Our EDI policy


Reliance on traditional ‘academic excellence’ metrics alone embeds the discrimination that some candidates have faced throughout their careers, and restricts the profile of PhD students to a narrow selection of the population, missing out on the benefits that diverse perspectives will bring. We have overhauled our selection criteria by first identifying the key qualities we believe make an excellent PhD student – commitment, passion and creativity – and then designing our criteria to identify these traits. We have redefined ‘academic excellence’ to ‘commitment to science’, allowing us to incorporate standard academic achievements (degree grades, paper authorship, awards) with non-standard achievements (e.g. working to fund studies, contributing to departmental culture), and to recognise a wider range of applicant skills and experience. Key changes we have adopted include:

  • Reducing emphasis on grades/degree and disregarding the name of the awarding institution for applicants’ previous degrees.
  • Our minimum grade requirements have been altered to 2.1 or equivalent in any degree. We are happy to consider applications from candidates with lower than a 2:1 where excellence can be demonstrated in other ways – this is considered on a case by case basis, and is dependent upon approval from the relevant host institution.
  • Broadening our criteria for demonstrating exceptional commitment, to include alternative opportunities and perseverance. We recognise the merits of work outside of academia, achievements gained despite significant barriers such as caring, illness or disability, and contribution to departmental or societal culture.
  • No longer assessing applications using a points system. We recognise that it is impossible to pre-emptively assign points to people’s experiences (e.g. making ‘working full time to support yourself and family’ equal to ‘having a paper’), so have adopted a holistic ranking system.
  • De-emphasising the importance of references, recognising that these often say more about the referee than the applicant. References are used only to highlight issues that may prevent the student from being successful.
  • Making all ranking criteria used in shortlisting available to prospective applicants here.

Together these changes ensure that ranking is completed using holistic judgement, taking into account the applicant’s background, where provided, to contextualise their academic background and relevant experience.

All shortlisting panels also include a member from a different ACCE institution, who is not involved in ranking applications, but oversees the shortlisting process, provides input to question any EDI issues, and helps build consistency across institutions.


As with shortlisting, interview panels at each ACCE partner include an external chair from a different ACCE institution, whose role is to ensure that processes follow the EDI principles at the heart of the ACCE recruitment process, and that the contextual information provided by applicants is used as intended.

We recognise that some applicants will be more affected by nerves in their interview than others. Accordingly, interviewees are judged on their responses and not their performance.

For studentships based at the University of Liverpool, University of Sheffield, and University of York, all interviews take place online, to ensure fairness between home and international applicants. Students are given the choice as to whether the presentation they give as part of the interview will be pre-recorded or live on the day.


All ranked candidates are discussed using the range of category scoring by each panel member to highlight any large discrepancies. Where these discussions involve candidates with a conflict of interest the discussion will include the external panel chair to ensure an equal number of panel members are contributing to selection.

NERC Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion CDT/DTP Flexible Funding Award

ACCE has been awarded funding from NERC for a 10-month EDI-centred project to assess the impact of the recent changes to our recruitment practices, and explore further changes to be implemented in future recruitment rounds.

The objectives of this project are:

  • To assess changes in the profile of applicants and recruited students to ACCE since the original 2014/15 recruitment round, and to identify groups which are underrepresented at each stage of the recruitment process.
  • To determine whether there has been a change in the profile of applicants and recruited students to ACCE following the changes in procedures ahead of the 2021/22 recruitment round.
  • To assess potential impacts of implementing alternative processes for future recruitment rounds, with a view to increasing equity for underrepresented groups within ACCE recruitment.
  • To explore and trial alternative unconscious bias and diversity training for recruiters and supervisors.

The output from this project will be used to inform our recruitment going forwards, including our plans for our ACCE DTP3 proposal.

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