Transitions and Transformations: The Black Researcher’s Journey is a pioneering new project that won significant funding for its work in tackling inequalities and barriers for Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic students to access and take part in postgraduate research.
Essex PhD researchers Eden Anin-Adjei and Yemisi Sloane presented the initial work of the project to the National Educational Opportunities Network (NEON) postgraduate diversity group conference.
We hear more from Eden about their experience of the conference and the important work they have been leading.
The NEON conference took place in July 2022 and my colleague Yemisi and I had the privilege to represent the University and the project in Leeds. The theme for the NEON conference was to widen access and increase success within Postgraduate Taught and Research Study, and to discuss inequalities and under-representation in the current system that prevents both people and academia from achieving their full potential.
What particularly stood out to me were the similarities that each university BAME demographic faced, and the desire to achieve an EDI goal that set out to tackle issues within academia.
In my own personal experience, my journey to become a Black researcher has been quite a smooth one in terms of knowing what I wanted. I knew exactly that I wanted to do my PhD early on and what the 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 but used resources on YouTube, articles, and examples which gave me the confidence to reapply and be accepted on to the course. While I knew that I wanted to do a PhD, I struggled to know what career path to take upon completion which prevented me from having certain career experiences, but it is never too late to gain experience and, in the last year, I have gained countless opportunities in academic teaching and research.
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 large numbers of writer’s blocks, 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 have not necessarily faced any barriers that pertain exclusively to Black researchers. One thing that was and is still continually addressed is that I am one of only two Black female researchers in my department, and it has been so for a while. At first, this comment made me want to hide within the University, but now it’s only motivated me to become more visible and be a representative for future PhD candidates in my department. However, I would argue that finance is a barrier that I have faced, with personal matters and trying to have a normal and healthy standard of living within the cost-of-living crisis that is happening now. Having to work and commute prevents me from being as involved in the academic space as I would like to be.
I do not have role models per se, but I do have motivators and drivers. My biggest drivers are my parents. I am not their first child to attend university, nor be a PhD student, but seeing the life they lived, albeit a good one, I saw greater potential for them to achieve their dreams. Alas, they couldn’t. This has driven me to make sure that, in everything I do, I must strive to be better. I admire institutions, visualising the space I want to be in and how to get there, rather than role models. Everyone’s journey is different, and I have always taken the road less travelled — it creates a greater story for myself.
I was introduced to the Transitions and Transformations project by a lecturer on the project through my supervisor who thought my interests aligned with the project aims. I strongly agreed with what the project represented and what it desired to achieve by the end of it.
Following my role as a research assistant that ended in July, I am now a Digital Programme Officer for the Black Researchers’ Hub. I started the role in October 2022, and I will be leading, delivering, and developing the Hub. My role will provide support to the Hub and be a primary liaison between the Transitions and Transformation project team and the Student Development department. The Black Researchers’ Hub is an online platform that seeks to enhance access to networking, training, and development opportunities for students.
For the initial stages of the Transitions and Transformations project, my colleague Yemisi and I conducted two focus groups and a baseline survey. For the focus groups, we had a mixture of Black international and UK-domiciled students. What we found out was that while their lived experiences were different, they all addressed similar sentiments about sense of belonging, financial barriers, and building resilience within and outside the institution. We saw similar remarks in the survey.
I’d like to see more Black researchers at this institution. A safe space for Black researchers where they can share their journey and network from various departments. I’d also like to see more practical solutions to increasing participation of Black students rather than just ticking boxes.
We want to hear from Black students: we want students to share their experiences, and what they want to see on the platform. We want students, particularly postgraduate research students, to be mentors to undergraduates and Masters students, and to assist them in their academic journey. If there is any way you as a student would like to be involved, please do get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Professor Madeline Eacott
07 December 2022
Categories: Essex Spirit, Essex Daily, Researcher development