By Nikou Damestani, 3rd year NIHR Maudsley BRC PhD Student, in collaboration with Keisha York, Founder and Managing Director of the BiPP Network
On Thursday 17 September, PhD students and early career researchers from the NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) and the NIHR Mental Health Translational Research Collaboration attended a virtual workshop titled “Anti-Racism in Scientific Research”. It was a workshop driven by discussion, including a panel with a range of experience in scientific research: Professor Matthew Hotopf, Professor Thalia Eley, Professor Stephani Hatch, Dr Juliana Onwumere, Dr Sally Marlow and Dr Sagar Jilka.
I organised and moderated this workshop, with the support of the BRC and behind-the-scene co-moderation by Ilyas Sagar-Ouriaghli, to address the impact of race-related bias on the different dimensions of the scientific research pipeline.
I wanted to offer the opportunity for myself and my colleagues to learn how to improve our awareness and, ultimately, our practises as scientists. This began with hearing the public perspective via a film of the public perspective produced by the NIHR.
Discussion on race-related bias in research
Race-related bias is present throughout scientific research, from who we recruit for our studies to who we hire in our teams. Throughout our discussions, there was high awareness of the importance of gaining a range of perspectives on research and attaining results that are representative of the population, particularly to avoid disparity in effective treatments.
The audience were also aware of the lack of diversity within research teams evident through the low recruitment of Black PhD students, and Black PhD student retainment, and the low numbers of Black Professors across the UK.
However, what was missing was the knowledge on how to address these issues at all points in the research pipeline. The audience and panel commented on the complexity of recruiting participants from different ethnic groups and reporting the demographics in publication. This also extended to recruitment of our research teams, with comments on the difficulty of attracting people of a range of backgrounds into an academic career.
Ultimately, we have to acknowledge that it is time to move past awareness and into action. It is simply not enough to identify that we are losing talented individuals from ethnic minority backgrounds in our teams and accept that we are not representing our communities.
It is time to become active in our scientific research, as if we are not each individually trying to change the environment, then the environment will not change.
Key steps to tackling bias
Our discussion highlighted a few key steps that any and all research teams can take to improve their practises to become better scientists, including:
Engage with the local communities at every stage of research, from project design to analysis and reporting in publications, for example via the advisory groups available through the NIHR Maudsley BRC
Combat the language of privilege used in scientific publications and discussions, such as referring to communities as “hard to reach”
Evaluate recruitment practises, for example avoiding recruiting from exclusive networks
Consider the projects being established, for example whether there is room to fulfil different research interests and different perspectives
Ensure follow-up with whoever you recruit and prioritise improving the trust between science and the public
Provide an entry-route into academia that is financially viable, such as paid internships, to support and retain talented individuals
Engage with the available initiatives to improve cultural competency and awareness of bias, for example via the BiPP Network1
“I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept”. – Angela Davis
“Excellent session, thank you, gave me lots of food for thought!”
“This has been a wonderful workshop - I've learned a lot”
“I've really learned a lot this session and it is just so important we keep talking about this.”
Feedback from the workshop