University of Leicester receives funding to tackle the ‘Missing Element’ in chemistry diversity

The University of Leicester has received funding to boost diversity in chemistry by supporting students from minority ethnic backgrounds with the research experience they need for the high-powered chemistry jobs of the future.

The Royal Society of Chemistry has announced the award of £677,000 in Missing Elements Grant Scheme funding to British and Irish universities to address racial and ethnic inequalities in the chemical sciences. Ten institutions will share this funding pot and commence projects that will contribute towards bringing change and equality to chemistry, including the PolyMErise project at the University of Leicester.

PolyMErise has received £60,000 and is designed to tackle the challenge of encouraging undergraduates from minoritised ethnicities to undertake paid summer research placements, which provide valuable experience when applying for postgraduate study.

It will create a network of chemists from minoritised ethnicities in Leicester with the opportunity to apply for 8-week paid summer research placements with accommodation costs covered. There will be extra experience-giving initiatives for network members such as field trips, industry site visits, and hosting symposia/seminars from employers, and an annual symposium where the summer research students can present alongside current postgraduate students. 

Dr James Pickering from the University of Leicester School of Chemistry said: "The RSC’s Missing Elements Report put data behind what many of us in the academic sector could already perceive, which is that chemistry still has a way to go in ensuring that it is a genuinely inclusive discipline, open to all who are passionate about it.

"The Missing Elements Grant Scheme is a major positive step on this journey, and the pioneering projects that it enables will lead to the development of positive interventions that can be adopted more widely in the academic sector.

"My own experience at the University of Leicester is that we have no shortage of talented, passionate, and creative chemists from minoritised ethnicities among our diverse undergraduate cohort, but that relatively few of these students remain for postgraduate study.

"This 'leak' in our pipeline as we train the chemists of tomorrow is significant, and the funding provided by the Missing Elements grant will enable us to start a pioneering project to fix this leak.

"Through creation of a home-grown network of talented chemists from Leicester, and the provision of a targeted funding stream for research experience, we aim to empower the next generation of chemists – and work to ensure that the inequities faced by many today are confined to history for future generations."

The funding programme was set up partly in response to the shocking findings of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Missing Elements report, published in March 2022. The publication lifted a lid on the numerous problems relating to the chemical sciences in academia in the UK, such as:

  • The number of Black chemists drops at every stage of the academic career ladder after undergraduate studies, leading to a lack of Black professors and underrepresentation of racially minoritised staff at senior levels.
  • Statistically, 0% of chemistry professors in UK academia are Black (that is, there are so few that HESA data and anonymisation methodology reports this as zero), while Asian chemists are also underrepresented at professor level.
  • The average funding award for minority ethnic principal investigators is 10% less than the figure for white principal investigators.

Dr Helen Pain, Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said of the grant awards: "Our Missing Elements report laid bare the problems faced by minoritised ethnic members of the chemical sciences community. Now we are committing funding to these projects, all of which are different but will produce tangible results and ultimately change people's lives for the better.

"Improving progression and retention opportunities for these underrepresented groups benefits everyone. Research shows that greater diversity and inclusion lead to a better scientific culture generally and that is why initiatives such as this are an important part of our overall strategy.

"We very much look forward to seeing the work produced by these institutions around the UK and Ireland. Hopefully, this grant programme and the projects that are now under way will inspire even greater changes to maximise inclusion in the chemical sciences."