Panel formed to discuss academic careers as part of Voices of Diversity series

A panel event was held on 26 August as part of the University’s Voices of Diversity speaker series. The panellists focused on their PhD studies, interests in academia and research, and also discussed their experiences as minorities in academia, sharing personal stories.

Alumnus and Professional Services Officer at the University, Musa Yusuff, welcomed three speakers to the discussion on Thursday evening. He was joined by:

  • Alumnus Dr Nira Chamberlain (MSc Industrial Mathematical Modelling, 1993), the Professional Head of Discipline - Data Science at SNC-Lavalin Atkins & President of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications.
  • Chidinma Okorie, a third year PhD student in the School of Social Sciences and Humanities, focusing on the migration-development nexus, using the case of Nigerian Commonwealth scholars.
  • Pauline Shabani, a second year PhD student studying Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Loughborough University London. Her research began on the affect that colonisation had on the perception of human capital of locals in Ghana in comparison to returnees.

The panellists discussed how they got into academia and their routes to PhD studies. An insight for anyone looking to pursue a PhD, the three speakers showed their passion and willingness to seize an opportunity. What got them into academia?

Dr Chamberlain studied an MSc at Loughborough and decided to go into industry.

“The company asked me to do a part-time PhD whilst working. After that I was invited by Loughborough to become a Visiting Fellow”.

His organisation set him a target during an appraisal to study any mathematics related PhD and he went on to study at the University of Portsmouth.

Chidinma is currently in the final year of her PhD. Following a master’s in International Relations at Loughborough she was keen to gain some professional experience, until a year later an opportunity became available for a PhD at Loughborough.

She said: “It’s a combination of knowing I want to do something, and an opportunity presenting itself”.

When offered the funding for a PhD at Loughborough, it was an opportunity not to be missed.

Pauline reflected on her experience:

“I didn’t love the 9-5. I started a catering company, but I didn’t have any business background.”

She went on to study a master’s:

“I studied Entrepreneurship because I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I enjoyed it so much and I realised that there was a lot more that I wanted to learn. The way I learn is through research, so after my master’s, I decided I wanted to carry on and do a PhD.”

Later reflecting on experiences as black academics, the panellists shared a series of personal experiences and stories relating to their journeys. Pauline discussed the experience of presenting her work amongst peers, with little feedback, whilst Nira talked about experiencing discrimination as a black British man. Chidinma acknowledged that she has had a different experience growing up in Nigeria and moving to the UK meant she needed to learn what it meant to be referred to as a black woman.

The trio later shared thoughts on how society – and particularly the University – can improve on its anti-racist initiatives and act on underrepresentation.

Dr Chamberlain encouraged action off the back of data collection. He said:

“Start doing some action. I love data, but there comes a time when you say enough is enough. When do you stop collecting data and start taking action? Stop collecting data if you’re going to do nothing about it!”

The panel also discussed their thoughts on intersectionality, role models, and shared their views on terminology surrounding race.

If you have any comments, suggestions, would like to see a recording of the event, or if you are interested in getting involved in the future, please get in touch

This event was the second in a series called Voices of Diversity: BAME Speaker Series. The sessions will be open to students, staff, alumni and the community, and aim to support the University’s work around race equality.

The University is working on a number of anti-racism initiatives, submitted its application for the Race Equality Charter (REC) Bronze Award in July this year, is surveying staff and students to better understand how racism shapes work and study, improving reporting of racism and hate incidents, and the BAME Staff Network has developed the ten Guiding Principles for Race Equality Work.