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The SENSE Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity (EDI) Champion aims to improve equality, diversity and inclusion practices in higher education in geosciences, one of the least racially diverse fields at the postgraduate level (e.g., Dowey et al., 2021). The SENSE Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) won funding from the National Environment Research Council (NERC) for this role and aims to address EDI challenges faced by the environmental science PhD community. The EDI champion will analyse and assess the current EDI practices used by SENSE and design and implement new initiatives. This will include analysing applications, creating toolkits for PhD applicants and organizing wellbeing events for the current cohorts. Heather Selley will be working as the SENSE Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity Champion until March 2023.

Meet our EDI Champion

Heather Selley

What is your background?

I’m seconding into the SENSE EDI champion role from my PhD, to work full time on a topic that I have volunteered on for many years and feel very strongly about. I am very keen to play an active role in improving the working environment for PhD students, and I hope to use this EDI role to deliver practical action and meaningful change. My PhD focuses on using satellite data to measure changes in ice flow speeds in Antarctica. I’m a first-generation PhD student and am in my final year so I can bring my lived experiences, as well as knowledge, to the role. I’m a neurodivergent, disabled woman and have navigated many of the university systems myself and hope to improve the experience for others. Alongside my PhD, and since I was an undergraduate, I have always engaged with mentoring and diversity initiatives. This has been through working for the university careers services, peer mentoring, going into local schools to work with underrepresented groups, sitting on equality, diversity, and inclusion committees and creating and running wellbeing events such as the SENSE Not Another Wellbeing workshop. I have dedicated a lot of my time to volunteering for groups such as the University of Leeds Disability, Accessibility and Mental Health Network and Polar Impact a network of racial and ethnic minorities and allies in Polar Research. Here, I lead an outreach project to engage underrepresented school children with the polar regions through augmented reality enabled postcards.

Why is it important?

Investing in Equality and Diversity has always been of vital importance, especially in geoscience, one of the least racially diverse fields at the postgraduate level [1]. Early career researchers (in or a few years after their PhDs) are more diverse than ever [2]. However, underrepresented groups are subject to discriminatory and exclusionary practices [1,3,4], and have been disproportionally impacted by the pandemic due to reduced opportunities [2]. One in two PhD students experience common mood disorders such as depression and/or anxiety [5,6], a rate six times higher than the general population [6]. Disabled students for instance must invest a lot of time and energy to access support and wait for necessary reasonable adjustments to be put in place [7]. Our diversity is made up of a unique blend of our demographic, experiential and cognitive diversity and every person is unique. However, there are many barriers to PhDs and academia that underrepresented groups commonly encounter, but with the right support, information, and opportunity I hope academia will become a more diverse and enjoyable environment for all. Often these underrepresented groups invest a lot of time and energy in advocating for their needs, learning the ‘unwritten rules’ of the academia, having to navigate a system that isn’t welcoming to their identity and educating others to move towards a better environment, without compensation and with little to no information. I hope through this role I can contribute somewhat to easing the burden on underrepresented groups.

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What will you be doing?  

I will be doing a variety of activities in this role. I will be analysing applications, the application process, training programme and getting feedback from students about their experiences and potential improvements to accessibility. Spotlighting and showcasing our students’ diversity, best practices and amazing work. Creating toolkits for improving understanding and support available for students with diverse backgrounds. Running workshops and webinars on a variety of issues including careers beyond academia, the PhD application process, how to be an ally and rerunning not another wellbeing workshop. I will also be offering mentoring to our cohorts of students and identifying different support needs at different stages of their PhDs.   

What are your hopes for the role?  

I hope to create many useful resources and evidence that further investment in equality, diversity and inclusion should be valued highly. I hope to improve the experience of our cohorts by expanding on SENSE’s exemplary best practices and demystifying PhDs for a wider audience. I have found all my roles both voluntary and paid in this area extremely rewarding and am excited to dedicate my time and energy to this opportunity. On a personal level, I look forward to expanding my knowledge about all aspects of EDI and getting the opportunity to work with the SENSE team and students.  

Any tips for those interested in engaging more with Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity?  

There is so much information out there from a wide range of communities and sources. Everyone is busy, however, taking the time to educate yourself on issues that may or may not affect you will give you so much understanding and value. Start by listening to those with lived experience, this doesn’t have to be done in person and can be watching a short YouTube video or listening to a podcast and advocating for other communities.  If you’re unsure of how to respond in uncomfortable situations the principles of active bystander training are a good place to start. Keeping an open mind and signing up for opportunities such as webinars and training when they come up is a great way to get started.  


[1] Dowey, N., Barclay, J., Fernando, B., Giles, S., Houghton, J., Jackson, C., … & Williams, R. (2021). A UK perspective on tackling the geoscience racial diversity crisis in the Global North. Nature Geoscience, 14(5), 256-259. 

[2] Fisher, B. J., Shiggins, C. J., Naylor, A. W., Rawlins, L. D., Tallentire, G. D., van den Heuvel, F., … & Buckingham, J. (2021). Interventions to prevent pandemic-driven diversity loss. Communications Earth & Environment, 2(1), 1-4. 

[3] Marín-Spiotta, E., Barnes, R. T., Berhe, A. A., Hastings, M. G., Mattheis, A., Schneider, B., & Williams, B. M. (2020). Hostile climates are barriers to diversifying the geosciences. Advances in Geosciences, 53, 117-127. 

[4] Hughes, B. E. (2018). Coming out in STEM: Factors affecting retention of sexual minority STEM students. Science advances, 4(3), eaao6373. 

[5] Levecque, K., Anseel, F., De Beuckelaer, A., Van der Heyden, J., & Gisle, L. (2017). Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students. Research policy, 46(4), 868-879. 

[6] Evans, T. M., Bira, L., Gastelum, J. B., Weiss, L. T., & Vanderford, N. L. (2018). Evidence for a mental health crisis in graduate education. Nature biotechnology, 36(3), 282-284. 

[7] Hannam-Swain, S. (2018). The additional labour of a disabled PhD student. Disability & Society, 33(1), 138-142. 

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