Challenges & Changes in Physics I

Dr Jess Wade

Department of Physics, University of Oxford

Dr Jess Wade discussed her research and the challenges that physics and physicists face, and shared some of her work to push for change.

About this Event

In the first lecture of this new series from the Department of Physics, we heard from Dr Jess Wade, a research fellow at Imperial College, London where she works on chiral organic light emitting diodes. She is an advocate for minority voices in science and has created hundreds of Wikipedia pages to amplify the achievements of women and people of colour in science.


jess wade, @jesswade

Jessica Alice Feinmann Wade BEM is a British physicist in the Blackett Laboratory at Imperial College London.

This was the first of a series of lectures this term hosted by Dr Alex Ramadan.

About the series

Who we are, and the experiences we go through, shape the way we see the world around us. As physicists, our experiences shape how we do our research and the problems we choose to tackle. It is important we have physicists with a wide range of experiences and backgrounds working on the answers to fundamental questions about the universe around us. Through this we will ensure we are tackling issues which go beyond one specific group of people or experiences and that we are ensuring an accurate view of the world around us. Without this we will not be able to achieve the ultimate goal of research in physics: understanding how the universe behaves.

The problem of a lack of diversity within the sciences and the scientific workforce is universal across the disciplines. In this lecture series we will be discussing some of the challenges we face in Physics to making our community more diverse, equitable and inclusive. We will be hearing from speakers from a wide range of backgrounds about what they think some of the challenges are, the work they have done and are doing to make real changes and how we can all do our part to build a better physics community.

This is a lecture series hosted by the Department of Physics, in Oxford, but open to all: we welcome everyone to come and learn in a welcoming and inclusive environment, whether you are part of the department or not. Whilst the speakers will discuss their research in physics you do not need a high level of physics understanding to attend.

The following are notes from the on-line lecture. Even though I could stop the video and go back over things there are likely to be mistakes because I haven’t heard things correctly or not understood them. I hope Dr Wade and my readers will forgive any mistakes and let me know what I got wrong.

Dr Wade began her talk by thanking Dr Ramadan for her work in improving diversity in physics and Angela Saini, a British journalist, who has written about women, race and science


Above Left: Dr Ramadan. Above right: Angela Saini

Angela Saini (born in London, 1980) is a British science journalist, broadcaster and the author of books, of which the third, Superior: The Return of Race Science, was published in 2019. Her work has appeared in Science, Wired, The Guardian, The New Humanist and New Scientist. She is also a presenter on BBC radio.


Dr Wade’s research

Dr Wade works on new materials for electronic devices, which are primarily carbon based. She works with chemists, who create the semiconductor molecules she works with.


The semiconductors are dissolved in organic solvents and are used to print structures.


Above left: The dissolved semiconductor. Above right: The printed structure.

The materials created can end up as the pixels in your mobile phone, TV etc.


Researchers have been looking at organic materials in LEDS for a long time.

An organic light-emitting diode (OLED or organic LED), also known as organic electroluminescent (organic EL) diode, is a light-emitting diode (LED) in which the emissive electroluminescent layer is a film of organic compound that emits light in response to an electric current. This organic layer is situated between two electrodes; typically, at least one of these electrodes is transparent. OLEDs are used to create digital displays in devices such as television screens, computer monitors, portable systems such as smartphones, handheld game consoles and PDAs. A major area of research is the development of white OLED devices for use in solid-state lighting applications.

Dr Wade’s research uses molecules in semiconductors that are chiral.

In chemistry, a molecule or ion is called chiral if it cannot be superposed on its mirror image by any combination of rotations and translations. This geometric property is called chirality. The terms are derived from Ancient Greek (cheir), meaning “hand”; which is the canonical example of an object with this property.


The above image shows one of the molecules she works, in its two chiral forms. The hands are indicating the left and right chiral forms of the molecule.

The fragrance industry makes use of chirality as a left chiral molecule smells differently from a right chiral molecule. Similarly, with the pharmaceutical industry. A left chiral form of a drug will behave differently in the body to the right chiral form.

Chirality also occurs in nature.


Above left is a Japanese wisteria that has bark that twists clockwise. Above right is a Chinese wisteria that has bark that twists anti-clockwise.

Dr Wade takes the chiral molecules and tries to use them in technology. There are a whole bunch of different applications:

(a) Spintronics (a portmanteau meaning spin transport electronics), also known as spin electronics, is the study of the intrinsic spin of the electron and its associated magnetic moment, in addition to its fundamental electronic charge, in solid-state devices. The field of spintronics concerns spin-charge coupling in metallic systems; the analogous effects in insulators fall into the field of multiferroics.

Spintronics fundamentally differs from traditional electronics in that, in addition to charge state, electron spins are exploited as a further degree of freedom, with implications in the efficiency of data storage and transfer. Spintronic systems are most often realised in dilute magnetic semiconductors (DMS) and Heusler alloys and are of particular interest in the field of quantum computing and neuromorphic computing.

At room temperature chiral molecular systems can preferentially transport electrons of one type of spin

Applications include semiconductor lasers and storage material;

(b) High performance displays

A display is an electronic component or subsystem used to convert electrical signals into an image in real time suitable for direct interpretation by a human observer;


Medical imaging is the technique and process of creating visual representations of the interior of a body for clinical analysis and medical intervention, as well as visual representation of the function of some organs or tissues (physiology).

In low ambient light conditions, an OLED screen can achieve a higher contrast ratio than an LCD. The technology also offers a much wider viewing angle compared to LCDs, because OLED pixels directly emit light. OLED pixel colours appear correct and unshifted, even as the viewing angles near 90 degrees;

(d) encrypted communications

A new organic LED (OLED) structure emits single photons and could improve security for data transmission.

Currently, malicious parties can “fish for” data during transmission without being detected because conventional light sources such as lasers emit large quantities of identical photons;

(e) quantum optics

numerous light outcoupling schemes have been proposed for OLEDs and have proven effective in increasing their external quantum efficiency (EQE)

(f) magnetic field sensing

Magneto-electroluminescence (MEL) represents the electroluminescence intensity c upon application of an external magnetic field.

The recently discovered organic magnetoresistance effect, i. e. the phenomenon that the presence of an external magnetic field can influence both the current flow through an organic light emitting diode and the light emission from the device. Magnetoresistance measurements were performed in different device structures as a function of magnetic field and driving voltage.

Positionality statement

Positionality is the social and political context that creates your identity in terms of race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability status. Positionality also describes how your identity influences, and potentially biases, your understanding of and outlook on the world.

Additionally, what is a reflexivity statement? reflexive-statement. Noun. (plural reflexive statements) A statement which refers to itself.

Physicists have known for decades that the process of observing and measuring phenomena changes those very phenomena—the so-called “observer effect.” It does not even matter whether the “observer” is a human or some mechanical apparatus—there is an unavoidable impact on what is being measured, even at the quantum level. Further, the more watching, the greater the effect.

Social scientists know that researchers can affect outcomes too. This is the reason for double-blind studies because it turns out that experimenters can unconsciously give cues to participants and bias study results. This is one way to create a placebo effect.

Positionality refers to your position (as a person and as a researcher) in relation to your research subject and its social context. In essence, positionality acknowledges that 100% objective research doesn’t exist and every step of your research is affected by your own experiences as a person and your worldview.

Reflexivity is a process (and it should be a continuing process) of reflecting on how the researcher could be influencing a research project.

In a traditional positivist research paradigm, the researcher attempts to be a neutral influence on research. They make rational and logical interpretations, and assume a ‘null hypothesis’, in which they expect all experiments to have no effect, and have no pre-defined concept of what the research will show.

However, this is a lofty aspiration and difficult to achieve in practice. Humans are fallible and emotional beings, with conflicting pressures on jobs, publication records and their own hunches. There are countless stories of renowned academics having to retract papers, or their whole research careers because of faked results, flawed interpretations or biased coding procedures.

Many consider it to be impossible to fully remove the influence of the researcher from the process, and so all research would be ‘tainted’ in some way by the prejudices of those in the project. This links into the concept of “implicit bias” where even well-meaning individuals are influenced by subconscious prejudices. These have been shown to have a significant discriminatory impact on pay, treatment in hospitals and recruitment along lines of gender and ethnicity.

Instead of pretending that the researcher is an invisible and neutral piece of the puzzle, a positionality and reflexivity approach argues that the background of the researcher should be detailed in the same way as the data collection methods and analytical techniques.

A reflexivity statement’ is a little like a CV or self-portrait of potential experiences and bias, in which the researcher is honest about personal factors that might influence their decisions and interpretations. These might include the age, gender, ethnicity and class of the researcher, social and research issues they consider important, their country and culture, political leanings, life experiences and education. In many cases a researcher will include such a statement with their research publications and outputs, just Googling ‘positionality statements’  will provide dozens of links to examples.

Dr Wade’s Positionality statement

Women are under-represented in physics

Dr Wade began this section by explaining her own position in that she was luckier than most being white, having no disabilities, being educated in the private sector and always working in affluent research facilities. The fact that a lot of people are not so lucky has driven the work she is doing.

Who does science?

This series of talks are important because physics needs it.

Covid-19 is having the effect of making already marginalised people even more marginalised. It is having the greatest effect on caregivers’ academic careers, which in the 21st century is still predominately women.




In a data science study Luke Holman looked at 10 million scientific publications and tracked the date when there would be gender parity (i.e. for every publication by a man, there is a publication by a woman) in different scientific disciplines.

He found that for the life sciences this is 14 years away (16 years from 2018) and for physics it is an incredible 256 years (258 years from 2018).

On the above web page there is a gender calculator.


Access to and participation in physics research is not fair.

Dr Wade highlighted that in the UK only 20% of A level physics students (16-19 years of age) are female and there are many reasons for this. A lack of confidence in their abilities to do things actually starts at a very young age (6-7 years of age).

For students from a disadvantaged background this percentage is lower at 15% and for students from a black Caribbean background it is 0.5%.

For computer science at A level the situation for women is even worse. Only 10% of students are women

There is no academic reason why girls don’t choose to do physics and computer science at A level.

When girls do choose to do these subjects, they outperform boys in computing, advanced maths and physics.

A US report produced in 2020 looked at persistent gender gaps in STEM. The final analytic data set contained 5960 students with complete data on majors and STEM achievement (with adjustments when necessary). The students were followed throughout secondary and postsecondary years (a total of 7 years). They underwent new student assessment in algebraic skills, reasoning, and problem solving for 9th and 11th grades and they, along with their parents, maths and science teachers, school administrators, and school counsellors were surveyed

Surveys conducted during the summer and fall of 2013 (after high school graduation for most) asked students about their college major intentions; then, they were asked 3 years later which major they were ultimately pursuing, allowing the researchers to examine persistence in interest in a major and newfound interest in a major.

They found that all US students attending a 4-year college 23.8% of men and only 5.5% of women pursued a physics, engineering or computer science major (PECS).

What the research showed is that the lower achieving men were majoring in these subjects at the same rate as the higher achieving women.

When ranking from lowest to highest achieving students the report states that men at or below the 1st percentile were majoring at the same rate as women at the 80th percentile of STEM achievement.


Image above: Males scoring at or below the 1st percentile of all students’ science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) achievement major in physics, engineering, and computer science (PECS) at the same rate (10%, horizontal red line) as females scoring at the 80th percentile. The gap is significant at all levels of achievement. The male:female ratio in PECS is much larger in the 1st decile (10:1) than in the 10th decile (2:1) (vertical grey lines).

In other words, if you were to rank students in terms of achievement then males who are in the 1st percentile of achievement (i.e. the bottom 1% of students) are just as likely to take on STEM majors as females in the 80th percentile (i.e. top 20% students). So, in essence, achievement is not the reason for the difference in numbers in STEM at the university level but perhaps because males are more confident, so even if they lack the ability, they’ll still pick STEM majors in university.

image image

Image above: Among students who intended to major in PECS, higher-achieving males and females major in it at about the same rates, but lower-achieving males major in PECS at much higher rates than same-achieving females.

What this seems to mean is that women only seem to opt for these subjects if they are high achieving. For men, this isn’t a consideration for them.

The report indicates that intervention strategies to close the gender gap may work to attract high achieving women yet, something beyond these student factors may be attracting low-achieving men and repelling average and low-achieving women, and without addressing those factors, it is unlikely that the PECS gender gap will fully close.


Also trying to attract all women to PECS may backfire. Whereas men have male peers to serve as role models throughout the achievement distribution, having only high-achieving role models for women may send signals to average- and low-achieving women that they do not have the necessary STEM skills to succeed.

Carl Wieman

Carl Wieman has been particularly involved with efforts at improving science education and has conducted educational research on science instruction.


Carl Edwin Wieman (born March 26, 1951) is an American physicist and educationist at Stanford University.

It’s Not “Talent,” it’s “Privilege” By Carl Wieman

“As the country confronts systemic racism and other forms of discrimination, those of us in physics departments need to reflect on how we may be inadvertently propping up these barriers.”

“When departments attribute differences in student performance to differences in talent, rather than differences in educational privilege, they are sustaining and enhancing these systemic inequities.”

“Physics departments are unknowingly driving many students from under-represented groups out of physics and other STEM fields by having introductory courses in which less prepared students are likely to do badly. These students’ only “mistake” is to come from school districts with less money and worse physics teaching.”

In physics it isn’t necessarily how clever you are that dictates your success in physics. In the UK there are very few specialised physics teachers.

Only 35% of computer science and physics teachers have a relevant degree.

Girls are 2.5x more likely to study physics at an all-girls school. This number is even better if they attend a fee-paying school.

10% of physics teachers at fee paying schools (I would also add grammar schools to this too. In the UK these schools are not fee-paying, but students do an entrance exam) have PhDs whereas a large number of state school teachers do not even have an A level in the subject they are teaching.

Recently the benefits of a private school education came to the fore when the OFQUAL infamous algorithm favoured private schools due to their small class sizes etc.

The broken pipeline

Leading Routes was founded by Paulette Williams in 2016 after over ten years working in higher education leading on widening participation and student success projects. Paulette is currently co-leading an institution-wide endeavour to address the Black and Ethnic Minority (BME) attainment gap at University College London (UCL)

In 2017/2018, there were a total of 15,560 full time UK domiciled PhD students in their first year of study and just 3% of those students were Black.

A Freedom of Information request to UKRI revealed that over the last three academic years (2016/2017 – 2018/2019), of the total 19,868 PhD funded studentships awarded by UKRI research councils collectively, 245 (1.2%) were awarded to Black or Black Mixed students, with just 30 of those being from Black Caribbean backgrounds (UKRI, 2019).


Academic culture


75 % of women physics students had experienced unwanted sexual harassment

Less than 10% of these women have reported it to their institution

A third of UK universities have no policy on inappropriate staff-student relationships


10.1038/nature.2017.21839 Understanding our portfolio: A gender perspective

10.1177/2378023117738903 Men Set Their Own Cites High: Gender and Self-citation across Fields and over Time

10.1038/d41586-018-06678-6 Huge peer-review study reveals lack of women and non-Westerners

The various reports indicate female and minority academics receive less university support. They are less likely to be supported for promotion.

They get less research time and they are more likely to take on more service roles and teaching (especially women)

They have problems with peer review. They are more likely to suffer from bias in peer review, and they are less likely to self-cite

They will have problems with scientific funding. They are less likely to apply for large grants and even less likely to be successful if they are a person of colour (either male or female).

Evidence for persons of colour suffering from bias, especially when it comes to making scientific proposals and obtaining funding, is happening now.



Dr. Addy Adelaine is an international social worker and expert on action research and inclusive accountability. Working in the UK and internationally, her specialist areas of work include: inclusive organisational development; action research; gender, race and youth equality; humanitarian practice; collaborative knowledge creation and in ethical social research practices in challenging environments.

It is well documented that people of colour suffer more from Covid-19 symptoms


Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a contagious respiratory and vascular disease, caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). It was first identified in Wuhan, China.


The British government issued £4.3m to fund Covid-19 research. A grand total of £0 was awarded to black PIs (the principal investigator of each research group). One half of the of the successful proposals were actually awarded to a member of the team deciding who got the funding!

Fix the ecosystem

‘Racial Inequality in the UK Science Community’

The above video is about the inequality in UK science and how it propagates.

Professor Rachel Oliver & The Inclusion Group for Equity in Research in STEMM + Dr Lia Li, Hope Bretscher and Dr Erinma Ochu



Currently there are 17,850 white professors in the UK (and predominantly male)

Only 35 identified as Black women

There is only one black female physics professor and there is only one black female computer science professor

UK physics medals and prizes

The Institute of Physics (IOP) award medals (gold and silver) and prizes every year and white men predominately win them (below left)

The Institute of Physics (IOP) is a UK-based learned society and professional body that works to advance physics education, research and application.


The Royal Society awards prizes and awards for all the sciences including the Rosalind Franklin prize for women scientists (Above right)


Rosalind Elsie Franklin (25 July 1920 – 16 April 1958) was an English chemist and X-ray crystallographer whose work was central to the understanding of the molecular structures of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), RNA (ribonucleic acid), viruses, coal, and graphite. Although her works on coal and viruses were appreciated in her lifetime, her contributions to the discovery of the structure of DNA were largely recognised posthumously.

The Royal Society, formally The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, is a learned society and the United Kingdom’s national academy of sciences. Founded on 28 November 1660, it was granted a royal charter by King Charles II as “The Royal Society”. It is the oldest national scientific institution in the world. The society fulfils a number of roles: promoting science and its benefits, recognising excellence in science, supporting outstanding science, providing scientific advice for policy, fostering international and global co-operation, education and public engagement.


It isn’t just women and people of colour who face discrimination


40% of LGBTQ+ scientists are out of work

There are parts of the world where LGBTQ+ people cannot work due to discrimination (and in some places they would not be sae to work there)

Lecture II: Dr Clara Barker (Wed 11 Nov 2020, 15:30 – 16:30)


In the second lecture of this new series from the Department of Physics, we will hear from Dr Clara Barker [she/her], a thin-film material scientist who manages the Centre for Applied Superconductivity in the Materials Department at Oxford University. Clara is the Chair of the Oxford University LGBT+ advisory group and runs a youth group for LGBTI+ people, as well as giving many talks in schools and beyond in which she shares her story of being a trans scientist. In 2017 she won a Prime Minister’s Points of Light Award for her outstanding volunteer work.

More information and booking here:…


A great deal of reports has been written and read but there really isn’t enough research into why women and minorities are under-represented in physics.

“We need to recognise that at the moment success [in physics] has little to do with talent and a great deal to do with educational privilege.” Carl Wieman



Dr Wade is involved with groups that put-on events to better support very early physicists (School age children) from diverse backgrounds.


One of these activities brought together 250 teenage girls to the physics department at Imperial College.

Dr Wade made a little joke that she had never seen so many females in the physics lecture hall.

She has done work with schools that have no graduate physics teachers. She has worked with the teachers who have to teach physics. She has been involved in teaching computing skills.

How to get across to students the importance of physics:

Get the students involved outside of the classroom;

Invite parents to meetings about the subject;

Get the whole of the school involved (Personally I have come across non-physics teachers who have come up with comments such as “well physics is a boys’ subject isn’t it”)

Get the SMT of the school involved (headteachers who happen to be physicists are very rare).

Dr Wade has also done work in other countries on popularising physics. One of her trips has taken her to Brazil. Talks are only limited by the size of the room you are in (however the increasing use of platforms such as zoom, means you don’t even need a big room)

How can you get to young people interested if they don’t attend extracurricular physics activities?

UK curricula doesn’t help. Even life-science text books are bad because they don’t mention any black women scientists


Change needs to be made in exam questions and textbooks

When I did history at school (about a million years ago) I was taught about Florence Nightingale but Mary Seacole was never mentioned. (below left)


Mary Jane Seacole (née Grant; 23 November 1805 – 14 May 1881) was a British-Jamaican nurse, healer and businesswoman who set up the “British Hotel” behind the lines during the Crimean War. She described this as “a mess-table and comfortable quarters for sick and convalescent officers”, and provided succour for wounded servicemen on the battlefield, and nursed many of them back to health. Coming from a tradition of Jamaican and West African “doctresses”, Seacole displayed “compassion, skills and bravery while nursing soldiers during the Crimean War”, through the use of herbal remedies. She was posthumously awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit in 1991. In 2004, she was voted the greatest black Briton.

Florence Nightingale, OM, RRC, DStJ (12 May 1820 – 13 August 1910) was an English social reformer, statistician and the founder of modern nursing. Nightingale came to prominence while serving as a manager and trainer of nurses during the Crimean War, in which she organised care for wounded soldiers.

Dr Wade is particularly cross by the lack of mentions about women and minorities in STEM that she has been driven to Wikipedia


Wikipedia is used by students, teachers, journalists. It’s even the go-to place for experts.

Doctors in the developing world consult it if they don’t have the relevant text books available.

Wikipedia information has actually found itself being used for actual peer-reviewed scientific papers.

Places that have nice pictures on their Wikipedia pages have greater tourism revenue.

I live in St Albans


St Albans is a cathedral city in Hertfordshire, England and the major urban area in the City and District of St Albans.

If you ask Google assistant, Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri a question their answer will come from Wikipedia.

You may have noticed, reading my blogs, that most of my information comes from Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is the world’s 5th most frequently visited website.

On March 29th 2020 Wikipedia got 650 million views.

What’s on Wikipedia matters.

…. is what matters is on Wikipedia.

Only about 18.5% of the biographies on Wikipedia are about women and only 11/12% are biographies of female physicists

Since 2018 Dr Wade has written or edited Wikipedia pages every day on women and people of colour involved in physics. She has just finished her 1160th page.

One particular page she is most proud of is about Gladys West

Gladys Mae West (née Brown) (born 1930) is an American mathematician known for her contributions to the mathematical modelling of the shape of the Earth, and her work on the development of the satellite geodesy models that were eventually incorporated into the Global Positioning System (GPS). West was inducted into the United States Air Force Hall of Fame in 2018.



Dr Wade has not earned any money from her Wikipedia pages and the process of editing is free. She does it because it gives her a route to young people. It allows her to explain about inequality and have conversations about stereotypes

As scientists and academics, we know that in order to solve a problem, we first need to understand it. This is just as true for structural racism and anti-Blackness! It’s also important for non-Black folks to not rely on Black folks for this education.


Final thoughts



Dr Boast is the Access Officer for Oxford Physics. She is a keen physics communicator, and has taken on outreach opportunities in the department for a few years as both an undergraduate and graduate student.

As the Access Officer, she encourages those interested in studying physics and supports students (and their teachers) who are considering applying for Physics at Oxford.

She is also the STEM Outreach Officer at Hertford College; Oxford University and her particular focus is reaching out to under-represented groups.

She carries out meaningful work with school students, teachers and parents

She believes we need to think about who we celebrate and amplify


These awards are very useful for attracting funding for research projects

She believes we need to listen, read and reflect

The pandemic has given us all time to think


Listen to experiences

Professor Christopher Jackson


Christopher Aiden-Lee Jackson (born 1977) is a professor of geology at Imperial College London. He is known for his work in geoscience, especially in the use of 3D seismic data to understand dynamic processes in sedimentary basins.


Prof. Sara Rankin from Imperial College London delivered a lecture on ‘Why higher education needs to increase awareness of neurodiversity’ on 20 March 2019. She is dyslexic and dyspraxic and in recent years has been working on a project, 2eMPower, to make STEM education (in schools and HE) accessible for students with specific learning disabilities (dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and autism). She trained as a dyslexia champion (accredited by the British Dyslexia Association) and in this role considers how employers and managers can create a working environment that supports neurodiverse staff and gets the best out of them.


Sara Margaret Rankin FRSB is a Professor of Leukocyte and Stem Cell Biology at Imperial College London. She is known for her work in stimulating endogenous bone marrow stem cells to repair the body.

Dr Boast believes policies and procedures need to be reviewed for:

Undergraduate admissions; PhD recruitment, seminar speakers; interviews, letters of recommendation; prize/grant allocation


Universities, who are you giving a platform to? NASA changes how it divvies up telescope time to reduce gender bias

In 2018 NASA, who control the Hubble telescope, looked at the success rate of those applying to use it. They found that 24% of men were successful but only 13% of women were successful.


The Hubble Space Telescope (often referred to as HST or Hubble) is a space telescope that was launched into low Earth orbit in 1990 and remains in operation.

NASA removed the request for personal information (gender blind) on the application. The success rate for applications by men became 8.0% and for women it became 8.7% (women actually did a little better than men)

Are gender gaps due to evaluations of the applicant or the science? A natural experiment at a national funding agency

Across countries and disciplines, studies show male researchers receive more research funding than their female peers. Because most studies have been observational, it is unclear whether imbalances stem from evaluations of female research investigators or of their proposed research. In 2014, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research created a natural experiment by dividing investigator-initiated funding applications into two new grant programmes: one with and one without an explicit review focus on the calibre of the principal investigator.


In 2014 the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) decided to phase out conventional grant programmes, in which reviewers evaluated both the science and the investigator. Instead, the CIHR started one programme that focused its evaluation on the applicants and another that focused mostly on their research. This created a natural experiment that allowed scientists to analyse the outcome of nearly 24,000 grant applications and to test whether funding differences were due to the quality of the applicants’ research or to biased assessments of their gender.

Past studies have looked at gender inequalities in grant funding, but most examined grant programmes that didn’t separate their application pool like the CIHR programmes. Some also didn’t consider other factors, such as whether research fields had different ratios of male to female scientists. The new analysis, which took into account applicants’ research areas and age — a proxy for career stage — allowed the study authors to draw “more robust conclusions”


Evaluating the scientist puts women at a disadvantage. Unconscious bias means that women lose out of funding. Judging the science, and not knowing the gender of the applicant, the inequality went away. An added bonus was that in 2016 both genders were more successful in their funding applications

The gender differences in funding outcomes disappeared after the CIHR implemented new policies, which included asking reviewers to complete a training module about unconscious bias.

Dr Boast feels that senior physicists should be an ally, advocate or mentor and that they should be calling for change

The death of George Floyd in the US shocked all of us and it made the President of Imperial College (Alice Gast) consider what the university could do to address current and historic racial injustices. She said “I feel a deep anger and despair over the senseless death of George Floyd. It brings to the surface my shock and disappointment that racism and the violence that it breeds continue in the United States.”

“I am also saddened by persistent racial inequality and injustice here in Britain and around the world. My heart goes out to all who have been directly or indirectly hurt by racism or racist acts.”

“Racism and violence have no place in society. Our spirit of common purpose must prevail, and we must pull together and collaborate as a community to support those who are afraid and mourning and to say: Black Lives Matter.”

One of the things she set up was a new scholarship fund to support Black students.



Alice Petry Gast FREng (born May 25, 1958) is an American researcher, and the 16th president of Imperial College London, since September 2014.Gast was named one of the top 100 “Modern Era” engineers in the US under the category of “Leadership” by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

Dr Boast feels that the senior member of any team needs to be prepared to give up their space. This could mean the head of a research team making sure that all members of his/her team have an equal chance of speaking at conferences and has a part to play in obtaining funding.

Dr Wade feels the same applies to herself with some of the outreach activities. If you are trying to attract ethnic minorities into doing physics it might be more sensible to find an ethnic minority physicist to do it.

Dr Boast’s final point is that physicists should realise why the work on equality is so important,

Diverse teams do brilliant work and make better decisions (apparently diverse juries make better decisions) and, very importantly, they are more profitable. More fair legal decisions On racial diversity and group decision making: Identifying multiple effects of racial composition on jury deliberations. Cultural Diversity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship: Firm‐level Evidence from London Diversity and Inclusion Ethnic diversity deflates price bubbles The preeminence of ethnic diversity in scientific collaboration The fourth age of research Jonathan Adams analyses papers from the past three decades and finds that the best science comes from international collaboration. Higher citation merits are gained


Ijeoma Uchegbu is a Professor of Pharmacy at University College London where she also holds the position of Pro-Vice Provost for Africa and the Middle East. She is the Chief Scientific Officer of Nanomerics, a pharmaceutical nanotechnology company specialising in drug delivery solutions for poorly water-soluble drugs, nucleic acids and peptides. Apart from her highly cited scientific research in Pharmaceutical Nanoscience, Uchegbu is also known for her work in science public engagement and equality and diversity in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

Dr Emma Chapman


Emma Olivia Chapman (née Woodfield) is a British physicist and Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow at Imperial College London. Her research investigates the epoch of reionization. She won the 2018 Royal Society Athena Prize. She is concerned about PhD culture and how it impacts women.

She has spoken about bias in science at the Royal Institution, Wellcome Collection and on the BBC. Chapman is a member of The 1752 Group, a lobbying group to end staff-student sexual harassment in academia.

The Royal Society Athena Prize is awarded biennially (in even years) for teams working in UK academic and research communities, who have contributed most to the advancement of diversity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) within their communities.

She partnered with the National Union of Students (NUS) to conduct a survey of staff-student sexual harassment. They found that there was widespread misconduct in higher education and that institutions did not adequately support the victims.


Below is an image of the activities that took place during Black History Month



Questions and answers

Above left: Dr Wade/ Above right: Dr Ramadan

1) How can things be improved at the school level?

More physics graduates need to become physics teachers. Pay all teachers more and protect their teaching time. Engage parents and carers. Use a whole school approach. Academics need long term interactions. Physicists need to engage long term with a particular school or class and speak out more to parents and the community.

2) Could affirmative action actually work against minorities in physics?

The US does have affirmative action i.e. there are black colleges. This increases diversity at professor level and black professors are hugely successful. NASA has programmes to bring in diverse people.

In the UK success is intimately linked with white privilege. The US isn’t afraid to talk about racial inequality.

Affirmative action has worked. It is controversial but it is necessary.

3) How much has all this diversity affected Dr Wade’s physics work.

Wikipedia is an evening project. It has made her think about who she collaborates with, how she interacts with students and colleagues in her lab. It has allowed her to connect with journalists, museum personnel, people involved with public engagement and popular science magazines.

The interactions do help with her day job, i.e. making grant applications, promoting her area of research.

4) Why do you think people think physics is the most difficult subject.

Ironically more students are able to get an A* in their physics A level than most other subjects. The reason is that it is self-selecting.

It’s best not to use words like hard or difficult. Use the word “challenging” as that is more satisfying.

Teachers need upskilling and support.

Make physics more relevant to young people.

Physics needs rebranding.

5) Make the workplace more welcoming. Universities tend to care more about the people who write papers for high ranking journals and don’t recognise the service or admin workers.

EPRSC is encouraging diversity

Professors are able to allocate a day a week to diversity activities and research. Diversity and equality activities have had a bad rap as it tends to be white women.

Public engagement is undervalued by the people who dish out the promotions.

We need to think who we champion, nominate for awards etc.

We need to move away from one person who is the “hero”, who leads the team, who gets all the money, who gets all the credit, who does the talk at conferences without thinking about the individuals who make up the team.

Funding should reflect the fact that research is a team effort. Teams should have more than PI. This means that if one person gets “thrown out” because of bad behaviour there are others there to continue the job and provide group support.

More people should be celebrated. More people need to be asked for advice.

Emphasis should be shifted to the fact that research is done by a team not by just one person.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s