Diversify and decolonise 

During the summer, Jen Struthers (MPhys Physics, year 5) and Azal Shahbaz (MChem Chemistry, year 4) undertook internships with the School of Physics and Astronomy’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion team.  What did their roles entail? And what skills did they gain?

Tell us about your role

AS: My role was to decolonise the Physics 1B course. I had two subprojects. One of them was to diversify the course content. So I wrote 20 biographies of scientists from diverse backgrounds, such as people of colour and people who have disabilities, and I put those biographies into the course content at relevant points for students to learn about. The second was to conduct a survey to find out what students’ attitudes were towards decolonization, and what they thought would be the most effective methods of decolonization.

JS: I created a lecture toolkit on decolonisation which includes what decolonization is, why it’s necessary, then several practical steps that lecturers can take to come to try and decolonize their course. This includes reviewing the content to see what perspectives they are gathering, and reviewing their pedagogy to see if there are teaching methods that are not inclusive.

What skills did you learn or develop?

AS: I really managed to improve my communication and presentation skills. Just making sure I got everything across to my team was important. And when it came to analysing the survey, there was a lot of data handling. My research skills in general improved because I was constantly researching information. They’re all very transferable skills, which is great.

JS: I’d agree that communication was a big one. Our learning and degrees are very individual and as a student we kind of sit and listen to staff, however going to meetings and having conversations with staff on a colleague level was quite different. And trying to get across everything I want to say in a very clear manner was something that I definitely learned. During the summer I also improved my work ethic, including managing my own time and setting deadlines. This is something I had never really done because I’ve always had a very set timetable.

Did you face any  challenges? If so, how did you overcome them.

AS: There was no straight definition for decolonization in science, and particularly in physics. I think it took me around three to four weeks to come up with my own definition for it. I basically read lots of articles and literature around the subject – supervisors Victoria and Job were really good at handing out resources to us. Also working with a new team of people who I hadn’t met before and then going into this brand new topic was difficult to navigate my way around, but I did it in the end. Another challenge I faced was receiving surprising survey results. Many students who took the survey were misinformed on the topic of decolonisation, which in turn produced more responses which were against my project than I thought I would receive. So I decided that it would be important to include a note in the Physics 1B course to explain what decolonization is and why it benefits everyone.

JS: The main challenge I had was working from home as it was quite difficult to structure my time. So what I did was make a daily plan of what I wanted to achieve so I could then tick off small goals which would lead up to big goal, which made my work a lot more achievable and a lot less intimidating.

Advice for students

AS: Identify what you’re interested in. An internship doesn’t have to be focused on your degree and your career aspirations, at least for now.  So just make sure you’re doing something that you’re passionate about.

JS: When you apply you don’t know what the outcome could be, and even if you don’t get accepted, it’s still such good experience applying for something, writing your CV and going for the interview. I’m really, really terrified of interviews and I hate them and so I was preparing all these questions and that actually really helped me.

Further information

Jen and Azal undertook their internships with supervisors Prof Victoria Martin and Dr Job Thijssen of the School’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion team.  Find out more about the School’s EDI initiatives and resources: Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Learn more about the Careers Service Employ.ed on Campus internships: Employ.ed on Campus

Read further stories from students who have embarked on School internships: internship stories


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