Black students face significant barriers which prevent them from pursuing doctoral study and a research career.
Studies carried out at the University of Essex have shown that black students fear they won’t belong, feel there isn’t adequate information about grants or scholarships and fear they’d struggle to find a willing supervisor.
Essex’s Black Researchers’ Hub is changing all that, offering bespoke guidance and support to ensure every black student can achieve their research ambitions.
Transitions and Transformations, a black researcher’s journey
Eden Anin-Adjei and Yemisi Sloane, two PhD students at Essex, conducted research which uncovered several hurdles faced by black and BAME students. From a lack of role models to money and a sense of belonging, their study found that a research career is not often something black and BAME students feel is open to them.
Eden explained: “Although I always knew I wanted to do a PhD and what my research was going to be about, I did struggle with not knowing how to write a research proposal, so I was rejected in my first application. Throughout my academic and professional career, I have always struggled with imposter syndrome. The idea that I didn’t belong even though I deserved to be in this position, in this space. It has caused me to have writer’s block, give up on certain opportunities and in a sense, self-sabotage. I am still learning; I am still growing and that is what this experience is about.”
“I am also one of only two black female researchers in my department. At first this made me want to hide but now it’s only motivated me to become more visible and be a representative for future PhD candidates in my department.”
Making a research career a realistic option
At Essex our impatience for change led us to launch our Black Researchers’ Hub (BRH) to tackle these issues and make research and academic careers a realistic option for black students. The hub provides support, encouragement, and guidance specifically for black students to ensure they can explore academic careers and pursue their research dreams.
Eden’s experience and research have even led her to take on a role as part of the Black Researchers’ Hub project, helping build the platform, engage with students and encourage them to explore their own research careers. As Digital Programme Officer for the project, she is helping create real change at Essex.
She said: “The Black Researchers’ Hub is a safe space for black researchers where they can share their journey and network from various departments. It offers practical solutions to increasing participation of black students rather than just ticking boxes.”
The BRH is a specially designed online hub where black students can find an academic mentor, find work placements, and find the help and supportive environment they need to succeed. The hub guides students, showing them the skills and knowledge they will develop across their university career from critical thinking and academic literacy to project planning, public engagement and leadership.
Research in the real world
Students can access valuable work placements that allow them to put their research to work in the real world. PhD Accounting and Finance student Happiness Uka has been able to swap her corporate accounting role in industry for a new research career. As part of her PhD programme, she secured a work placement with the Brilliant Club, the charity that partners with the University to deliver the Black Researchers’ Hub and its overarching project Transitions and Transformations, A Black Researcher’s Journey.
Happiness explained: “The University of Essex encourages you to understand and develop the practical skills that you are going to need when you move into the workplace, whether in academia or other industries. Students, like me, become extremely employable PhD graduates. For me, the pedagogy skills that I need to deliver teaching and tutorials have been very useful. For example, as a black researcher, I was supported by my supervisor to secure a three-month placement at the Brilliant Club. This opportunity allowed me to support Essex’s widening participation work, delivering seven tutorials each week to two primary schools, which was an amazing experience for me.”
A whole new career path
Taking the leap and embracing further study with the view to embarking on a whole new career path has allowed Happiness to find her unique voice and to pursue the research that is close to her heart. She is combining her accountancy skills with her love of the environment and nature to study something of increasing importance to our planet.
She said: “My research focuses on accounting for biodiversity extinction. Our Earth's natural resources are becoming extinct day by day by humans (anthropocentric) who in most cases do not account for these extinctions. I am investigating how accounting for biodiversity extinction is interpreted by different stakeholders. According to the UN report, Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history.
“My research is unique because it is interdisciplinary and not just limited to accounting, it is also a global current issue just like climate change. I am interested in my area of research because I lived with my grandma when I was a teenager. My grandma was a farmer, so every weekend when I was off school, we would go farming. This was 20 to 25 years ago, one of the reasons I liked going to farm with my grandma was because I love nature, there was a tremendous amount of forestry and wild animals then. The shocking thing is that the forestry and wild animals I remember, have all been made extinct by deforestation, logging, and hunting. I think it is very sad that anthropocentrism is not thinking about saving the earth for the future. My question remains who do we hold accountable? The government, political leaders, policymakers, economists, organisations, communities, individuals?”
Still a relatively new project, the Black Researchers’ Hub is already having an impact and is reaching out to every new black student joining the University and offering the kind of guidance and support that could give students the confidence they need to explore the research career many thought was out of reach.
Discounts, bursaries and scholarships
Essex is impatient to do more to support and help black Asian and minority ethnic students, to bring equality to our campuses and help our diverse global community thrive.
The University offers an alumni discount, which is a tuition fee discount for students who successfully complete a University of Essex validated Bachelors degree, Masters degree, Postgraduate Diploma or Graduate Diploma, either at Essex or one of our partner institutions. The discount is available for the first year of postgraduate study at Masters and PhD level.
Another way that Essex is supporting BAME students into further study and research is through a £500 bursary offered to black, Arab or mature students progressing from undergraduate study at the University, to a Postgraduate Masters course. This applies whether progressing directly or following a gap in study. These two offers can be used together and aim to ease transition for students who are interested in further study but are worried about the cost.
The University also has a range of scholarships available, from specific faculty scholarships, to our refugee bursary that offers students with UK refugee status up to £1,500 for full time or up to £750 for part time study.
Many scholarships are available to all students, take a look at what’s on offer and come back soon to see what will be on offer for 2024 entry students.