Over the last few months I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I can do, to improve the gender balance and ethnic diversity of PhD students studying environmental science. A fair first question might be, ‘but what has this got to do with space, Anna?! This is the WIA-E email newsletter.’

Well, all of the PhD students I’m recruiting will be part of the new NERC funded Earth observation Centre for Doctoral Training, called SENSE. Over the next 3 years we will be recruiting 50 PhD students who will all use Earth observation and advanced computer techniques, like AI and Machine Learning, to discover new information about how Earth is changing.

In my scientific career I have studied glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland that have been speeding up and loosing ice, all of which affects global sea level rise, so I know first-hand what an exciting journey all these students will be embarking on! However, while it is fantastic challenge to co-direct and build a large new centre like SENSE, I also feel the weight of responsibility to make sure everyone has access to the many PhD positions that will be on offer.

It will come as no surprise to the WIA-E family, that in the UK academic community where I work, we have still got a long way to go before the number of female professors matches the number of male professors; and even further yet before the academic community becomes ethnically diverse. Environmental science has particular challenges.

So with all these exciting new PhD studentships being recruited through SENSE, I have the opportunity, along with my colleagues at the University of Leeds, the University of Edinburgh, British Antarctic Survey, and the National Oceanography institute, to effect real change.

Remarkably, when we ran our first round of recruitment last year, we found there were no guidelines that we could follow, explaining how to do PhD recruitment in Line with equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) best practice. This meant that we had to spend a lot of time and effort researching all aspects of our recruitment (job adverts, paper sort, and interviews) to make sure we minimised bias and created a process that identified the best candidates for the roles in a way that was fair. This took a lot of time and effort! So this year, we decided to create a best practice document for PhD recruitment, which we hope will allow other people recruiting PhD students design a fair and transparent recruitment process, without having to do all the same research. We published the document on our website last week, and we hope it will be a starting point that can be improved on in future years.

While we definitely do not have all the answers (!), I, and the SENSE team, hope that this document will be a practically useful resource for other PhD recruitment teams, that enables us to build happy, diverse, cohorts of students that will enrich the scientific community for decades to come. That’s the type of scientific and space community that I look forward to being a part of!

Learn more about Anna’s work.