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Racial Inequalities in Undertaking Doctoral Study in the UK: A Qualitative Analysis

Lookup NU author(s): Bekah PuttickORCiD, Michelle Palmer, Dr Gail de Blaquiere, Professor Hayley Fowler, Professor Oliver Heidrich



This is the final published version of a conference proceedings (inc. abstract) that has been published in its final definitive form by Leiden University, The Netherlands, 2023.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


ONE Planet offers cohort-based doctoral training at Newcastle and Northumbria Universities in the north-east of England, UK.1 The PhD programme develops independent researchers with key skills in industrial ecology from Climate and Climate Change, Earth System Processes, and Anthropocene to Environmental Informatics to deliver sustainable transdisciplinary responses addressing intensifying global change. Although a PhD journey is available to anyone, fewer students from minoritized ethnic groups transition to doctoral level studies when compared to white students.2 The undergraduate degree awarding gap between white students and those from minoritized ethnic groups is one element that impacts the student pipeline to doctoral study3. This study aims to investigate further. It surveyed and analysed the difficulties students from minoritized ethnic groups face in applying for a doctorate in the environmental sciences, together with, the structural and institutional challenges they face when trying to pursue an academic career. Through focus groups and 1-on-1 interviews, the research has collated evidence from 18 participants of minoritized ethnicity currently studying or researching in the environmental sciences. Through semi-structured interviews we gauged lived experiences and perceptions of doctoral degrees, considerations to undertake a doctoral degree, and if relevant, their experience of the application process. This paper discusses the perceptions of students who have been through (or are considering entering) the recruitment process for a PhD, contributing to the discourse surrounding roots of low representation of minoritized ethnicities in any doctoral study. Speaking to students from undergraduate to postgraduate level, the research recorded a range of perceived barriers and concerns in advancing to PhD study. In terms of the educational journey we find that although there are certainly concerns regarding the racial diversity of faculty, student bodies, and university spaces, minoritized students viewed socio-economic status or class as an additional and oftentimes more important barrier to enter, or feel as not “belonging” in, an academic space. Although there are multiple reasons for the low representation, this study reveals that people who are at the intersection of disadvantaged race, gender, religion etc., face more obstacles. Women participants especially show a high degree of awareness in this regard. Lastly, almost all students think that barriers are rather structural and socio-economical than about Newcastle University. The research argues that a holistic approach that takes both structural and institutional issues into account is needed. Moreover, the research analyses how aspects of advertisement and recruitment strategies may be unintentionally racialized4. We propose inclusive co-creation of marketing and supportive pre-application processes for a future PhD journey in Industrial Ecology and related areas. We demonstrate this using the ONE Planet recruitment cycle as an example and show how educational journeys should be informed by these insights to try and reduce the socio-economical barriers. Our ambition is to use this evidence-driven and research-based approach to achieve transformative change in the number of successful applications from minoritized ethnic groups to widen environmental sciences.ReferncesAmos (2019) BLACK, ASIAN AND MINORITY ETHNIC STUDENT ATTAINMENT AT UK UNIVERSITIES: #CLOSINGTHEGAP. Universities UK. ADDIN EN.REFLIST Crilly et al. 2020 Common Language of Sustainability for Built Environment Professionals—The Quintuple Helix Model for Higher Education Energies; Volume 13; Issue 22;, O., H. Fowler and U. Salzmann (2019). Transdisciplinary teaching-How can we educate scientists of the future? 10th International Conference of the International Society for Industrial Ecology (ISIE2019). Tsinghua, Bejing, China, ISIE. Students Characteristics Data (2021):

Publication metadata

Author(s): Oruc S, Puttick B, Palmer M, deBlaquiere G, Fowler H, Heidrich O

Editor(s): Kleijn, R; T. Fishmann

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Publication status: Published

Conference Name: 11th International Conference of the International Society for Industrial Ecology (ISIE2023)

Year of Conference: 2023

Print publication date: 01/07/2023

Online publication date: 01/07/2023

Acceptance date: 01/05/2023

Date deposited: 26/10/2023

Publisher: Leiden University, The Netherlands


ePrints DOI: 10.57711/4jq6-ff38