Portsmouth scientists win share of £1.7m funding

Two University of Portsmouth scientists have been awarded a share of £1.7m to lead projects aiming to make environmental science more diverse, equitable and inclusive.

The funding comes from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) as part of its nationwide bid to widen the scope of environmental sciences.

Portsmouth’s Professor Alex Ford, a marine biologist, and Dr Michelle Hale, a biological oceanographer, are leading on two of the 23 projects announced this week.

We need the best minds from a diverse society, but marine sciences tends to not have good representation from black and other ethnic minority students and academics

Professor Alex Ford, Project leader

The projects range from investigating the causes of low diversity of environmental science to using digital technologies and platforms to improve access of underserved researchers to ship-time and analytical facilities.

Both the Portsmouth projects draw in teams from across the University.

Professor Ford leads the bid to examine how to improve diversity and inclusiveness in the UK marine sciences.

He said: “Marine science has a part to play in addressing major global issues including climate change and environmental pollution. The problem is for issues as big and wide-ranging as these, we need the best minds from a diverse society, but university marine sciences tends to not have good representation from black and other ethnic minority students and academics.”

We hope to start decolonising the environmental sciences curriculum, to open spaces for Bangladeshi people to have their voices heard in how Portsmouth and Bangladesh tackle their multiple climate risks

Dr Michelle Hale, Project leader

His project will include workshops with leaders in marine science to draw a roadmap for all UK universities to follow to enhance representation from minority voices, ideas and concerns.

Dr Hale, Head of the School of the Environment, Geography and Geosciences, leads the bid to co-create solutions to overcome barriers that exclude people of Bangladeshi heritage from studying environmental sciences.

Her project’s goal is to better understand and communicate the environmental challenges facing Portsmouth and Bangladesh – both low-lying, densely packed places with multiple climate risks.

She said: “We hope to start decolonising the environmental sciences curriculum, to open spaces for Bangladeshi people to have their voices heard in how Portsmouth and Bangladesh tackle their multiple climate risks. The project includes a one-day Environmental Jam and focus group discussions for Bangladeshi people to be heard through song, animation and street art.” 

We want to ensure our institution drives cultural and systemic change so we fairly represent the many and varied people, cultures and beliefs which make up our community

Chris Chang, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Chris Chang

The University of Portsmouth's Deputy Vice-Chancellor Chris Chang, the strategic lead of Equality Diversity and Inclusion for the University, said he was proud Portsmouth was at the forefront of committing time and expertise to exploring diversity and inclusion in this area. 

He said: “The University takes equality, diversity and inclusion very seriously. We want to ensure our institution drives cultural and systemic change so we fairly represent the many and varied people, cultures and beliefs which make up our community. Our approach is based on the concept of Different Voices, One Community.  It’s wonderful to see this work, led by Portsmouth academics, being supported by a national funding body.”

Nationally, NERC funding aims to:

  • tackle specific diversity, equality and inclusion challenges facing environmental science disciplines;
  • test effective approaches to improve diversity, equality and inclusion; and
  • bring together individuals to raise the awareness of opportunities for increasing diversity within the environmental sciences.

Susan Waldron, director of research and skills at NERC, said: “NERC is committed to supporting researchers to address the causes behind the lack of diversity in the environmental sciences.

“The investment in these innovative projects is crucial to ensuring that intervention to support change is based on evidence and is supported by the community.”

View the full project descriptions.