particular, in our grant and doctoral training portfolio as well as in our advisory and governance groups, is one of our equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) challenges.

Ensuring a research and innovation system that supports EDI for all will help us attract growing numbers of people from diverse backgrounds into engineering and physical sciences research careers and build diverse teams with the skills and experiences to create new knowledge and world-class outcomes.

This report provides an update on our work on addressing ethnic and racial inequality in our portfolio, including actions we have completed and those underway. We present the findings of our community engagement on participation in our portfolio, peer review and advisory processes and detail our next steps and actions.

The interventions outlined in this report also draw many parallels with the recommendations for addressing gender inequality outlined in the gender disparity ‘have your say’ survey findings report, which was published earlier in 2022.

We recognise that the report findings make difficult reading and that some members of our community may feel disenfranchised. However, we hope that in sharing our findings and actions, we can promote greater discussion and understanding of the challenges that we as a community face and must address by working together.

The actions detailed here will form a part of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) EDI action plan.

Acknowledgements

We benefit from being part of a strong and active research community that is committed to addressing inequalities. We all play a role, and your insights gathered through these surveys and conversations are vital to inform our work.

We would like to thank everyone who gave their time to participate in the business and university senior management conversations as well as all the academic researchers, postdoctoral researchers and doctoral students who completed the ‘Have your say’ surveys.

Respondents shared personal experiences and detailed accounts of navigating the grant funding system as well as details of discrimination and exclusion, all of which have enriched our understanding of what needs to change and improve.

Many people gave comprehensive feedback and ideas on how we can work together to achieve our vision for a research and innovation system in the UK, where everyone has the opportunity to contribute, to be themselves and to benefit.

All contributions have been anonymised to protect confidentiality.

We would also like to thank members of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Advisory Group (EDI SAG) and the EDI champions from the EPSRC theme strategic advisory teams for their contributions to reviewing the recommendations and shaping the actions for implementation.

Ethnicity data publication and community engagement

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) specific publications consistently show that there is underrepresentation and disadvantage for ethnic minority researchers receiving our funding and engaging with EPSRC.

In 2021, we published our detailed analysis of EPSRC ethnicity data focused on our grant holders and our doctoral student population and explored participation in our peer review processes.

We used Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) engineering and physical sciences data to understand the diversity profile of the academic and student community. This enabled us to compare the diversity data for funding recipients with the diversity profile of the postgraduate research population in the UK and that of the academic population who are likely to apply for funding. All data can be found in our detailed analysis of EPSRC ethnicity data.

Our investigation highlighted that:

  • ethnic minority researchers are underrepresented in our portfolio
  • award rates for principal investigators, co-investigators and fellowship applicants from White ethnic groups are consistently higher than those applicants from ethnic minority groups
  • researchers who identify as Chinese and Indian form the largest proportion of applicants and awardees from the Asian ethnic group for principal investigators, co-investigators and fellows. Collectively, these 2 ethnicities are well represented as applicants and awardees when compared to their HESA engineering and physical sciences academic population
  • the proportion of principal investigator awardees who identify themselves as Black, Bangladeshi and Pakistani are underrepresented compared to the HESA engineering and physical sciences academic researcher population
  • while there has been an increase in the proportion of ethnic minority researchers participating in peer review, this is still not representative of the engineering and physical sciences academic population

Following the data report, we sought input from our research and business communities to explore the issues encountered by our ethnic minority researchers.

This engagement provided knowledge and insights to better understand the factors that influence the inclusion of Black, Asian and ethnic minority researchers and doctoral students in our portfolio, as well as the challenges colleagues from ethnic minority backgrounds encounter as they enter into and progress their research careers.

Our engagement consisted of:

  • strategic dialogues with university senior management and with our business partners to increase our knowledge of current activities and explore how we might work in partnership. The organisations that took part are presented in Annex 1
  • ‘have your say’ community surveys to obtain the views of our engineering and physical science academic researchers, postdoctoral researchers and doctoral students to better understand their lived experiences and gain knowledge of the complexities of the challenges

Data context, methodology and demographics

The university senior management engagement was done in 2 parts:

  • stage 1: information gathering
  • stage 2: focused discussions with university partners informed from the information gathered

The discussions focused on the participation and experience of ethnic minority researchers and doctoral students in engineering and physical science disciplines.

Although our engagement was concentrated on the research perspective, we are aware of the wider context and holistic view that it is important for a university to consider, for example around undergraduate teaching and the Black, Asian and ethnic minority attainment gap and inclusion for technical and professional staff.

With this dialogue, our aim was to:

  • gather insights and experiences of our university partners to help us better understand the factors that influence the inclusion of ethnic minority researchers and doctoral students in our portfolio and across the landscape
  • explore the role of university policies and interventions to enhance our understanding of what works and where Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) can further support and work in partnership with universities to improve representation and add value

We focused our exploration on:

  • the barriers students from Black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds may face when accessing doctoral studies
  • the attractiveness of a transition to an academic career for people from a Black, Asian and ethnic minority background
  • the challenges facing Black, Asian and ethnic minority researchers as they progress their research careers
  • the experiences of Black, Asian and ethnic minority researchers when accessing and securing research funding
  • the effectiveness of current interventions and support for Black, Asian and ethnic minority researchers, particularly in relation to recruitment, career progression, enabling greater inclusion and addressing bias and prejudice

The initial information gathering phase consisted of a series of exploratory questions co-created with our equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) strategic advisory group and focused on 6 areas for discussion:

  1. Role of leadership and governance
  2. Enabling greater inclusion and more inclusive environments
  3. Broadening the talent pool: attracting diversity amongst engineering and physical science researchers
  4. Career progression, supporting and retaining diversity in engineering and physical science research
  5. Experiences in accessing and securing research grant funding
  6. Use of data and evidence

The organisations that took part are presented in annex 1.

Our business partner engagement consisted of an information-gathering exercise to help us better understand the factors that influence the diversity and inclusion of ethnic minority staff across the technical and scientific landscape. The engagement focused on 5 areas:

  1. Role of leadership and governance.
  2. Enabling greater inclusion and more inclusive work practices.
  3. Opportunities and objective decision-making in promotion and recruitment processes.
  4. Support for career progression.
  5. Use of data and evidence.

The organisations that took part can be found in annex 1.

Overall, we received valuable strategic input from 46 universities and 7 businesses.

We launched 3 ‘have your say’ surveys focused on academic researchers, postdoctoral researchers and doctoral students.

Each survey consisted of different question types, including:

  • yes or no
  • numerical scoring from 1 to 10
  • multiple choice (where more than 1 option could be selected)
  • opportunities for free-text answers

It also covered demographic data collection that included:

  • career stage
  • contract type
  • job position
  • discipline or subject area
  • caring responsibilities
  • age
  • gender identity
  • sexual identity
  • ethnicity
  • nationality
  • disability

The questions were co-created with the EPSRC EDI strategic advisory group, members from our Inclusion Matters portfolio and our community.

The questions were focused on the following areas:

  • your organisation:
    • experiences in your local environment
    • inclusion in the workplace
    • opportunities to progress career
    • having a voice
    • support from others
  • challenges encountered in academia
  • impact of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • awareness of EPSRC opportunities
  • applying to EPSRC for funding:
    • peer review process
    • EPSRC interview experiences
    • experiences of and barriers to applying for EPSRC funding
    • peer review comments (received)
  • peer reviewing and prioritisation panel experience:
    • experiences and participation in the EPSRC peer review process
    • Peer Review College

Demographics of survey respondents

We received 1,257 responses to the 3 ‘have your say’ surveys:

  • 360 to the academic survey
  • 171 to the postdoctoral survey
  • 726 to the doctoral survey

After performing data cleaning and removing incomplete survey responses (499) where no options were selected within the demographic section, 60% of survey responses received were usable. In total, we received 758 usable responses to the ‘have your say’ surveys.

All free text responses to the 1,257 responses were considered in the qualitative analysis. We received over 3,500 free text box submissions in the survey responses that provided a richness of evidence of experiences as well as ideas for how the research and innovation system can be enhanced and barriers and discrimination addressed.

Of the 758 total usable responses to the surveys:

  • 38% (291) identified their sex as female
  • 55% (415) identified their sex as male
  • 7% (52) preferring not to say their sex

Usable survey responses were:

  • 208 from the academic survey
  • 96 from the postdoctoral survey
  • 454 from the doctoral student survey

A proportion of respondents (2%) said the gender they identified with was not the same as their sex registered at birth.

The majority of respondents identified as White (59% or 449), with 34% (258) self-identifying as an ethnic minority. 47% (356) of respondents identified as non-UK nationals.

The full survey respondent demographics are presented in annex 2.

Due to the relatively small number of people who responded to the 3 surveys, compared with the engineering and physical science research population, we must exercise caution when analysing the results for trends in the data and building conclusions that are statistically valid.

In the Higher Education Statistics Agency data run 2019/20, the academic population in the engineering and physical sciences in 2019 to 20 is of the order of 17,000.

Within this population, the gender balance is poor, in comparison to the population of the UK, with 20.5% women and 79.4% men. Of those disclosing their ethnicity, 71% of our engineering and physical sciences community are White, with 22% disclosing their ethnicity as ethnic minority, excluding White minority, compared with 15.2% of the UK population (Office of National Statistics 2019).

The largest ethnic minority groupings within our community are Asian (16%) followed by Other (3%), Black (2%) and Mixed (2%). We have a highly international research community, with 40% of our principal investigators in our portfolio in the financial year 2019 to 20 awarded to non-UK nationals.

This highly international research base means we compare to HESA populations rather than only to the UK population (Census 2011, ONS Population estimates update 2019) or UK labour force survey (ONS).

The UK domicile doctoral student population in the engineering and physical sciences in academic year 2019 to 20 is of the order 17,200. The gender balance is better at the student level with 33% women and 66% men. Of those disclosing their ethnicity, 76% are White with the next largest groupings being Asian (10%), Black (4%), Mixed (4%), Other (3%).

The small numbers for some of the ethnic groups means in some cases the disaggregated analysis by individual ethnic group is of limited value. Nevertheless, the findings and insights are invaluable overall. Therefore, our analysis focuses on the observable trends and lived experiences.

Ethnic group categorisation

For ethnicity, respondents were provided with Office for National Statistics (ONS) harmonised options to select from, level 3, described below. In this report, where data is accessible, all the analysis follows a level 3 breakdown structure of the ‘all ethnic group’ into the disaggregated ethnicities. Where this is not possible, due to small numbers, we use level 2.

Ethnic Minority (level 1)

Mixed (level 2):

      • White and Black Caribbean (level 3)
      • White and Black African (level 3)
      • White and Asian (level 3)
      • Any other Mixed or multiple ethnic background (level 3)

Asian (level 2):

      • Indian (level 3)
      • Pakistani (level 3)
      • Bangladeshi (level 3)
      • Chinese (level 3)
      • Any other Asian background (level 3)

Black (level 2):

      • African (level 3)
      • Caribbean (level 3)
      • Any other Black background (level 3)

White (level 1)

White (level 2):

      • British (level 3)
      • Irish (level 3)
      • Any other White background (level 3)

Key findings from the community engagement

Summary

The most prevalent barriers that ethnic minority academic respondents encountered were having no sense of belonging, experiencing a lack of opportunities, having no voice and no visible role models, with people from all ethnic groups having suffered racial comments and microaggressions.

The majority of ethnic minorities reported feeling isolated in their own work environments.

A significant barrier that disproportionately affects ethnic minority researchers applying for funding was reduced chances of success, attributed to unfair and distressing biases (perceived or actual) in peer review as well as in their own institution selection processes.

A consistently reported barrier for ethnic minority postdoctoral researcher respondents was establishing informal networks. This is a culmination of several points raised, including:

  • a lack of belonging
  • working harder to gain the trust and respect of colleagues
  • not feeling a part of the majority group, which led to a lack of networks and opportunities for some

The lack of effective networks led to ethnic minority postdoctoral researchers being less aware of opportunities available for career progression.

The challenge of job insecurity, exacerbated by the pandemic, and constant relocation were consistent independent of ethnicity.

A greater proportion of ethnic minority doctoral student respondents found an academic career appealing compared with their White colleagues. However, a greater proportion also believe they were not given the same opportunities to progress their career and felt a much greater level of isolation and pressure to represent their ethnic group and break down barriers.

Lived experiences of disadvantage, unequal opportunities and poor inclusion practices become more pronounced as an ethnic minority person progressed through their academic career pathway.

Overarching thematic routes towards success and inclusion

Success and inclusion are achieved through:

  • ensuring diversity of voice and being heard
  • opportunities for everyone
  • fairness and trust in funding processes and peer review
  • mentoring and network opportunities
  • eradicating systemic bias in selection processes
  • celebrating role models
  • creating a sense of belonging and inclusion
  • working together to cultivate new connections and sharing of ‘what works’ to improve culture

Key challenges from our business partners

We surveyed our business partners to help us understand the factors that influence the diversity and inclusion of ethnic minority staff across the technical and scientific business landscape.

We found that, although all organisations had a well-developed and embedded equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) corporate strategy, a specific focus on race equality was at an early stage, with few having any targeted support for ethnic minority groups.

Activities highlighted as being particularly effective in attracting greater workforce diversity and ensuring inclusive work practices included:

  • embedding the organisations’ EDI strategy across the organisation: by using objectives that cascade from the senior executives into objectives for each team. These objectives are translated into goals and measures for teams locally, which are monitored for progress. It is imperative to have senior leader ‘buy in’ that is both visible and credible
  • paying attention to all aspects of the recruitment process: ensuring diverse interview panels, removing identifiers in CVs, using gender neutral language in job adverts and considering where to advertise can attract a diverse set of applicants. Many business organisations use well established university communication routes and organisations such as WISE to highlight opportunities. For those businesses with dispersed operations, recruiting globally rather than just the ‘home nation’ can play a major part in attracting the best talent
  • taking the long-term view and developing skills from within the business: where skills are difficult to find in the populace, businesses are developing from within, which means making sure that there are mentors, role models and diverse representation from the senior executive level through to local teams, as well as in future leadership and management programmes. It was considered that mentoring programmes that are on a voluntary basis are more effective. Many organisations have outreach programmes that inspire ethnic minority students into industry sectors
  • promoting and ensuring inclusive workplaces: from the top executives through to local teams, listening to employees’ views on what makes an inclusive work environment through staff surveys and networks was important. The Business in the Community Race at Work Survey was also highlighted as a useful way for individuals to share experiences of race at work and give their voice to drive change on workplace equality
  • training provision on diversity and inclusion is vital: to have the greatest impact all employees should attend, including the senior executive team. Training opportunities ranged from unconscious bias and inclusive recruitment training for hiring managers, to inclusive leadership training for managers, as well as reciprocal mentoring programmes particularly aimed at partnering Black talented employees with senior leadership. An ‘inclusion allies’ programme, which helps employees understand what it means to be a good ally, and resilience training aimed at tackling imposter syndrome were also effective interventions

Key challenges from university senior management

The main concerns raised by university senior management, which were also echoed by academic survey respondents, clustered around 5 headings:

  1. Social inclusion: as well as ensuring an inclusive university environment, universities also discussed the community outside the university estate. Hostility to ethnic minority groups within the local area is a barrier to attraction and retention.
  2. International dimension: the engineering and physical sciences community is highly international with non-UK national ethnic minorities experiencing additional barriers (for example, language, cultural stereotyping) compared with UK national ethnic minority staff and students. The understanding of these different experiences and providing targeted support is key.
  3. Diversity of voice: the low numbers or absence of ethnic minorities, particularly in leadership roles, was acknowledged and seen as a challenge. Improving representation, for example, in university advisory groups and decision-making committees, was recognised but can prove difficult with small populations and not wanting to overburden people. Ways to improve promotion and recruitment to increase diversity are being explored, including finding ways to create a level playing field. Celebrating role models and people’s contribution to research and innovation is welcomed and is beneficial.
  4. Sense of belonging and inclusion: almost every institution reported that a sense of belonging and inclusion is severely lacking amongst ethnic minority researchers with concerns around isolation, with Black researchers and students feeling invisible and having a lack of role models.
  5. Systemic bias in peer review: almost every institution raised that their ethnic minority researchers had a significant lack of trust in the peer review process. This was primarily due to the researchers’ feeling they experienced bias, particularly at the reviewer stage. The lower award rates observed for ethnic minority researchers, particularly Black, Bangladeshi and Pakistani researchers compared with their White colleagues, can significantly impact on the career trajectory and opportunities available to individuals.

What was considered by the institutions to be working well

Processes considered to be working well included:

  • education on race: many institutions were offering a range of education materials on race and racism, such as podcasts, articles, videos, focus groups, book clubs, reading and research lists. The emphasis was for everyone to educate themselves, rather than putting the responsibility solely on Black and ethnic minority people, while also recognising that listening to other people’s experiences was still important. The effort is on building education, knowledge and confidence to change behaviours and help build allyship
  • capturing lived experiences of university staff and students through focus groups and support networks, enabling universities to listen and act
  • reciprocal mentoring: several university senior management boards were undertaking highly successful reverse and reciprocal mentoring with their Black and ethnic minority staff network members, to better appreciate and understand barriers to career progressions and inclusion. Many of the examples originated from Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s (EPSRC) Inclusion Matters projects
  • EDI book clubs: groups discuss recent EDI papers and topics helping to educate people on inequalities
  • using EPSRC Impact Acceleration Account funding to evolve the impact of ‘local’ EDI interventions more broadly across an institution and beyond to accelerate an improved research culture and greater social inclusion
  • EDI as an assessment criterion: EDI is included in individuals’ objectives and is assessed at the end of year appraisal, counting towards performance-related pay increases. Contributions to EDI are also considered in academic promotions
  • EDI training for all hiring managers before being on promotion panels

Many institutions already held or were in the process of applying for the Advance HE Race Equality Charter. They considered that this process was valuable for prompting analysis, dialogue, consultation and reflection.

There was a significant appetite for working together across the sector to share good diversity and inclusion practices of what works. Many institutions suggested that EPSRC can add value at a national level by providing a route to connect organisations.

Challenges encountered in academia by ethnic minority academic researchers

The survey covered a broad range of topics such as the support offered by the host organisation, experiences in the local environment, how included respondents feel in their workplace, whether they feel comfortable to have a voice and opportunities to progress their career.

Throughout the responses to the survey, it is observed that respondents from the White ethnic group provide answers that tend to be majority categorised into one of the options provided, in other words they either predominantly agree or disagree.

However, the answers provided by respondents from within different ethnic minority groups tend to show a greater variance across all available options, sometimes presenting no clear trend.

This might suggest that the experiences of ethnic minority respondents vary substantially (more so than their White colleagues) depending on their local environment, access to support and opportunities to date in their career pathway. This could also be a reflection of the variation in lived experiences from different ethnic groups.

Most prevalent challenges and barriers

Lack of belonging, opportunities and voice

People from all ethnic groups had experienced racial comments and microaggressions in their work environment, but this was particularly notable for Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Black British African respondents.

All Bangladeshi and Black respondents, three-quarters of Chinese, two-thirds of all Pakistani and just over half of all Indian respondents worry about how their race and ethnicity affected how they are perceived at work.

The majority of ethnic minorities reported feeling isolated in their own local environments and were much more likely to be uncomfortable voicing their own opinions, with many stating that their ideas and opinions were valued less compared to the same ideas or opinions spoken by White colleagues.

Although all ethnic groups felt they had received opportunities to progress their career, most considered that opportunities were more available to White colleagues.

Respondents were asked if they felt they were a valued member of the team they work in. As a proportion, more ethnic minority researchers did not feel valued, notably only 20% of Black respondents said they felt value.

Networking and visible role models

Finding a mentor can be difficult for everyone regardless of ethnicity or gender identity but was notably more difficult for Pakistani and Black British Africans compared to White men.

While most White respondents said they found it easy to network with colleagues, all Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Black British Africans tended towards finding networking more difficult.

All ethnic minorities agreed that there was a lack of role models where they worked, particularly in leadership roles.

This is a challenge for both attraction into an engineering and physical sciences research and innovation career and an individual’s career progression.

Awareness of EPSRC opportunities and staff

All Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and Black British African respondents said they would not contact EPSRC for advice or support with their funding application.

Of those who said they would make contact, 63% were White. In addition, 42% of respondents said they were not familiar with who their primary EPSRC contact was in their relevant area of research.

The low levels of interaction with EPSRC staff is a concern as this suggests that individuals are either hesitant to contact EPSRC to find out more information or they do not know who to contact or how to find out who to contact and they perceive a barrier to the communication channels.

If individuals are not aware of opportunities, they are less likely to make strong applications to funding opportunities.

Experiences of applying for EPSRC funding

The barriers identified when applying for funding that disproportionately affected ethnic minority researchers, in order of prevalence were:

  • lack of visible ethnic minority researchers in EPSRC’s grant portfolio, by far the greatest barrier raised by everyone, regardless of gender identity and ethnicity
  • reduced chance of success due to unfair biases (perceived or actual) in the peer review process
  • entry requirements for applications, for example, funding opportunities with a requirement for an existing grant portfolio
  • institutional selection processes and demand management processes
  • lack of institutional support with the application

Of the respondents to this survey, just under 70% had applied previously to EPSRC as a principal investigator, with 18% being a current principal investigator of a research grant.

The proportion of applicants that had previously applied but had been unsuccessful was 45% of ethnic minority and 49% of White respondents respectively. Most respondents regardless of their ethnicity considered that they were well supported by their institutions and colleagues prior to submission of a funding proposal.

Notably, White British respondents considered themselves very well supported by colleagues and their institution. Under half (40%) of the respondents considered the EPSRC peer review process to be transparent and fair, with over half of all White British and White non-UK nationals agreeing.

However, 42% of all respondents did not consider the process to be fair and transparent and notably within this group were 100% of all Black British African, Bangladeshi and Pakistani respondents, and nearly two-thirds of all Indian respondents. It was also perceptible that while half of all men consider the EPSRC peer review process to be transparent and fair, only 22% of women agreed.

This suggests that the experience of the process and the support throughout the peer review process differs considerably for different groups, with some underrepresented ethnic minorities and women experiencing non-transparent and unfair treatment.

Experience of bias in reviewer comments

Based on the ethnicity or nationality of applicants is impacting funding opportunities and causing distress.

The predominant concern was the uneven playing field created, where biased reviewers can unjustly sink proposals. Ethnic minority grant applicants are also receiving condescending and dismissive reviewer comments that White colleagues do not receive.

10% of respondents said that they had received a review for their EPSRC application where they considered that some of the comments could be viewed as racially motivated.

Of these respondents, just over half were ethnic minority respondents, which included all Black British African respondents, half of Bangladeshi and Pakistani, a quarter of all Indian respondents and 15% of all White non-UK nationals.

Of those respondents that considered they had received racially motivated comments, 20% raised their concerns with EPSRC. Of those respondents who did not raise their concerns with EPSRC, the primary reasons for this was the belief that EPSRC staff would not take action, or they considered that the comment was not serious enough or the individual worried that their interpretation was incorrect.

A small proportion felt uncomfortable in raising their concerns, with some worrying about what would happen to the success of their proposal if they did.

Interview process

Two-thirds of respondents who had attended an EPSRC interview as a candidate considered the process to be well conducted, unbiased and fair, notably most were White men (80%).

However, over half of all women and ethnic minority respondents considered the interview process to be biased against them and unfair.

While half of all men consider the EPSRC peer review process to be transparent and fair, only 22% of women agreed. Many respondents wanted feedback on their interview performance (positive or negative) that would help them to develop skills to succeed in the future.

Experiences of participation in EPSRC peer review

Just over a third (37%) of respondents identified themselves as EPSRC Peer Review College members, with the majority of respondents (59%) not being a member of the college.

Of those respondents that identify as college members, over two-thirds were White and a quarter identified as ethnic minorities. Just under two-thirds of people responding to this survey did not know that people can self-nominate to be on the EPSRC Peer Review College.

The only respondents who identified as having panel member experience were White. All Black British Caribbean, three-quarters of all Black British African and a half of all Bangladeshi and Mixed: Asian and White respondents had no participation in peer review in any capacity.

Some ethnic minority respondents are not being approached to review proposals or to serve as panel members even though they are a member of the EPSRC Peer Review College. The lack of diverse participation in peer review is a concern and a focus of our actions already in progress.

Nearly 10% of respondents who have served as an EPSRC panel member said they had witnessed what they felt to be an inappropriate comment related to the race or ethnicity of the applicant or applicant team.

Half of these respondents considered the inappropriate comment to be well managed by both the panel chair and EPSRC staff, with half considering that it should have been managed better.

Positive and negative experiences

Notable positive experiences included praising EPSRC staff for being helpful and friendly, for running the process professionally and being very clear with their guidance.

There were also positive experiences of interview panels whose members were diverse, friendly and patient, giving applicants confidence in the decision-making. Notable negative experiences included:

  • concerns about reviewers who write inappropriate statements with clear bias in their scores
  • short funding opportunity deadlines and funding opportunities that are not equally accessible
  • institutional gatekeeping
  • experiencing how a non- English-sounding name affects how people perceive written ideas

Overall, respondents felt their experience of applying to EPSRC was ‘mostly positive’. Although, when exploring the findings through a gender and ethnicity lens there is no clear trend, with different groups, and even respondents who share the same gender or ethnic group, experiencing considerably different positive and negative experiences.

However, the respondent data shows that White men tend to have had a more positive experience when applying to EPSRC for a research grant than women and ethnic minority groups, particularly Black respondents.

Impact of COVID-19 pandemic

The pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated structural inequalities and high levels of anxieties around job security.

A tighter academic job market will likely reduce opportunities for career progression for everyone, but particularly for ethnic minority researchers in an already unfair environment.

Follow-on roles for postdoctoral researchers were particularly highlighted as a concern. Other concerns raised included a lack of in-person interaction to gain soft skills that enable researchers to navigate the academic system, with many considering that this will have a tremendously negative impact in future career development.

It was thought that this was particularly true for ethnic minority researchers who might not be able to easily network and find collaborators, with cultural differences demanding more of researchers in extended family settings, which is disadvantaging some ethnic minority colleagues, resulting in individuals becoming less visible.

This has also had a significant impact for doctoral students who have been entirely cut off from informal networking and cohort level interactions, making it much harder for minority students to draw on networks needed later for finding opportunities.

However, some felt that the pandemic had helped because there was less in-person networking and less office politics, which often disadvantage ethnic minorities due to people making assumptions from how someone looks at an in-person meeting or having less likelihood of being invited to a meeting in the first place.

Due to home working, some respondents felt that there were more opportunities for skills and capabilities to be recognised, whereas in in-person settings these can be obstructed by what your ethnic background is.

Actions to take

To support the research community, respondents considered that the top 3 actions EPSRC should take are:

  1. Eradicate systemic bias and ensure fairness in peer review by ensuring a diversity of voice within assessment and decision-making and training peer reviewers.
  2. Pilot alternative methods of assessment such as double-blind peer review.
  3. Work with others across the sector to enhance access and improve research culture, for example, institutions to publish their pre-application selection statistics and processes and for everyone to find ways to create a level playing field.

Respondents also considered and recommended that institutions could give more guidance and encouragement to ethnic minority researchers to apply for larger grants, provide more mentors and ethnic minority role models and ensure diversity in the decision-makers.

Primary concerns

The primary concerns raised by ethnic minority academic respondents were the following:

  • securing funding to support research in a system with bias (covert racism) including institutional gatekeeping
  • dismissive behaviour, where ethnic minority researchers are assumed to be inferior, including:
    • disrespectful attitudes from colleagues and students, forced to accept you are less valued even when work is of equal value
    • ideas and opinions being valued less compared with the same ideas and opinions spoken by White colleagues
    • difficult to show credibility or even be heard
    • high levels of isolation, feeling like an ‘outsider’ of an established academic community
  • stereotyping attitudes including:
    • language barriers and having a non-western sounding name
    • experiencing microaggressions, from mispronunciations of names to broad assumptions about the country of people’s birth
    • cultural differences that are wrongly perceived
  • difficulty finding collaborators including:
    • receiving a lack of support for career progression
    • being pushed towards teaching tracks over research
  • lack of ethnic diversity in senior university management
  • lack of role models particularly in leadership roles with ethnic minority background

The primary concerns raised by White academic respondents were the following:

  • how to be better allies to our ethnic minority colleagues including a want to improve knowledge on how best to support and challenge behaviours that are inappropriate
  • early career researchers feeling the burden of correcting for historical racial inequalities while the top levels remain the least diverse
  • perceptions of privilege when White and coming from a socio-economically disadvantaged background or having hidden disabilities, including subtle and persistent messaging that White men didn’t have to work to achieve success
  • language barriers in being a White non-native English speaker. Many White non-UK nationals considered that it was an individual’s cultural background that drives discrimination and not the ethnic background

Challenges encountered in academia by ethnic minority postdoctoral researchers

The survey covered a similar broad range of topics compared with the academic researcher survey but with more of a focus on career progression and awareness of EPSRC.

Key challenges encountered

Opportunities and voice

In contrast to academic respondents, ethnic minority postdoctoral researchers were more comfortable in voicing their opinions in their own local environments than their White colleagues.

Yet, over twice the proportion of ethnic minority postdoctoral researchers did not feel their working environment was inclusive but did consider they were able to be themselves in the workplace to the same extent as White respondents.

Independent of ethnicity, most respondents felt they had received opportunities to progress their career.

Over a third of ethnic minority postdoctoral researchers were worried about how their race or ethnicity affected how they were perceived, with only a small number (less than 5) of respondents from the Asian ethnic group saying that they had experienced racial comments in their work environment.

Networks

A consistently reported barrier for ethnic minority postdoctoral respondents was in establishing informal networks.

This is a culmination of several points also raised that included a lack of belonging, working harder to gain the trust of colleagues and not feeling part of the majority group.

The lack of effective networks meant ethnic minority postdoctoral researchers were less aware of opportunities available for career progression, which has a clear impact on future career paths. This also impacted their ability to gain informal mentorship and role models.

Main challenges

The main challenges detailed by postdoctoral researchers were consistent, independent of ethnicity, job insecurity (exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic) and constant relocation.

However, there were added barriers present for ethnic minority postdoctoral researchers, primarily unconscious bias. There was a common view that many ethnic minority postdoctoral researchers had to work twice as hard to achieve the same (and sometimes less) as White colleagues and that their successes were less likely to be recognised and celebrated.

The impact of this on achieving funding and permanent positions was expressed strongly. Overall, it was felt by respondents, independent of ethnicity, that the lack of opportunities and larger number of barriers faced by ethnic minority postdoctoral researchers was not taken into account when allocating funding or in hiring practices.

Impact of COVID-19 pandemic

The pandemic has exacerbated the issues already present in the academic system.

There were concerns that a reduced postdoctoral and academic job market would increase the likelihood of postdoctoral researchers leaving academia to pursue more lucrative and stable career paths, especially so for ethnic minority individuals.

Concerns were also raised about the lack of conference attendance and the informal chats that often lead to future career opportunities limiting the prospects for many postdoctoral researchers.

This lack of networking opportunities, both international and in the local environment, will impact those who already struggle to gain a network more so than others.

It was noted that due to the strained situation generated by the pandemic, individuals tended to rely on their informal networks for support, meaning those who already had them in place were much better supported.

A proportion of respondents felt that the pandemic had impacted all researchers equally regardless of race and ethnicity. The vast majority of those who provided this opinion were White men. Several respondents suggested that EPSRC could promote flexible working and continue to raise awareness of racial issues in the academic sector.

EPSRC peer review process

The respondents who had applied to EPSRC before (19) were asked whether they thought the peer review process was transparent and fair.

The majority (44%) agreed with this statement with a third disagreeing. Respondents considered that the EPSRC peer review process provided clear instructions on how to apply, gave exposure to the grant writing and application process as well as the first comparative assessment of their scientific visions.

Some of the negative aspects included the length of time to get a result, that it was stressful to apply and upsetting when rejected. Some respondents raised the issue that their institution had told them to apply to a scheme at the last moment, which added extra stress to the process.

Specific to peer review, some were not convinced of the unbiased nature and transparency of the review process and noted the exasperation at receiving contradictory reviews.

Primary concerns

The primary concerns raised specific to ethnic minority postdoctoral researchers were the following:

  • unconscious bias including awareness, acceptance, understanding and willingness to challenge
  • lack of recognition: successes not being highlighted as much as White colleagues
  • difficulties in making informal networks including:
    • mentors, role models, collaborations
    • career opportunities
    • support and guidance
  • assumptions about ability including language proficiency, understanding and education
  • barriers not taken into account in funding allocations and hiring practices

The concerns raised by all respondents were the following:

  • job insecurity, short-term contracts, unpaid work
  • need to constantly relocate, which was not conducive to family life, owning a house or stability
  • high barriers to success, quantity over quality is valued (grants, papers, students)

Challenges encountered in academia by ethnic minority doctoral students

The doctoral student survey provided the largest number of usable responses (454) from the 3 surveys.

Due to the career stage, no questions were asked about the EPSRC peer review process and there was less of an emphasis on what EPSRC and UKRI could do and more on lived experiences in the respondents’ institutions.

Key findings

Breaking down barriers

When compared with the findings from the academic and postdoctoral researcher surveys, a greater number of ethnic minority doctoral students spoke about wanting to break down barriers and act as an advocate for their race, ethnicity or gender in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects. But they also felt a greater pressure to represent their ethnic group and break down barriers compared with their White counterparts.

Opportunities to progress

It was found that a greater proportion of ethnic minority doctoral students (52%) find an academic career appealing compared with their White colleagues (46%). However, a greater proportion also believe they are not given the same opportunity to progress their career when compared with their White colleagues, with Black and Mixed ethnic students feeling particularly disadvantaged.

Feelings of isolation

Ethnic minority doctoral students felt a much greater level of isolation and pressure than their White colleagues and felt uncomfortable to voice their own opinions in their workplace.

Worries about perception

Close to half of all ethnic minority respondents worried about how their race or ethnicity affects how they are perceived. This included 62% of Black respondents and 53% of Mixed ethnicity doctoral students.

This was also true for many, albeit a lower proportion, of the Indian and Pakistani respondents. Chinese doctoral students were split equally between agreeing and disagreeing in worrying about how their race or ethnicity affected how they were perceived.

Racial comments

9% of respondents said they had experienced racial comments in their work environment, and this was spread across all ethnic minority groups.

Finding mentors

42% of respondents said that they found it easy to find colleagues who could play a mentoring role, with a third of respondents disagreeing.

When looking at the respondent’s ethnicity, a higher proportion of ethnic minority students found it difficult to find a mentor compared with their White colleagues.

This was particularly true for Black and Mixed ethnicity respondents. The majority of female respondents said they struggled to find a mentor. It was also found that at this career stage, difficulties in networking were present independent of ethnicity.

Positives

In general, the positives of working in the academic sector were consistent across the board, interesting work, teaching, freedom, flexibility. There were added benefits raised by a number of ethnic minority doctoral students that included being a role model for other minority STEM students and being a valued member of a group.

Negatives

There were also consistent negative aspects of academia raised. These included not being able to be yourself, not being able to form informal networks, lack of awareness around bias, and feeling you have to work twice as hard as White colleagues to achieve the same or even less.

Several respondents pointed out the lack of financial security in the academic sector unfairly impacting those from a lower socio-economic background independent of race and gender identity.

Several, often White male, respondents raised ‘lack of free speech in their institution’ and the perceived view that, due to diversity quotas, many women and ethnic minority colleagues were preferentially given funding and support, independent of quality of work.

Many respondents noted that social events were not inclusive, for example, group pub trips and instances of colleagues not taking reports of racist abuse seriously or minimising its impact.

Impact of environment

The institution, research discipline and local environment had a large effect on how doctoral students viewed the academic sector, hence the differences in response and often contradictory statements.

Primary concerns

The primary concerns raised specific to ethnic minority doctoral students were the following:

  • bias: lack of awareness, the impact and understanding of bias
  • pressure to represent their ethnic group and break down barriers
  • social events not being inclusive (for example, social trips, drinking culture)
  • difficulties in forming informal networks
  • not being able to be yourself
  • lack of role models

The concerns raised by all respondents were:

  • culture of overworking
  • highly competitive
  • number of publications over quality is valued more
  • isolation
  • lack of formal management

Next steps: implementing action

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is developing the first edition of the equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) strategy, which is planned to be published in the coming months. Each council, and other parts of UKRI, are developing action plans to implement this strategy.

Implementation of the actions detailed in the following pages has already begun and will form part of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) EDI action plan.

We are working on race and ethnicity challenges with colleagues across UKRI. More information on activities in other councils and central UKRI functions has been published: UKRI activities to address underrepresentation and systemic disparities.

The interventions presented in this report draw many parallels with the recommendations for addressing gender inequality outlined in our gender diversity ‘have your say’ survey findings report.

Our commitments to action

After consideration of the key findings from our detailed ethnicity data investigation and community engagement we have identified the following interventions to improve ethnic and race equality in our portfolio and support the career progression of ethnic minority researchers and doctoral students.

All our proposed interventions are focused on making the system fairer for everyone. The interventions taken forward will be actively monitored and evaluated. EPSRC council has approved this approach and actions.

All actions are to be undertaken within the next 3 years, with some actions already underway.

For more information on other UKRI race equality activities see here: UKRI activities to address underrepresentation and systemic disparities.

Foster an inclusive and diverse research and innovation system and work in partnership with our community to support action

We will:

  • publish our findings from the race inequality community engagement and our commitment to action and update this with our progress through the EPSRC EDI Action Plan
  • connect together research organisations to create a ‘community of practice’ across the UK
  • explore new ways to engage with a diversity of groups from our community. With a focus on the peer review process, building trust and creating active listening routes
  • systematically engage with our partners (learned and professional societies) to explore how we can work together to take collective coordinated action on race equity issues and enhance the current provision of networking opportunities for underrepresented ethnic minority groups
  • continue to investigate our portfolio, build our analytical capabilities and engage with our community to take into consideration lived experiences to support inclusive decision-making, and to better understand barriers to participation and mitigate against them:
    • partner with expert groups (for example, Royal Statistical Society and London Mathematical Society) to support the sophisticated analysis of our portfolio data to reveal further insights and challenges to address and provide focus
    • engage with social scientists to expand our quantitative and qualitative data capability
    • continue to engage with our community, particularly people with lived experiences
    • develop our intersectional data capability focusing on ethnicity and gender as well as explore the international dimension of our portfolio. We will publish our findings and associated actions
  • focus on role models in our portfolio to highlight and make visible the varied and important contributions people from underrepresented groups make across the engineering and physical sciences, with a particular focus on women, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and colleagues who represent the LGBTQ+ community

Embed inclusive practices in the way we work to reduce inequities across our portfolio and improve trust

We will:

  • work with UKRI colleagues to understand the role of university selection processes on our portfolio with the aim of providing clear communication on accepted good practices for fair selection
  • explore all the routes (for example, cognitive overload, time pressures) in which bias manifests within our peer review approach and further adapt our processes and provide guidance to reviewers to reduce the impact of bias on decision-making
  • review our process for monitoring discriminatory comments from peer reviewers
  • commission an independent investigation of bias in peer reviewer comments and scores (racism, sexism, ableism, sexuality, ageist). To understand the depth of implicit reviewer bias and subsequently to reduce this impact using alternate approaches to ensure a fair funding system. This investigation will be undertaken to complement the UKRI Review of Peer Review detailed in the UK government People and Culture Strategy
  • explore how we can reduce bias in our decision-making. We will work with peer review prioritisation and interview panel members to ensure fair decision-making. Working with our community and experts, we will design our panel process to further strengthen the operation and transparency of our peer review panels to promote improved trust and confidence in our assessment and selection processes
  • investigate and evaluate alternative peer review assessment methods. for example, double blind peer review and separating the assessment of the research idea from the track record as well as exploring lottery type models. We will evaluate funding opportunities 1 and 2 of New Horizons and the implementation of the Resume for Research and Innovation within our fellowships scheme. This work will be linked to the development of the new UKRI Funding Service and implementation of actions set out in the UK government People and Culture Strategy, specifically the UKRI Review of Peer review
  • improve our use of plain English in funding opportunities as part of the UKRI Simpler Better Funding, being mindful that English is not everyone’s first language
  • evaluate the process used for our NPIF Innovation Fellowships. This process resulted in the most diverse cohort we have funded, and which included a step for universities to inform us how they were ensuring diversity in the applications submitted
  • create an evidence base on the broader impact of EPSRC’s successful mixed gender panel (peer review and advisory) policy. Since its launch in 2016 we have seen an increase (from 18% to 33% EPSRC peer review diversity data 2014 to 15 to 2019 to 20) in the proportion of women on funding panels and advisory groups. We will explore the impact (direct and indirect) on the broader community and peer review process. To be able to demonstrate the benefits of our intervention, articulate the impact it has had (positive and negative) and to explore broadening this policy to include ethnicity
  • ensure no short deadlines to funding opportunities. Thoughtful deadlines to enable a greater diversity of people to apply. We will commit to funding opportunities to be open for a minimum of 8 weeks unless an urgent business requirement dictates otherwise or for reasons not within our control

Encourage and enable greater access and participation in engineering and physical sciences research careers through embedding EDI practice in our portfolio and the wider research community

We will:

  • work with the learned societies to enhance the current provision of networking opportunities for underrepresented ethnic minority groups
  • gather intelligence from our Inclusion Matters portfolio and share the findings of ‘what works’ with our community via a good practice resource hub to empower researchers to embed and enact change in their own environment
  • monitor and evolve our EDI expectations guide including good practice examples collecting and sharing good practices via a resources hub. Providing recognition and visibility for EDI good practice to help improve practices in our research and training grants. The aim to embed and empower our researchers in their local environment to create inclusive workplaces
  • if funding allows, increase support for vacation internships provided through our Doctoral Training Partnership funding for local university action to support or facilitate involvement of underrepresented groups in postgraduate study
  • encourage our doctoral training grant holders to ensure inclusive and fair recruitment. Including processes that are accessible to people following a variety of different career paths
  • assist those who deliver our doctoral training investments in developing and sharing good EDI practice to ensure inclusive workplaces and practices

Increase diversity of voice in our advisory groups

We will:

  • increase the representation of ethnic minority researchers on our Peer Review College to 20% by actively encouraging self-nominations to the Peer Review College from all our researchers but particularly seeking nominations from ethnic minority colleagues. In the first 6 months of the campaign, we observed a positive response with a 2.5 times increase in self-nominations compared to the previous year
  • increase the membership of ethnic minority representation on our strategic advisory bodies: strategic advisory teams, Science, Engineering and Technology Board and strategic advisory network to 20%
  • ensure we have a diversity of voices advising us on our EDI activities and plans. We will refresh our membership of our EDI strategic advisory group and evolve our approach to work more closely with our strategic advisory teams and other stakeholders
  • when working on specific issues, create forums for people who have different lived experiences, representative from various career stages and pathways, to facilitate engagement with us and to participate in the development of our actions. We will seek expert advice on how to create safe and inclusive spaces for people engaging in conversations about their lived experiences and pilot and embed approaches to inclusive dialogue and engagement that value and celebrate different voices, expertise, experience and perspectives

Investigate the barriers to greater access and participation to provide better support for people in our community

We will:

  • work with colleagues across UKRI to explore further how socioeconomic background affects the participation and success of people in research with a particular view to widening access and participation to our doctoral education investments working with our training grant holders

Annex 1: university and business partners

Questionnaires were completed by 46 universities and 7 businesses. To date we have had follow-up conversations with 28 universities. Completed questionnaires and follow-up conversations (designated by ‘*’) have been undertaken with the following organisations.

University organisation

The following universities completed questionnaires and follow-up conversations:

  • Aberystwyth University
  • Aston University
  • Bangor University
  • University of Bath *
  • University of Birmingham *
  • University of Brighton
  • University of Bristol *
  • Brunel University London *
  • University of Cambridge *
  • Cardiff University *
  • Cardiff Metropolitan University
  • Coventry University
  • Cranfield University *
  • De Montfort University
  • University of Dundee
  • Durham University *
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Exeter *
  • University Glasgow *
  • Goldsmiths, University of London
  • University of Hull
  • Imperial College London*
  • University of Kent
  • Lancaster University *
  • The University of Leeds
  • The University of Lincoln *
  • Loughborough University *
  • The University of Manchester *
  • Middlesex University London
  • Newcastle University *
  • Northumbria University
  • The University of Nottingham *
  • The University of Oxford *
  • Queen Mary University of London
  • The University of Reading
  • Royal Holloway, University of London *
  • The University of Sheffield *
  • The University of Southampton *
  • The University of St Andrews *
  • The University of Strathclyde *
  • The University of Surrey *
  • The University of Sussex *
  • Swansea University *
  • University College London *
  • The University of York

Business organisation

The following business organisations completed questionnaires and follow-up conversations:

  • Lubrizol Limited
  • QinetiQ
  • Shell Arup
  • National Physical Laboratory
  • Leonardo UK Ltd
  • MBDA UK

Annex 2: ‘have your say’ survey respondent demographics

Summary of respondent ethnicity across all 3 ‘have your say’ surveys

Academic

  • White, 137
  • ethnic minority, 56
  • not disclosed, 15

Postdoctoral

  • White, 52
  • ethnic minority, 38
  • not disclosed, 6

Student

  • White, 260
  • ethic minority, 164
  • not disclosed, 30

Academic ‘have your say’ survey respondent demographics

Of the 208 responses, 29% identified their sex as female and 61% as male, with 11% preferring not to say. 1% of respondents said that the gender they identified with was different to their sex registered at birth.

The majority of respondents identified themselves as White (66%) with 27% of respondents self-identifying as an ethnic minority. The breakdown of respondents by their identified ethnicity is as follows:

  • Asian or Asian British, Indian, 11 (5.3%)
  • Asian or Asian British, Pakistani ,3 (1.4%)
  • Asian or Asian British, Bangladeshi, 2 (1.0%)
  • Asian or Asian British, Chinese, 8 (3.8%)
  • Other Asian background, 7 (3.4%)
  • Black or Black British, Caribbean, 1 (0.5%)
  • Black or Black British, African, 4 (1.9%)
  • other Black background, 0 (0.0%)
  • Mixed, Black Caribbean and White, 0 (0.0%)
  • Mixed, Black African and White, 0 (0.0%)
  • Mixed, Asian and White, 4 (1.9%)
  • other Mixed background, 7 (3.4%)
  • White British, 81 (38.9%)
  • other White background, 56 (26.9%)
  • other Ethnic background, 9 (4.4%)
  • prefer not to say, 15 (7.2%)

118 (57%) respondents recorded their nationality as the UK with 69 (33%) respondents identifying as non-UK nationals. The remaining 21 (10%) respondents did not disclose their nationality.

Respondents represented various career stages:

  • 53 (26%) respondents identified themselves as early career
  • 73 (35%) respondents identified themselves as mid-career
  • 69 (33%) respondents identifying themselves as senior career
  • 13 (6%) preferred not to say

The majority of respondents, 174 (84%), identified as having permanent contracts, with 21 (10%) on fixed-term contracts and the remaining 13 (6%) not disclosing this information.

As a proportion, there are more women (52%) respondents on fixed-term contracts compared to men (38%).

Of all the respondents, it is noticeable that a quarter of both Black British Africans and Mixed: Asian and White were on fixed-term rather than permanent contracts.

The majority of respondents identified their sexual identity as heterosexual or straight (153, 74%) or preferred not to say (39, 19%). 8 (4%) identified as being a gay man, 4 (2%) bisexual, 3 (1%) preferred to self-describe, and 1 (0.5%) identified as a gay woman or lesbian.

Respondents represented various disabilities. The majority of people (154, 74%) identified with having no known disability and 27 (13%) preferred not to say. 9 (4%) identified as having a mental health condition, 4 (2%) identified as having a long-standing illness, 4 (2%) said they were blind or partially sighted and 3 (1%) had a learning difficulty such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD.

A further 2 people (1%) identified with autistic spectrum disorder, 1 person (1%) deaf or with a partial hearing impairment and another 1 person (1%) a physical impairment.

The majority of respondents work in the mathematical sciences, engineering and physics-related disciplines. The disciplines that best described respondents’ area of work are as follows:

  • chemistry, 12 (5.8%)
  • mathematical sciences, 70 (33.7%)
  • physics, 21 (10.1%)
  • materials, 12 (5.8%)
  • engineering, 42 (20.2%)
  • ICT, 4 (1.9%)
  • manufacturing, 4 (1.9%)
  • energy or net zero, 2 (1.0%)
  • healthcare technologies, 11 (5.3%)
  • digital economy, 0 (0.0%)
  • artificial intelligence and robotics, 4 (1.9%)
  • quantum technologies, 0 (0.0%)
  • other (please specify), 15 (7.2%)
  • prefer not to say, 11 (5.3%)

The small number of survey respondents for some of the ethnic groups means the disaggregated analysis by individual ethnic group can be statistically limiting. Our reporting focuses on observable trends and lived experiences.

Due to some information being recorded as ‘not disclosed’ and a number of questions in the survey being optional or respondents were able to select more than one option, not all counts will add up to 100%.

Breakdown of respondent demographics to the academic ‘have your say’ survey

Sex

  • male, 126
  • female, 60
  • not disclosed, 22

Ethnic group

  • white, 137
  • ethnic minority, 56
  • not disclosed, 25

Nationality

  • UK, 118
  • non UK, 69
  • not disclosed, 21

Contract type

  • permanent, 174
  • fixed term, 21
  • not disclosed, 13

Career stage

  • early career, 53
  • mid career, 73
  • senior career, 69
  • not disclosed, 13

Postdoctoral researcher respondent demographics

Of the 96 responses, 34 (35%) identified their sex as female and 56 (58%) as male, with 6 (6%) preferring not to say. One person (1%) identified that the gender they identified with was different to their sex registered at birth.

The breakdown of respondents by their identified ethnicity is as follows:

  • Asian or Asian British, Indian, 8 (8.3%)
  • Asian or Asian British, Pakistani, 2 (2.1%)
  • Asian or Asian British, Bangladeshi, 0 (0%)
  • Asian or Asian British, Chinese, 7 (7.3%)
  • other Asian background, 5 (5.2%)
  • Black or Black British, Caribbean, 0 (0%)
  • Black or Black British, African, 2 (2.1%)
  • other Black background, 0 (0%)
  • Mixed, Black Caribbean and White, 0 (0%)
  • Mixed, Black African and White, 2 (2.1%)
  • Mixed, Asian and White, 2 (2.1%)
  • other Mixed background, 3 (3.1%)
  • White British, 24 (25%)
  • other White background, 28 (29.2%)
  • other ethnic background, 7 (7%)
  • prefer not to say, 6 (6.3%)

40% of the respondents were ethnic minority researchers. It is important to note a particularly low respondence from postdoctoral researchers who identified as Black (2% in total).

39 (41%) respondents recorded their nationality as the UK with 55 (57%) respondents identifying as non-UK nationals, the remaining 2 (2%) respondents did not disclose their nationality.

Respondents represented various career stages, with the majority, 83 (87%), identifying themselves as early career. 9 (9%) and 2 (2%) respondents identified themselves as mid-career and senior career respectively. The remaining 2 (2%) preferred not to say.

The majority of respondents had 1 to 3 years’ postdoctoral experience (33, 34%), followed by 1 year (23, 24%) and then 3 to 6 years (22, 23%). 7 (7%) researchers had 6 to 9 years’ experience and 8 (8%) over 9 years. 3 (3%) preferred not to disclose their length of experience.

For sexual identity, the vast majority of people identified as heterosexual/straight (72, 75%) or preferred not to say (14, 15%). 8 (8%) identified as bisexual and 2 (2%) preferred to self-describe.

In terms of disabilities, 77 (80%) responded as having no known disability and 6 (6%) preferred not to say. 2 (2%) identified as having an autistic spectrum disorder, 1 (1%) as deaf or with a partial hearing disability, 8 (8%) a mental health disability and 2 (2%) learning difficulties. None of the respondents were blind or partial sighted, had a long-standing illness, physical impairment or mobility disability.

The majority of respondents work in the mathematical sciences, engineering and physics-related disciplines. The disciplines that best described respondents’ area of work are as follows:

  • chemistry, 12 (12.5%)
  • mathematical sciences, 22 (22.9%)
  • physics, 28 (29.2%)
  • materials, 7 (7.3%)
  • engineering, 32 (33.3%)
  • ICT 4 (4.2%)
  • manufacturing, 1 (1.0%)
  • energy or net zero, 4 (4.2%)
  • healthcare technologies, 4 (4.2%)
  • digital economy, 0 (0%)
  • artificial intelligence and robotics, 2 (2.1%)
  • quantum technologies, 4 (4.2%)
  • other (please specify), 7 (7.3%)
  • prefer not to say, 1 (1.0%)
  • multiple areas selected, 22 (23.2%)

Respondents could select multiple options, therefore the counts will not total 100%.

The small number of survey respondents for some of the ethnic groups means the disaggregated analysis by individual ethnic group can be statistically limiting. This report will focus on observable trends and lived experiences.

Due to some information being recorded as ‘not disclosed’ and a number of questions in the survey being optional or respondents were able to select more than one option, not all counts will add up to 100%.

Doctoral student respondent demographics

Of the 454 responses, 197 (43%) identified their sex as female and 233 (51%) as male, with 24 (5%) preferring not to say. 13 people (3%) said that the gender they identified with was different to their sex registered at birth.

The breakdown of respondents by their identified ethnicity is as follows:

  • Asian or Asian British, Indian, 20 (4.4%)
  • Asian or Asian British, Pakistani, 9 (2.0%)
  • Asian or Asian British, Bangladeshi, 2 (0.4%)
  • Asian or Asian British, Chinese, 24 (5.3%)
  • other Asian background, 14 (3.1%)
  • Black or Black British, Caribbean, 4 (0.9%)
  • Black or Black British, African, 29 (6.4%)
  • other Black background, 1 (0.2%)
  • Mixed, Black Caribbean and White, 7 (1.5%)
  • Mixed, Black African and White, 2 (0.4%)
  • Mixed, Asian and White, 10 (2.2%)
  • other Mixed background, 11 (2.4%)
  • White British, 141 (31.1%)
  • other White background, 119 (26.2%)
  • other ethnic background, 31 (7%)
  • prefer not to say, 30 (6.6%)

36% of the respondents identified as an ethnic minority researcher. It is important to note a particularly low respondence from students who identified as:

  • Bangladeshi (0.4% in total)
  • Caribbean (0.9% in total)
  • other Black background (0.2% in total)
  • Mixed, Black African and White (0.4% in total)

219 (48%) respondents recorded their nationality as the UK with 232 (51%) respondents identifying as non-UK nationals, the remaining 3 (1%) respondents did not disclose their nationality.

Respondents were from various years of study towards a doctorate with the majority, 147 (32%), being in their first year. This was followed by:

  • third year (22%)
  • second year (20%)
  • fourth year (16%)
  • 4-year-plus (7%)
  • preferred not to say (3%)

The doctoral students who responded to this survey were funded via several routes:

  • were funded through Centres for Doctoral Training (33%)
  • other routes (23%)
  • Doctoral Training Partnerships (19%)
  • null (12%)
  • preferred not to say (8%)
  • Industrial CASE Award (3%)
  • multiple routes (2%)

For sexual identity:

  • the vast majority of people identified as heterosexual or straight (69%)
  • bisexual (12%)
  • preferred not to say (10%)
  • preferred to self-describe (4%)
  • identified as a gay man (3%)
  • identified as a gay woman or lesbian (2%)

In terms of disabilities:

  • having no known disability (71%)
  • some form of mental health disorder (10%)
  • preferred not to say (7%)
  • multiple disabilities (4%)
  • learning difficulty (3%)
  • long-standing illness (2%)
  • autistic spectrum disorder (1%)
  • physical impairment or mobility disability (0.4%)
  • no-one recorded as blind or partially sighted or as deaf or with a partial hearing disability

The majority of respondents selected multiple categories (24%) when selecting an area of study.

The disciplines that best described respondents’ area of work are as follows:

  • chemistry, 56 (12.3%)
  • mathematical sciences, 92 (20.3%)
  • physics, 73 (16.1%)
  • materials, 34 (7.5%)
  • engineering, 153 (33.7%)
  • ICT, 14 (3.1%)
  • manufacturing, 18 (4.0%)
  • energy or net zero, 25 (5.5%)
  • healthcare technologies, 28 (6.2%)
  • digital economy, 4 (0.9%)
  • artificial intelligence and robotics, 47 (10.4%)
  • quantum technologies, 10 (2.2%)
  • other (please specify), 69 (15.2%)
  • prefer not to say, 8 (1.8%)
  • multiple areas selected, 108 (23.8%)

Respondents could select multiple options, therefore the counts will not total 100%.

The small number of survey respondents for some of the ethnic groups means the disaggregated analysis by individual ethnic group can be statistically limiting. This report will focus on observable trends and lived experiences.

Due to some information being recorded as ‘not disclosed’ and a number of questions in the survey being optional or respondents were able to select more than one option, not all counts will add up to 100%.

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