Published: 28 June 2021
Equal Representation in Academia (ERA) will be pioneered at St George’s and will give undergraduate students from ethnic minorities opportunities for mentoring and work shadowing placements in a research environment.
Applications are invited from students on any degree programme and should be received by the deadline of Wednesday, 30 June 2021.
St George’s alumna, Postdoctoral Fellow in Neuroscience and founder of ERA, Dr Mohani-Preet Dhillon, explains why she decided to develop the initiative and how students can get involved.
Tackling issues facing students from ethnic minority backgrounds
Dr Dhillon, who recently finished her PhD and is also Teaching Fellow in Clinical Pharmacology at St George’s, says:
“Data on representation of academic staff shows there is a lower proportion of staff from ethnic minorities compared to students from the same backgrounds. It seems students from ethnic minorities are not progressing into academic research careers."
"Furthermore, as the seniority of the academic role increases, the representation of staff from ethnic minorities decreases.
"It is not clear why this disparity exists, but reasons may include a lack of role models. I would define a role model as someone who is relatable and empathetic, has achieved success, is constantly seeking to improve and keep learning, and most importantly is willing to share their knowledge to help others. Students from ethnic minority backgrounds often tell me that they cannot find role models from the same background among university staff."
"I believe that raising awareness of current role models from minority backgrounds, and supporting the development of future role models, will help students from the same background to develop a greater sense of belonging and see more accessible paths to success.”
Dr Dhillon goes on to explain that students are not always aware of what an academic career entails:
“Research often happens behind the scenes and students are eager to have first-hand experience in the lab, which isn’t always easily available.”
Sharing her experience of how cultural bias can influence a student’s career path, she adds:
“Coming from an ethnic minority background myself, I am aware that some families do not see value in pursuing a career in academia, however I set out to challenge this notion."
"There should be a focus on the lived experiences of ethnic minority students and staff to ascertain and raise awareness of the obstacles they undoubtedly face.”
What will ERA involve?
Speaking about how the initiative aims to address some of these issues, Dr Dhillon says:
"Equal Representation in Academia (ERA) will be pioneered at St George’s in the first instance, and thereafter the plan is to branch out to other University of London institutions.
"ERA aims to support improved representation using a multi-faceted approach. To help address a lack of role models, ERA will host a series of podcasts and videos with academic staff from minority backgrounds to showcase their research and share their experiences. To help address a lack of knowledge about what an academic career entails, four work shadowing placements will be offered. Individuals will be able to shadow a research group to understand the day-to-day life of members instrumental to the scientific process - such as postgraduate students, postdoctoral fellows, laboratory technicians, lab principal investigators and professors."
"Also, students who are selected for an ERA placement, will receive mentorship from their placement supervisors, members of the research team, and will receive bespoke careers advice from the University of London careers service."
"To help address cultural bias, ERA will host public engagement events which invite members of the community to witness the valuable research taking place at St George’s.
"An external website will be built to provide online resources accessible to all, as well as a forum to facilitate discussion. The aim is to make a central hub which will link all University of London communities and create a wider database of role models.”
Reflecting on her own time at St George’s as a student from an ethnic minority background, Dr Dhillon says:
“I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as a student at St George’s. I am grateful to have been surrounded by brilliant mentors who have supported my professional development and inspired me."
"I have always found the help and support that I need at St George’s to make a change, which is why I am overjoyed that the university will host the first four ERA placements."
"I am keen to give back to the St George’s community and improve the experience for students who may feel underrepresented at university.”
How to get involved
Students can get involved by applying for work shadowing placements (PDF).
Please submit applications by the end date on 30th June at 4pm.
There are also opportunities for Student Ambassadors to create digital resources for ERA. If you are interested, please contact Dr Dhillon directly.
Read more about ERA here.