Building systemic EDI
Professor Jeanette Woolard, Professor of Cardiovascular Physiology and Pharmacology, Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences, Deputy Director of the Doctoral Programme, Drug Discovery and Team Science.
Under the aegis of COMPARE, the Centre of Membrane Proteins and Receptors, the joint Birmingham-Nottingham University Executive Board established a signature institute with £10m investment with the aim of transformational change and enhancement of the global position of both universities. The vision of the institute is to create a world-leading research centre in membrane receptors, utilising cutting-edge imaging technologies, to visualise the binding of drugs to cell surface receptors or proteins, in order to identify new mechanisms of therapeutic intervention. Professor Woollard currently holds a programme grant of £4.5m for a Wellcome Trust 4-year Doctoral Training Programme, a cohort-based programme with a multi-disciplinary approach. This programme is spearheading novel approaches to people and diversity by developing transferrable skills, enabling creativity, being inclusive to career paths outside academia, encouraging scientific freedom, building an unprecedented level of support and career development through internal and external mentoring. The ultimate aim is to drive a change in research culture by creating team thinkers as opposed to a tradition of individual, small team scholarship which gives almost sole recognition to the PI.
One of the most innovative aspects of the programme is the way in which it is reimagining research around diversity. Professor Woolard has created a model informed by the STEMM Change EPSRC research grant highlighted above, including the recruitment model of EPSRC project partners Diversity by Design, to widen the net in the recruitment process and consider diversity beyond protected characteristics. The application required the applicants to explain how their diversity would bring added value to the project. After a process of blind selection, 4 candidates were chosen including a Jamaican student who has family care responsibilities, a mature male candidate who did not have GCSEs and had taken an unconventional route into academia, a young male student from a non-Russell group university, and a young female student with a different scientific background to the others and who brought diversity on the basis of a different skills set. None of the students were UoN students. Each student will tackle ¼ of the research question, bringing in a diversity of insights to make the programme a much more impactful one than the average Doctoral Training Programme. A further paradigm shift involved building the programme around the students and not the other way round. Having chosen to go for systemic novelty in diversity also poses challenges for her and her colleagues to adjust their way of thinking and doing accordingly in order to stay true to the programme.
The students will be mentored by partners from industry, including AstraZeneca. The unique programme is designed to cause a culture change by acknowledging the contribution of ‘unsung heroes’, by devising new collaborative ways of people working together in ways that leverage their diversity, by creating global thinkers, equipped to take on the challenges of an ever-changing scientific landscape. Professor Woolard’s work is not about opening doors to diversity but about creating new ones, and it is building a culture of systemic diversity that could be rolled out across UoN and beyond to other communities.