Network to help end ‘isolation’ of black PhD students

National group would be the UK’s first to target help for minority ethnic doctoral students

March 27, 2014

Two postdoctoral students are setting up a network to help overcome the “isolation” that black and minority ethnic PhD candidates may feel in the academy.

One of the students, Monique Charles, from the University of Warwick, said that the network was a “good idea”, especially in light of discussions about the isolation of black scholars “rumbling informally” throughout higher education.

The national network will be the UK’s first to target help for doctoral students of colour. It will be linked with the US-based Black Doctoral Network, an established group with about 4,000 members worldwide.

“Hopefully this new network will challenge any negative stereotypes of black and minority ethnic people and show that they can be successful academics,” Ms Charles said.

Ms Charles and Antoinette Kwegan, a doctoral student at Queen Mary University of London, decided to found the initiative after visiting the annual conference of the Black Doctoral Network in Pennsylvania last October.

The UK body will offer mentoring and share information about scholarships and grants. It will also provide an online networking space for students and, eventually, hold events so members can meet.

Deborah Gabriel, founder of Black British Academics, said that there “is a lack of cultural diversity in the academy” that can cause problems for doctoral students studying “alternative epistemologies”.

She said that black and minority ethnic doctoral researchers drawing on non-Eurocentric literature may find that academics in their discipline or department are unfamiliar with this corpus and “ill-equipped” to offer the PhD supervision needed.

Ms Gabriel added: “A network can help students to survive the postgraduate journey. But it is also necessary to have wider networks…so that [students] can benefit from the skills and experience of more senior academics.”

Such a network could be “useful”, said David Bogle, head of the graduate school at University College London, but he noted that women’s networks in universities have helped women to progress but have not “solved the problem”.

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