Hello all, I am please to announce a new section of my blog called PhD Chronicles where I will be detailing my experiences during my PhD. The first topic of the series will be about why representation matters to within academia in light of it being the end of Black History Month.
Firstly, I always liked science during school and I was also quite good at it academically so I had a feeling my future career would involve science (click HERE to read full break down of my science journey so far). I went through the motions of wanting to be a singer, journalist and a doctor before being set on becoming a scientist (some life events also led up to this decision). However, the seed of becoming an academic was planted from me growing up with an academic father. Whilst the ultimate decision to pursue academia was confirmed during my Masters degree, I used to revel in tagging along with my Dad to work at the University of Goldsmiths and soaking up the university environment. It also helps when you know that your father is an esteemed lecturer who gets shown love from his students on his course material. I knew that I would ideally want to lecture to students after having several years of research and industry experience in order to deliver interesting content to any future scientists. Therefore, it is nice to have see someone like you in a position you one day aspire to be in yet throughout my whole three years at university (Hertfordshire), I only had one black lecturer (a female). I then thought to myself that maybe this was just an individual problem at my university but alas I was mistaken.
So now to address the elephant in the room called the attainment gap
The attainment gap in a nutshell analyses at the grades that students go on to achieve at university based on their attained A Level or BTEC grades whilst being broken down among different races. The fact that this attainment gap transcends beyond university into professional careers and commences from before one even enters university is quite concerning to say the least. Some of the statistics from the 2018 Equality + Higher education by Advanced HE for the years 2016/17 include:-
• The attainment gap between white and black students qualifying with a First/2:1 degree was 24.0%
• 0.6% of UK professors were black
• Only 1 in 5 female academics earned over £50,000 (22.5% of female academics, compared to 35.6% of male academics)
And there is also the famous fact that from this same study out of the 19,000 professors in the UK, 90 are black men (bragging rights that my father is one of them) and ONLY 25 are black women even though there percentage of female undergraduates obtaining a First/2:1 is greater compared to male undergraduates (76.8% and 72.8% respectively).
Image from Advanced HE
Therefore, the topic of representation is extremely important to me simply because seeing someone like you in the same field as you can help you to not feel alone. It’s nice to be somewhat of a foundation builder bridging the gap however it is always nice to allies alongside with you. What I would do to one day work in a biological sciences department with several senior black female colleagues all slaying in our individual specialities. I also know how impressionable young people can be when it comes to following future career paths. I myself switched from wanting to do journalism to science due to enjoying my secondary science lessons whilst simultaneously detesting my English lessons because of my teacher. The idea of seeing role models in your field can be empowering as it gives you hope that you too can achieve it. I am a believer of the fact that people may look up to you whether you know it or not so who knows someone may be looking up to me doing this degree and hence be inspired to do the same. I also want to address the fact even though there are success stories for black people in academia, looking at the statistics alone shows that its not enough to have such a small amount of black academics in comparison to their white counterparts – we need more black academics. There are several deserving black academics who ought to be in higher positions than they are currently in or the black academics in those higher positions had to endure hardship and shenanigans in order to get there. This isn’t a rant because there are statistics to back up this lack of diversity amongst the academic sector.
Even as I write this post tired out of my mind settling into my new PhD life, I am questioning myself as to what exactly am I doing? The imposter syndrome wants to try and put me in a choke-hold but I can’t allow it because at the end of the day I worked extremely hard to get to this point. I am an able scientist just like my other PhD peers so why would I feel like I am not intelligent enough to be here? And then I remember why I started in the first place… I prayed and dreamt about pursuing this degree as a way to set myself up in future career wise. I am passionate about women securing the bag financially no matter what field and ultimately having successful careers and being able to provide for themselves first and foremost. I am also passionate about women investing in themselves academically to further supplement their pursuit of their dream career especially if it is beneficial and crucial to their final career goal. I am aware that there is a very vast gap in academia for black female professors and I hope to be one of the ones who fills that space one day.
All in all, my aims for the PhD chronicle series is be transparent and honest about my experience whilst hopefully being informative and relatable to anybody who is considering going down this path. I hope that even little old me doing a Biological Sciences PhD can be enough to motivate another young black girl to become a scientist or even a future academic!
Until next time,