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Royal Society set to boost number of black scientists

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Young black scientists will get sizeable grants towards cutting-edge research in a pilot scheme aimed at increasing their numbers in the field.

Five scientists a year will get up to £690,000 spread over four years.

The Royal Society, which represents the UK’s leading researchers, hopes its grants increase low numbers of black scientists, particularly in research.

The fellowships should allow the recipients to work in any of the country’s research institutes.

It will also mentor the scientists and help with career networking.

Royal Society President Prof Sir Adrian Smith said that the low numbers of black scientists in the UK was “unacceptable”.

Dr Mark Richards, who is one of the UK’s very few senior black scientists, and who helped the Royal Society develop the scheme, said that although the number of fellowships is small, it is hoped that they will make a big difference.

“It will be five researchers each year who will be supported to establish their own research teams. And so the hope is that this will make a sustainable difference over time because these people will become role models and advocates for better representation,” he said.

Dr Yolanda Ohene, an early career black physicist at the University of Manchester, welcomed the initiative.

”It is encouraging to see that the Royal Society is committed to supporting early career researchers of Black heritage,” she said in written comments. “The transition from completing a PhD to having a permanent position at a university is difficult for everyone but the odds are particularly stacked against researchers from Black backgrounds.”

Black scientists have said that they feel unsupported, overlooked for promotion, unfairly rejected for grant applications, and that they believe the UK research system is institutionally racist.

Wasted talent

The Royal Society said that if the fellowships are successful, the pilot may be broadened to researchers from other underrepresented groups.

“The Royal Society is concerned about the health of science in the UK. It depends on people and talent,” said Prof Sir Adrian Smith. “And if there is clear evidence in the pipeline that talent is haemorrhaging, and we have the possibility of providing the practical support to remedy that, then it’s our duty to do so.”

Up to five fellowships will be awarded each year to scientists starting out in their research careers, who have recently completed their PhDs.

It is at this stage that figures by the Higher Education Statistics Agency analysed by the Royal Society show black researchers beginning to drop out. The higher up the career ladder they get, more drop out, with only a handful of black researchers becoming professors.

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