Senior Lecturer and Director of Chemical Sciences Programmes
The stereotype of white male Western-educated individuals as the only contributors to scientific discoveries is pervasive in the education system. We hope to address this issue through highlighting the contributions of individuals and communities that have been “minoritised” in their contributions to the sciences, especially in Chemistry.
The stereotype of white male Western-educated individuals as the only contributors to scientific discoveries is pervasive in the education system in this country and surprisingly even in HEIs where there is more freedom on what is taught and how it is delivered.
A poignant example is that everyone in conditioned to know that Thomas Edison discovered the light bulb but no credit is given to Lewis Howard Latimer, the son of slave parents in America, who discovered the carbon filament that made the light bulb a useful device. The work aimed to address this issue through highlighting the contributions of individuals and communities that have been “minoritised” in their contributions to the sciences, especially in chemistry. Involving students in highlighting the contribution of “minoritised” (BAME) scientists to chemistry was identified as the best means to enrich student’s knowledge on this topic is by using a self-discovery, flipped learning, approach.
This initiative coincided with a request from the QMSU EDI committee that each module page within the virtual learning environment (QMPlus) contain a tab to highlight the diversity of contributions to the topics taught and that this could act as an inspiration and provide role models for students, especially for those from the “minoritised” (BAME) community. In the School it was decided to initially choose one module per year on each programme to contribute towards the fulfilment of this aim.
These interventions were designed to highlight the contribution of “minoritised” (BAME) scientists to chemistry, to provide experience of intra-advisorial group work, and to give experience of oral and written communication and poster making. This took place in two modules:
CHE100 Essential Skills for Chemists (1st Year, 15 credit, module organiser Dr Rachel Crespo-Otero)
CHE210 Essential Skills for Chemists II (2nd Year, 0 credit, module organiser Dr Tippu S Sheriff)
In the first module, a group of ~3 students within a tutorial group researched the contribution of one “minoritised” (BAME) individual to chemistry and produced a powerpoint presentation that was presented to ~12 students (combining 2 tutorial groups) and their Advisors in Week B9, with each student speaking for 1-2 min. This was a summative piece of work with staff providing group and individual marks for the quality of the slides and the oral presentation. The presentations were be recorded and uploaded to QMPlus, or alternatively each produced a single image and a 50-word summary of their topic to go onto QMPlus.
In the second module, this topic was introduced in Week A3 and students within an advisorial group produced a poster to highlight the contribution of one “minoritised” BAME or other minority individual to chemistry; the deadline for the poster was Week A11. Posters were presented at a special poster session/social in the JP foyer in Week A12. Prizes were awarded to the best poster(s) by peer assessment. The Royal Society of Chemistry Inclusion & Diversity Fund provided a grant to cover the expenses of the poster session/social, prizes and for the printing of the posters. Posters were uploaded to QMPlus.
Y1 and Y2 students have now been surveyed about these initiatives and the data was presented at the Queen Mary Festival of Education in April 2023. In the CHE100 Essential Skills for Chemists module, approximately 100 first year chemistry students delivered small group presentations to their peers for the last ~3 years highlighting the contributions of chemists from minoritized backgrounds.
When surveyed in March 2023, 91% of the current first year students agreed or strongly agreed that this exercise made them aware of a contribution not taught elsewhere in the chemistry curriculum and 92% agreed or strongly agreed that the chemistry curriculum should include more examples of contributions to chemistry from underrepresented and overlooked groups in society.
When subsequently surveyed 84% of students stated that this activity was effective for improving their understanding of the importance inclusion and diversity in chemistry, increased their knowledge of the diverse contributions to chemistry and enabled them to find out about a contribution to chemistry not taught elsewhere in the chemistry curriculum.
Perhaps the most significant result of the survey was that almost 90% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the chemistry curriculum at Queen Mary should include more examples of the contributions to chemistry from underrepresented groups in society.
Posters highlighting the contributions of minoritized chemistry are on permanent display in the Joseph Priestley chemistry building and when surveyed in March 2023, 74% of first year chemistry students agreed or strongly agreed that these posters inspired them to aim higher.