Our EDI policy
The ACCE DTP is committed to recruiting extraordinary future scientists regardless of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, faith or religious belief, pregnancy or maternity, parental or caring responsibilities or career pathway to date. We understand that a student’s potential can be shown in many ways and we strive to recruit students from all backgrounds, and support them on their scientific journey.
EDI at the heart of our recruitment
Ahead of the 2021-22 recruitment round, we undertook a comprehensive assessment of our recruitment processes, with the intention of improving opportunities for students from non-traditional academic routes, and increasing the diversity of applicants and recruited students. Through this review we identified issues with the recruitment procedures that we had been adopting up to that point, and have since implemented the following changes:
We are improving the ways in which we advertise our PhD projects in order to increase awareness among typically underrepresented groups. For 2023/24 applications we advertised projects on bbstem.co.uk, and for future recruitment cycles we will continue to expand our advertising.
All of our PhD advertisements are accompanied by the following diversity statement.
“The ACCE DTP is committed to recruiting extraordinary future scientists regardless of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, faith or religious belief, pregnancy or maternity, parental or caring responsibilities or career pathway to date. We understand that a student’s potential can be shown in many ways and we strive to recruit students from all backgrounds, and support them on their scientific journey.
We have designed our application systems to identify candidates who are likely to be successful in research regardless of what opportunities may have been available to them prior to their application.”
We recognise that applicants from different backgrounds will have different levels of experience with academic applications, and will receive different levels of support. In order to reduce inequality to this coaching bias, we have introduced detailed guidance for all potential applicants on the application process. Our website includes detailed guidance on how to apply, including a video application guide and additional FAQs.
We have also introduced a guided proforma to replace a freeform personal statement/cover letter. By standardising what and how much information applicants include, this proforma minimises the differences in applications between those who have had support and training and those who have not. The questions in our proforma have been designed carefully to assess the desired qualities which reveal potential to be an outstanding PhD student.
This proforma also includes an open question which gives applicants the opportunity to provide additional information to frame their application. The phrasing of this question has been chosen so as not to limit what applicants might wish to describe, but to allow the contextualisation of applications, so that they may subsequently be holistically assessed. This information is used to ensure that applicants could be assessed equitably, in light of any barriers they may have faced in their academic career to date. Prior to assessment of applications, guidance and training is provided to supervisors and assessors in how to interpret and use the contextual information provided by applicants when ranking applications. This guidance includes our selection rubric, which is followed by the selection panel during the shortlisting process.
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.