Making Ecology for all

On Tuesday 10th September the BES, Society of Biology and the Biochemical Society welcomed 42 young and talented students to CDH for the annual In2Science awards evening. In2Science is a non-profit organisation run by a dedicated team of PhD students, which aims to equip A-levels students from low income backgrounds with the experiences and skills needed to study science at university. Several students shared their inspirational stories backgrounds, clearly demonstrating their dedication and enthusiasm for science and the ability to overcome barriers when given the support they need.

The In2Science scheme was created in reaction to a Sutton Trust report in which it was announced that in the UK just 16% of students receiving free school meals go onto university in comparison to 96% of independent school students. In the three years it has been running, the scheme has placed around 150 students with research scientists in London and Bath to allow the students to experience real science first-hand. Of those students now at university age, approximately 80% have successfully secured a place at university. In2Science is just one of many initiatives that have been set-up in response to the current imbalance in scientific participation, an issue that has become increasingly topical in recent years. As well as people of low socio-economic status, other underrepresented groups in science include, but are not limited to, women, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities.

With an increasing number of programmes being developed to promote equality and diversity in science, why exactly is diversity so important? There are a multitude of reasons why increasing diversity should be given the attention it deserves but the business case for doing so revolves around talent. The more inclusive a discipline is the more people it will likely attract and therefore the more choice of talent there will be.

The BES is extremely interested in making sure that the talent pool for ecological science is as diverse and as skilled as possible. Indeed, for the BES to achieve its vision – “to advance ecology and make it count” –  the best ecologists are needed. Therefore, to have the greatest chance of finding talented and skilled ecologists to achieve this vision, it makes sense that the talent pool from which they are chosen is as large as possible. With some groups of people being underrepresented in science, however, the talent pool is instantly restricted and choices can become limited. Unless barriers faced by underrepresented groups are removed, ecology and other scientific disciplines cannot become fully inclusive and will therefore lose out on potential talent and the advances that could have been made with it.

In addition, creating well-rounded and representative boards and committees is also a reason for increasing diversity. A more varied and diverse committee is more likely to have a wider range of experiences to draw from. Furthermore, having role models at higher levels will serve to attract similar people into these positions. At the BES, the committees are responsible for directing the work of the Society. With such an important and influential task it is important that committee members are not only the most able but also representative of the wider ecological community.

To successfully identify and address issues, the BES is embarking on a project to investigate equality and diversity in science education and academic career paths with a particular focus on ecology and related disciplines. Members of the ecological community are invited to contribute towards this project in a number of ways:

  • You are encouraged to participate in the Equality & Diversity in Ecology survey. The aim of the survey is to gain a greater understanding of the current degree of diversity in ecology. All answers will be treated with confidence and will be used only to produce anonymous statistics.
  • Comments can be made on this blog or emailed to Christina Ravinet. Any relevant experience and stories are welcomed as are ideas that you think the BES should take forward.
  • Look out for diversity-themed tweets from the BES throughout the course of this week with further information on how to participate.

Both members and non-members of the BES are encouraged to contribute. The ultimate aim of the project is to draw up achievable recommendations for the Society to develop and implement. This is your opportunity to influence how the Society now moves forward in addressing equality and diversity. Only in making this science accessible to all will it really be possible to advance ecology and make it count.