Members of the Physics Inclusion Group met in person last week for the first time in over 18 months. Our aim? To rejuvenate our action plan for improving inclusivity within the Physics and Astronomy department here at Exeter University.
Our action plan is one of the keystones of our commitment to maintaining an inclusive environment for everyone working in the Physics and Astronomy department. Structured using the Institute of Physics’ six Juno Principles, it details all our planned activities for monitoring data, addressing barriers to progression and developing new initiatives to increase diversity and improve department culture.
Pre-pandemic, our Physics Inclusion Group met regularly to discuss departmental equality, diversity and inclusivity issues and work on our action plan. Many activities have continued, albeit online, during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, with restrictions reducing, we felt it was time to refresh our action plan, including considering any additional measures needed to address the negative impact of Covid-19 on equality.
The international day of LGBTQ+ people in STEM was held on the 18th November and celebrated around the world. Here at Exeter, we were involved in a range of activities including a PRISM Speakers Event, the GW4 Diversity in Physics Conference, and an interview with TEC girls.
PRISM Exeter Online Speakers Event
PRISM Exeter, a regional network for LGBTQ+ identifying STEMM professionals and students and their allies, held the latest event in their “PRISM Speakers” series on November 17th to coincide with LGBTQ+ STEM Day. This series aims to celebrate and champion the contributions of LGBTQ+ individuals to STEMM fields and to provide a platform for discussions regarding wider STEMM diversity and inclusion work.
At this event, Professor Robert Appleby spoke about the Tactile Collider project and communicating science to visually impaired audiences, and Dr Natasha Stephen spoke about some of her experiences as a Bisexual scientist, her research, and her work with TIGERS (The Inclusion Group for Equity in Research in STEM).
The event was held online due to government restrictions and enjoyed a peak audience of 44 connections via Zoom with participants joining from Exeter (45%), the South West of England (20%), and elsewhere, including overseas (15%). Attendees very much enjoyed the event with one attendee telling us:
“…we heard from two excellent speakers who are working to improve inclusivity in STEM through outreach activities and by taking action to level the playing field. It was also a safe and supportive space for the LGBTQ+ community and supporters to network. For my part, I came away with a better understanding of some of the barriers and challenges faced.”
Physics departments from the GW4 network joined together on the 18th November to mark LGBTQ+ STEM day with a 1-day online conference on Diversity in Physics. Led by Cardiff with help from Physics inclusivity groups from Bath, Bristol and Exeter, the programme tackled a range of diversity issues relating to the Physics and Astronomy community and attracted nearly 100 attendees from across the UK.
Opening with a keynote presentation by Professor Peter Coles on being a Gay physicist, the day proceeded to consider issues in academic culture, open-access science and colonialism in the teaching curriculum. In the last session on harassment and wellbeing, Beth Pitcher (EDI advisor at Exeter) outlined the mechanisms we use at Exeter to support our staff and students who are experiencing dignity and respect issues.
Attendees at the event, including some members from our Physics Inclusion Working Group, found the presentations and ensuing discussion to be thought-provoking with one attendee saying:
"The conference explored toxic academic culture and was applicable to tackling all areas of equality including race, disability, gender, and lad culture, moving beyond Project Juno*."
*Project Juno is a scheme run by the Institute of Physics (IoP) which recognises good practice in relation to gender equality in Physics Departments.
Dr Claire Davies (an astrophysicist and research fellow at Exeter and founder of PRISM Exeter) gave an inspiring interview with TECgirls. TECgirls aims to encourage young girls to engage with technology, engineering, and creative activities in and around Cornwall.
In her interview, Claire talked about her research in star and planetary formation and her inclusivity work that focusses on scientists who are female and who are LGBTQ+. You can read the full interview on the TECgirls website.
In celebration of Black History Month 2020, we are proud to highlight two of our alumnae: Abigail Frost and Aude Alapini-Odunlade. Abigail and Aude both made valuable contributions to the Physics Department at Exeter and have gone on to successful careers in research and teaching.
Abigail's research investigates the most massive stars in the Universe. Through her Masters project at the University of Exeter, she studied massive star formation using millimetre interferometry and through her PhD, at the University of Leeds, she used techniques such as infrared interferometry, imaging and 3D radiative transfer modelling to study the discs and dusty natal cradles from which these massive stars form. During her current postdoctoral position at KU Leuven, she studies massive stars at various points throughout their lives. In particular, she focuses on investigating massive stellar multiplicity using interferometric data from the Very Large Telescope and Interferometer.
Aude studied for her PhD at Exeter working in the field of extrasolar planets. She developed an algorithm to remove the contribution from stellar variability to transit signals of extrasolar planets, which was successfully applied to data from the CoRoT space telescope mission. At Exeter, Aude greatly contributed to outreach, including travelling to Benin to promote astronomy. She is now a physics teacher at Clyst Vale Community College.
Black Lives Matter: a message written by the Physics Inclusion Working Group
The horrific killing of George Floyd, and the Black Lives Matter protests, have galvanised people worldwide to take an active stance against racism. This naturally leads us to look critically at ourselves as individuals and as a Physics and Astronomy community. Objectively our Department is predominantly white, and in a University that continues to struggle with racism. It is key that we understand and acknowledge race privilege and use our individual and collective power to support BME staff and students in our community.
It is tempting to see a statement such as this, or a supportive tweet or Facebook message, as an end in itself. We must go beyond performative support. Even as this topic moves out of the news cycle, our Inclusion Group will continue to meet and work on these issues every day. We are taking actions at Departmental level, including increasing uptake of Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity (EDI) training for staff and students, unconscious bias training for staff, promoting inclusive social activities, and working to ensure our induction procedures highlight both our dignity and respect agenda and routes to report harassment and discrimination. We continue to work with the University’s EDI team and the BME Staff, Student and Allies Network and welcome input from the wider community.
We would encourage everyone to familiarise themselves with the University’s SpeakOut website. You can report anything from a microaggression to a hate crime, whether you’ve experienced it yourself or you are reporting as a 3rd party which enables the University to gather information which will better inform our inclusion work.
As members of the Physics Inclusion Working Group we are committed to making the Department of Physics and Astronomy a welcoming and inclusive place to work and study. We pledge to fight racism, and actively support our BAME staff and students, who continue to face, day-in and day-out, the challenges of racism. We will not stand by while members of our community suffer such discrimination. Our Working Group includes representatives from across our BAME, LGBTQ+, and neuro-diverse communities, spanning all career stages from undergraduate and postgraduate students to early career researchers and academic staff. We always welcome any new ideas, and new members who increase our diversity or bring new points of view.
We know that we make mistakes. We pledge to listen to, and learn from, our Black staff and students and we will do better. If you think you could make a contribution, then please contact Tim Harries ().
Tim Harries, Chair and Head of Department
Claire Davies, LGBTQ+ and Early career researcher representative
Rachel Lennon, neurodiversity and postgraduate researcher representative
Maintaining an inclusive environment for everyone in the Physics department at Exeter is a priority for our Inclusion Group. Some of our activities focus on meeting recognised standards of good practice from schemes such as Project Juno from the Institute of Physics. In addition to this, we regularly seek feedback and suggestions from staff and students in the department via our annual Pulse check event. One suggestion has been to increase the opportunity for social interaction.
Far from being a superfluous addition to the working day, social interaction at work can be vital for creating an inclusive environment. The increased contact increases social bonds, fostering a sense of belonging and promoting positive working relationships. As well as enhancing collaboration and cooperation, this can help nurture an inclusive environment.
In Physics, we now invite all PhD students, postdocs, academic staff, and professional service staff to meet up twice a month. We started with a monthly Friday afternoon event and then, following requests to widen the scope, added a monthly Tuesday morning event. We currently attract around 30 to 40 people, some who regularly attend and some who drop in occasionally.
On Friday 22nd March the Physics Inclusivity Group held their fifth annual ‘pulse check’. The aim of the event was to capture the thoughts and feelings of everyone that works and studies in the Physics department at Exeter and get suggestions on how we can improve our working environment and culture. Staff and students were all asked if they would like to provide anonymous feedback in the form of post-it notes placed on large pieces of paper in the foyer of the department. Engagement with the event was very good and, with some additional motivation provided by the offer of free chocolate, produced over 100 comments and ideas that are being considered and taken forward by the Inclusivity Group.
As the world celebrated International Women’s Day this March 8th, so did we at the University of Exeter. The Women in Physics network co-hosted a social event with other STEMM network groups – the National Sciences Equality Network and Women in Climate. It was a lovely time to chat over tea and coffee and cakes and to meet other people from similar networks.
The theme of IWD this year was #balanceforbetter. We encouraged everyone to make a pledge to improve the experience of women – for example, “we will help forge a more gender-balanced world”. Here are the network’s chairs, Anna and Eve, making their pledges.
The Women in Physics group was founded in 2017 and meets regularly for social events and discussions about the experience of women in physics and STEMM subjects in academia. To join our mailing list so that you can come along for these events (with coffee and tea included), please contact Anna Laws or Eve Nebbiolo. You can also follow our events on Facebook ( https://www.facebook.com/groups/1449762338423643/ ) and Twitter (@Exeter_WiP).
PRISM, the Exeter-wide network for LGBTQ+ people and their allies working and studying in STEMM fields, held their first Speakers event of 2019 on January 15th. The network aims to promote the work of LGBTQ+ individuals in STEMM as well as sharing the successes (and failures) of diversity initiatives. Two members of the Department of Physics and Astronomy presented talks.
Alison Young, an ally to the LGBTQ+ community, provided a summary of the STEM Gamechangers workshop which occurred in London in September 2018 and introduced the audience to the “Scientists are Humans” initiative she helped set-up. Her project aims to encourage scientists to “be more kind”. Their manifesto is shown below.
Claire Davies, who founded PRISM in July 2018, presented an overview of the 4th annual LGBT “STEMinar” (see #LGBTSTEMinar19 on twitter) which had taken place in London 4 days earlier. Claire highlighted some of the incredible research being undertaken by LGBTQ+ individuals across the UK and further afield. She also continued a discussion from the “STEMinar” on the potential impacts of the internationalism of the STEMM sector on LGBTQ+ researchers.”
Members of the physics and astronomy inclusivity group travelled to the Institute of Physics Awards Dinner 2018 on London on the 20th November to receive our Juno Champion Award. The award was presented by IOP President Dame Julia Higgins (L to R: Jude Meakin, Jenny Hatchell, Nick Stone, Julia Higgins, Nathan Mayne).
Our inclusivity working group in the department of Physics and Astronomy is striving to ensure that our department is inclusive to everyone that studies, works and visits us. This blog will highlight some of the activities we are doing to help us achieve a fully inclusive culture.