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Championing equality, diversity and inclusion as a research leader

Prof Bhavik Anil Patel.

Current position
Professor of Clinical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, University of Brighton

In this video, Prof Bhavik Anil Patel, Professor of Clinical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, University of Brighton, shares how his commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion has influenced his work and approach to postdoctoral career development

Does your commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion influence the way you approach postdoctoral career development?

On reflection, I first thought no – but actually probably the answer is yes. The answer is yes, because directly as a supervisor, I don’t feel that my role as an EDI advocate really influences other than to be transparent. The importance for me is always to be transparent, to highlight the true metrics, the true issues on progression for certain people – in my case of colour – in their academic progression and the challenges they may face.

I think it’s only fair to be honest about these things and to tell people what the challenges are, but to also balance those. They are challenges, but yes, I am in my position and I’m a person of colour. So you can be successful; it’s not that there are barriers and you’re never going to make it, so it’s important, I guess, since I’ve taken up this EDI journey to really talk about these issues.

What I’ve started to notice is the amount of students that are in PhD positions or postdoctoral positions of colour that want to talk to me. I can understand this. I think when we sit down and we say, ‘Who are five people we’d like to talk to’, if we were going to sit in a room, you often then if you rattle them and think about them in their head, they’re people that you feel comfortable around. Often they look like you, they feel like you, they talk like you, they have interests like you.

We don’t understand; why do people want to talk to people of the same background all the time? Well, we all do; it’s a natural behavioural trait. Often I do get a lot of students that are not my personal postdocs that want to reach out and just have words of comfort or advice; that they don’t feel that their journey has been wasted because they’re a person of colour.

I feel a responsibility, a role, an obligation just to say, ‘No, it isn’t. These are the facts, these are the truths but we’re here to break down these barriers because we can.’ That’s the important element to it so I feel that the more that I’m being vocal about these issues, the more that it’s playing a role in supporting postdoctoral careers in career progression generally.

But that’s a great thing because it certainly will mean that we are breaking these barriers and bringing out opportunities for all –again in a fair and systematic way.

How does your work in this area inform your academic role?

It’s something you don’t really start thinking about, if I’m honest. When I came into academia I didn’t come out to champion equality, justice, diversity. I came to be an expert on measurement with analytical chemistry; that’s my discipline. The first thing to take away is, that’s not your expertise; it’s becoming a duty that is passed on to people of colour in order to get their voices heard.

Certainly they’re more important when you’re in a position of power, certainly in a leadership position, where your voice can be heard. So it becomes a responsibility more than it becomes an area or aspect that you are passionately driving from a research or scientific point of view. For me, it’s using that voice effectively and accurately to really talk about the system.

We talk about equality and treating people fairly –which is a very important process. But the way we try and do that is to bring equity, to create systemic processes or frameworks that come into play that help under–representative –or people who haven’t had a voice to come to the same level. Often we struggle to achieve that because it’s very, very difficult.

What really I’m trying to highlight, I guess, from the work I’m doing is; actually what we need to do as a society is to remove these systemic barriers that exist that do not give voices to under–representative groups –whether that be a race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, disability –that actually they have fair opportunities in academia. Actually we know as academics that when the society of academia embraces all of the cultures and diversity, it actually brings a much more vibrant community which shares great ideas.

By putting out my posters or talking about these issues hopefully will bring communities together to share their aspirations, share their thoughts, share their messages so we can all understand. If we understand, we’ll appreciate better.

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