Project to improve diversity in geosciences secures £100,000 NERC funding

A University collaboration focused on improving racial diversity in the geosciences has received almost £100,000 of Natural Environment Research Council funding.

Equator, led by Sheffield Hallam University and featuring University of Hull Senior Lecturer Dr Rebecca Williams, will develop a new research school as part of a programme of work designed to remove barriers to access into geography, earth and environmental sciences.

The subjects are some of the least diverse in physical science at UK Higher Education level, with low levels of retention into postgraduate research.

Dr Rebecca Williams, Senior Lecturer in Geology at the University of Hull, is leading development of the new research school.

She said: “The world faces challenges like never before – the recent COP26 summit in Glasgow highlighted the imminent threats posed by climate change, and the speed at which society must respond to those dangers.

“To meet the skills demands required for the transition to a green, Net Zero economy we must create a pipeline of talented researchers and workers. Current barriers facing those from minority ethnic backgrounds poses a significant challenge to this.

“I am delighted that the Equator project has received funding from NERC to tackle this challenge and improve diversity in the geosciences.”

Research released last year found in the 2018/19 Academic Year, just 5.2 per cent of Physical Geography postgraduates identified as Black, Asian or minority ethnic, despite these groups comprising 18.5% of the UK 18-24-year-old population.

Over the past five years, on average just 1.4% of Geology postgraduate researchers identified as Black, compared to 3.8% of UK 18-24-year-olds.

The Equator project aims to improve access and participation through the development of a bespoke research school, remove barriers to access through advocacy in a cross-discipline working group of doctoral training partnerships, and improve student experience and retention through a ring-fenced mentoring network for ethnic minority students.

This first funded stage of the project will last six months and will focus on testing, monitoring and evaluating the success and transferability of three key interventions.

The project is a collaboration between academics from Sheffield Hallam University, the University of Manchester, the University of Hull and the University of Birmingham.

Dr Williams will lead the Research School work package. It will be worked on by three post-doctoral research associates - Munira Raji, Ben Fernando and Anya Lawrence.

You can find out more about the project at the Equator Research Group website.

If you would like to be involved in any stage of this project, either as a student participant or mentor/contributor, or keep updated with project news, please contact the team at


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