Reflection on 2021 from UKPN

A little later in the year than we initially planned, but we would still like to take a moment to record and share with you the highlights of all the UKPN activities in 2021. Granted, 2021 may have only been mildly better than 2020 in many respects, and we’ve still had to organise the majority of our events virtually, but we’ll present a few UK Polar Network related highlights here and let you decide for yourself. Stay tuned for our recent updates and future opportunities on our social media pages!

First of all, a new UKPN committee has been formed for the 2021/2022 academic year, and with 40 early career volunteers from across the UK, this is the largest committee in UKPN history! Because new committees can only be successful thanks to the work of past committees, we had our first President symposium in October 2021, in which we brought together committee representatives from more than 10 years of UKPN history (2008-2021) to exchange knowledge and ideas for future directions.

As always, the 2021 Antarctic flags project was very popular: 180 flags were submitted by schools from 9 different countries including Poland, Portugal, Hong Kong and Uganda! To date, 40 flags have been received back from teams who have taken them to Antarctica and more will follow as the Antarctic Summer season progresses. The flags taken down by the RRS Sir David Attenborough even included a fantastic letter from the crew members to the schools.

The Polar Pen Pals project allows students to send letters with questions to polar researchers on subjects that they are currently studying, such as meteorology, zoology and glaciology. So far, 30 schools have signed up, and 6 requests for Skype or in person conferences have been received. 

The 2021 Polar Pride day was a huge success – and an absolute 2021 UKPN highlight! Social media posts about polar pride day reached an audience of 35.7 million people in 70 countries and 14 published news items mentioning Polar Pride reached about 15.7 million people.

The UKPN also organised three online Polar Pint of Science shows in collaboration with the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT) and Pint of Science. The shows ran over three weeks in October in the run-up to COP26 and all three shows had well over 100 live viewers and a total of 2000 views on Youtube. The episodes (Exploration Untold, The Polar Connection: linking past to future, A roadmap for the future: empowering the globe to save the poles) are still available on Youtube, so do have a look!

In collaboration with the National Maritime Museum (NMM) we organised workshops and activities during the Ice Worlds festival in October 2021. Thanks to the excellent work of our 8 ECR volunteers, the workshops such as “make your own polar animal”, “build a glacier”, “polar foodwebs” and “where did the Titanic sink?” received visitors who even returned to the NMM within the 4-day period to attend the workshops for a second time! Sorry you missed it? We will be collaborating with the NMM on other outreach events in the future!

Three webinars were hosted by the Arctic Sciences Priorities (ASPP) UK-Russia early-career researchers’ collaborations for future sustainability in 2021 and 4 more webinars will follow in 2022. Each webinar is live, and involves a discussion (in both English and Russian) and/or presentations on the various challenges faced by UK-Russia scientific collaborations and how to tackle them. You can re-view past webinars on Youtube: Collaborations matter: a webinar on UK-Russia collaborations in Arctic Science, Starting points: funding and networks, You-me understand: how to overcome cultural and language barriers. Or sign up for future webinars through our mailing list and the UK-Russia collaboration website.

The UKPN has also co-organised and attended a number of conferences in 2021 including:

  • the Polar Early Career Conference in May 2021, which was led entirely by ECRs, involved 400 attendees and over 100 presentations and included sessions on various Polar science disciplines, as well as employability workshops, and EDI session, and panels on local knowledge exchange and the impacts of COVID and Brexit on research (which resulted in a Nature article – see also our blogpost on this).
  • The ATOM Science Festival in Oxford, with digital activities, quizzes and QR codes which linked to videos on polar research to accompany a treasure hunt around Oxford.
  • In addition to this, talks which were given, posters presented and workshops co-organised at the Virtual Early Career Ocean Professionals Day 2021, the 2021 Arctic Circle Assembly and the Svalbard Science Forum.

The UKPN organised an online visual design course for early career scientists. During the  one-day course which was given by Infohackit, 24 ECRs learned essential design skills for making science infographics. Hopefully in 2022 we will be able to organise more training courses for our members!

Some other important 2021 highlights included the renovation of our website – doesn’t it look amazing now? - increased collaboration with the newly formed APECS Iceland committee, and support from our EDI officers to various Polar Science networks and activities.

With that, we would like to give a huge applause to our 2020-2021 committee members and the numerous early career scientist volunteers from the UKPN network who have made all of this possible. And we look forward to an equally exciting 2022: note down the Cardiff Science Festival (19 & 20 February) and the Cheltenham Science Festival (June 10th) in your agenda’s, and watch this space (or our newsletter and social media accounts) for more to come!

Interventions to prevent pandemic-driven diversity loss

The Polar Early Career Conference held by the UK Polar Network (UKPN) in May 2021 presented an opportunity to discuss a range of issues affecting early career polar scientists. As part of this conference a panel was held on “Adapting a project post-lockdown”, bringing together PhD students from UK institutions, representing the full diversity of polar topics, from remote sensing, to oceanography, glaciology and social sciences. Writing this post in December 2021, the phrase “post-lockdown” seems rather optimistic in retrospect, however the panel event was well attended and raised a range of issues related to COVID-19 beyond the material impact on research. Panellists and attendees commented on their concerns about career progression, fieldwork cancellations, networking, funding extensions, and the disproportionate impacts on minority groups and international students. Following the conference panel, we noted how we hadn’t seen the issues we raised in the session mentioned elsewhere. The specific impact of COVID on early career scientists, because of the vulnerability of our career stage, meant that only we could accurately comment on how the pandemic had impacted us. To put it simply, if we didn’t speak out about how we had been affected, nobody was going to do it for us. As a team who had been brought together by the UKPN conference we decided to continue this partnership to turn our discussion in to a paper, as a permanent record of our concerns. Over several months we worked with an editor to draft multiple versions of the paper, which, with quite a small word limit, proved to be a rather challenging job. We also welcomed new authors to ensure we captured the full early career perspective by including postdoctoral researchers as well. Our comment  “Interventions to prevent pandemic-driven diversity loss” was published in Nature’s Communications Earth & Environment journal in November 2021 and had been accessed over 1000 times in the first week! The authorship team are grateful to the UKPN for bringing us together from our individual disciplines to form a team and put forward this commentary, which we hope speaks broadly to the experience of all pandemic impacted polar early career scientists.

This contribution is a guest blog post from Ben Fisher & co-authors.

Join us for Antarctica Day 2021!

Are you studying the frozen planet or the poles? Do you want to learn about the Antarctic Treaty and why we celebrate it on Antarctica Day? The UK Polar Network are offering you the opportunity to learn more about this and to design and send an Antarctic flag out down to Antarctica with a fantastic team of polar researchers!

Why celebrate Antarctica Day?

On December 1st 1959, 12 nations signed the Antarctic Treaty, a document declaring that Antarctica would be off limits to military activity and setting it aside as a place for peace and scientific discoveries. Since 2010, December 1st has been celebrated each year to mark this milestone of peace and to inspire future decisions. We hope to extend the celebrations worldwide through our Antarctic Flags initiative, giving new generations the opportunity to learn about the Antarctic Treaty and to share, interpret and cherish the values associated with Antarctica!

Are you a school teacher/ individual interested in sending a flag to Antarctica?

The aim of this initiative is to inspire new generations about the Antarctic and Antarctica Day. We have many school resources, including a class plan and a PowerPoint on how you can introduce the Antarctic and Antarctica Day to your classroom before having your students send their flags south. (If you would like the sample plan in another language, we have also included translations into ChineseFrenchSpanishPortuguese and Dutch).


The idea is that following a lesson(s) on Antarctica, your students design a flag for the Antarctic – as it does not have its own – based on what they have learnt. We would like to emphasise that we can only accept 1 flag per school or classroom, so you could get your students to design their own flags and then select one or your whole class could design one together. Please ask your students to consider their design/colour choices – to be recognisable from a distance and against lots of bright snow, bright colours and designs work best!

We then ask you to send us a pdf of your flags (ideally scanned in rather than photos) and we will match them up with a researcher or engineer who will take them down to Antarctica. You will receive a photo of your flag in Antarctica together with a certificate letting you know which part of the continent your flag travelled to.

So far we have had schools and researchers from over 20 countries involved in the Antarctic flag initiative and we would love to have your school join us this year! If you would like to register your interest, please fill in this form by October 22nd 2021. Following this, we will match school groups with researchers and provide you details of how you can upload your flags (the deadline for this will be the 22nd November 2021 to ensure as many flags as possible are pictured close to Antarctica Day on December 1st).

We are keen to maintain a relationship with the school after so please do get in touch if you would like to organise a visit/ skype with a scientist. Alternatively, get in touch with if you would like to send a letter to a Polar Pen Pal who will be able to answer any questions your class may have about research and life in the field!

Are you a researcher travelling to Antarctica this year (2021 – 2022)?

Please help us!

If you are heading to Antarctica or any of the surrounding Antarctic islands this winter (November – January) please get in touch, we would love your help! All we ask is that you take some flags (however many you are willing to take) sent to you as a pdf or jpg and photograph them in Antarctica as proof that they have made it there. How you choose to do this is totally up to you, you can be as creative as you like! We will then ask you to please send them back to your contact on the UKPN committee who will sort out sending these back to the schools.

Any other questions?

Please get in touch with us at Make sure to follow us on our social media accounts (twitter and facebook) where we will be counting down to Antarctica Day 2021!


UKPN Survey Results - Summer 2021

The latest iteration of our survey of the demographics of the UK Polar Network was undertaken in June 2021. 146 people responded, an increase of 27% from the winter survey. We present a brief summary of these results below. We continue to regularly collect this data in order to understand our membership base and monitor how the demographic of the UKPN changes over time. 

Bar chart showing the age and gender of survey respondents. Apart from the 31-40 category where men dominate, proportions of men and women in each age bracket are relatively even.
Figure 1: Age and Gender composition of the UKPN
Bar chart showing the job type of UKPN Members. Most survey respondents are in academica; almost half are PhD students.
Figure 2: Distribution of survey respondents by occupation

A variety of careers and career stages are represented within the UKPN, including undergraduate students, field technicians, teachers and research scientists; though approximately half the members are PhD students. This is shown in Figure 2, where the “other” category includes people in industry at a variety of career stages, as well as people in technical, governmental and field support roles.  The age range of members spans from 18 (though younger members are welcome) to people in their 60’s. 12% of UKPN Members surveyed have parental responsibilities. Research highlights the perceived incompatibility between parenthood and an academic career (1,2,3) often as a contributing factor to the “leaky pipeline”(4), with appropriate leave and childcare for crucial for recruitment and retention of potential parents, particularly mothers(5).

Figure 3 shows the proportion of survey respondents identifying as LGBQ+ has risen since our last survey. Increasing queer representation in STEM, through initatives such as LBGT STEMinars, Polar Horizons and Polar Pride day (on the 18th of November), though there are still challenges for LGBT inclusion in the Polar Sciences, especially surrounding field research in isolated and sometimes hostile locations (6, 7).  

2 stacked pie-charts, showing the proportion of  LGB self-identified individuals from this (Summer 2021) and the previous survey (Winter 2020). The proportion of bisexual respondants has increased, and the proportion of heteroseuxals decreased between the two surveys. 
Figure 3: LGBQ+ self-identification within the UKPN
Pie chart showing the ethnicity of survey respondents; ~95% are white, with a small number of Black and Asian individuals.   
Figure 4: Ethnicities of survey respondents

6% of Survey respondents are from a Black or Minority Ethnic group (BAME), the same as from our previous survey but the ethnicities represented differs from last time (Figure 4). This is less than half the proportion of BAME individuals in the UK STEM community (8). Over half of BAME individuals surveyed in a recent student of the UK Polar Science community experienced racism in the workplace (9), with barriers surrounding fieldwork also contributing towards negative experiences of people of colour in our field (10). For resources, or to find out more, check out

Members of UKPN speak at least 35 different languages in addition to English (all except English are shown in the word cloud in Figure 5, with the size of the text proportional to the number of speakers).

12% of survey respondents describe themselves as having a disability, with mental health conditions being the most common, in comparison to 19% of the working aged UK population (11). Inaccessible work spaces and workplace cultures (12,13), as well as the emphasis on physically demanding fieldwork (14,15), present challenges to equality for disabled people within our field and thus perceptions of geoscience as unsuitable for people with disabilities are common (16)

To summarise, the polar science community represented by the UKPN is diverse. We are continuing to work towards making the polar sciences an inclusive and accessible environment where people of all backgrounds can thrive. In order to do this, we have recently partnered with EDiG (equity and diversity in geosciences) and have joined the Diversity in Polar Science initiative.

Word cloud showing the languages spoken by UKPN members other than English. French, German and Spanish are most commonly spoken. 
Figure 5: Languages spoken by UKPN members other than English



(1) Crabb & Ekburg, 2014 (
(2) Gonçalves, 2019 (
(3) Burrough, 2021. (
(4) Dubois-Shaik & Fusulier, 2017 (
(5) Morgan et al., 2021 (
(6) Olcott & Downen, 2020 (
(7) Jackson, 2021 (
(8) Equality in higher education: students statistical report 2016  (
(9) Diversity in UK Polar Science: Race Impact Survey Report (
(10) Viglione, 2020 (
Family Resources Survey 2019-20, 2020 (
(12) Lawrence, 2021 (
(13) Horton & Tucker, 2013 (
(14) Hall et al, 2004 (
(15) Tucker & Horton, 2014 (
(16) Atchinson & Libarkin, 2016 (

Polar Pride Day 2021

Poster for Polar Pride Day 2021

Recruiting the 2021/22 committee

It’s that time of year again! We’re looking to fill some positions on our 2021/22 committee. We welcome a diverse range of people and all you need is enthusiasm! PhD students, post-docs, masters students and non-academics are all happily accepted.

Being part of the UKPN is the perfect way to expand your polar network, hear of unique opportunities first, develop your skills, help other early career researchers, and – of course – it’s a load of fun. The UKPN is present at national and international events alongside local officials, governments, and leading scientists.

Each role will have handover notes from the previous volunteer, and the committee is on hand to support. Roles are flexible with the amount of time they require as they can be seasonal, but as a ball-park, plan for two hours a week and a 2-hour meeting every other month. If you want to do more, there will be other projects and tasks available!

Please apply via the form ( by 16th August 2021.


Polar Early Career Conference flyerAbstract submission and registration open! Find out more here.

Antarctic Flags Project 2020-2021 Round-up

On December 1st 1959, 12 nations signed the Antarctic Treaty, a document declaring that Antarctica would be off limits to military activity and setting it aside as a place for peace and scientific discoveries. Since 2010, December 1st has been celebrated each year to mark this milestone of peace and to inspire future decisions.

Sixty years on, the Antarctic Treaty has expanded to include 54 countries and is a rare example of international cooperation. The Treaty governs much of the politics, activities and responsibilities within the Antarctic continent and waters south of 60 degrees latitude. For example, all scientific observations should be made freely available to all researchers, no military bases or weapons testing are allowed, and the dumping or burning of any rubbish is prohibited.

Every year since 2015 we have organised an outreach project – the Antarctica Day Flags Initiative – with the aim to spread the word about this world-wide collaboration and to inspires future generations.

As Antarctica does not have its own official flag, we ask participating schools to design one which they believe symbolises this continent. We at the UKPN (UK Polar Network) then pair the flags with researchers and station staff that are heading down to Antarctica for the Austral Summer (November-January). The flags are then transported all the way to Antarctica with these “flag bearers”. Upon the flags return, schools receive proof of travel with a certificate and photos of their journey.

Alongside designing the flags, we encourage schools to learn about Antarctica, its governance and the Treaty in their lessons. This year we received a diverse range of flag designs, from penguins (by far the most popular!), orcas, icebergs and mountains to designs representing peace and international cooperation.

A selection of flags designed by schools across the globe to celebrate Antarctica. Credit: UK Polar Network

A selection of flags designed by schools across the globe to celebrate Antarctica. Credit: UK Polar Network

 ‘Our student was so chuffed to see their flag in Antarctica, they are now researching how to become an Antarctic Scientist'! (Danielle Bate, Worcestershire Secondary School teacher)

It is truly great to see how the unique environment of Antarctica is inspiring the flag makers and the next generation of polar researchers!

This year presented its own challenges, with Covid-19 meaning Antarctic research programs reduced the number of scientists and staff heading South. We were nevertheless delighted at the involvement in our initiative, and sent 122 flags to Antarctica from 106 schools in 13 countries, including UK, Poland, Ireland, China, Germany, Cyprus, Singapore, Uganda, USA, Abu Dhabi and the Netherlands! Most flags have now made their journey back from Antarctica to the schools eagerly awaiting their return.

Some of the flags in Antarctica with research scientists, field assistants, station staff and research ship crew members!

Watch this space for more beautiful flags and more global connections between science, schools and Antarctica. Look out for details on how to take part in our next Antarctic Flags project in October 2021!

Jenny Arthur and Fiona Old (2020-21 Antarctic Flags project coordinators)


Twitter: @UKPolarNetwork, @AntarcticJenny, @fiona_616

Polar Horizons 2021 - apply by 25th January!

It's time for the next Polar Horizons! The team over there sent us the following to share with our members:
The Polar Horizons 2021 scheme aims to bring more diversity to UK Polar Science.

The Diversity in Polar Science Initiative is running the successful Polar Horizons program again in 2021. In 2020 we reached out to UK students from underrepresented groups including, BAME, LGBTQ+ and Disabled students, to show them how fantastic UK polar research, engineering, and operations are and why they should be looking poleward in their future career.

In March 2021 we are doing it all again and this year the scheme is moving fully online, opening it up to the entire UK polar research community.

We invite early career researchers & students in STEM subjects from groups currently underrepresented in Polar Research (including BAME, LGBTQ+ & Disability) to be paired with Arctic & Antarctic scientists and engineers and join us for our program. If you are available in office hours, between the 2nd and 5th of March 2021 and want to learn about Polar Research, please apply here.

We have organised a four-day programme where we will introduce students to polar research through presentations, workshops, and conversations with individually selected and matched virtual hosts who are currently working on polar subjects!

If you have any questions, please find more information here on the British Antarctic Survey website.

If you are BAME/BIPOC, LGBTQ+ or have a disability and are interested in Polar science, engineering, technology (including AI), maths, policy, museum studies or operations in the polar regions, please apply here.


UKPN Survey Results - Winter 2020

During November 2020 we released a survey to try to understand the demography of the UK Polar Network. 106 people responded, and herein we present a brief summary of these results. 

Understanding the demography of the UKPN enables us to support members of the UKPN in their scientific endeavours. Collaborations between differing backgrounds and perspectives encourage innovation and lead to better science,. A lack of representation or appropriate support for researchers from minority groups leads to individuals dropping out of the field,,. Conducting this survey has enabled us to work out where to focus our efforts and support of our whole community.  

Figure 1: Distribution of Members – A) by age, B) by occupation

Our membership base spans from undergraduate students to senior academics, from field guides to teachers, researchers and retired scientists (Figure 1b). We span an age range from 18 to over 65 (Figure 1a). Approximately half of survey respondents are PhD students in the polar sciences. The UKPN membership base speaks at least 24 different languages on top of English, as shown in the word cloud below.  

Figure 2: Languages spoken by UKPN members other than English

The majority of survey respondents are female (Figure 3), and this is likely the case for early career scientists in the UK Polar research community when considering the very female make-up of our committee. Well-known phenomena such as the leaky pipeline, would suggest that these gender ratios do not transfer to the higher levels of the polar science hierarchy or career ladder, but the data we collected did not include enough people at senior levels to confirm or deny this. 

Figure 3: Gender composition of the UKPN 

22% of survey respondents identify as LGBQ+ (Figure 4), though less than 1% describe themselves as transgender. This is a larger proportion than UK academic STEM community, and governmental estimates of the UK population at large. Queer representation in science is limited but improving, and although 75% of LGBT physical scientists report feeling broadly comfortable in their workplace, there is still more that needs to be done to make Polar Sciences a place where LGBT individuals can thrive, especially given the particular challenges they face from field research in isolated and sometimes hostile locations

Figure 4: LGB self-identification within the UKPN

Only 6% of the UK Polar science community (as represented by respondents to our survey, Figure 5) come from Black and Minority Ethnic Backgrounds, compared to 16% of the UK STEM community, and between 14 to 18% of the UK population as a whole. Less than 1% of Professors and only around 2% of academics at UK universities are Black,

Figure 5: Ethnicities within the UKPN

As per the definition of a disability as a “a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”, 15% of survey respondents identify as having a disability. Mental health conditions were the most widely reported disability.  

Thank you very much to everyone who completed this survey and aided us in better understanding the demography of the UKPN’s members. As a result of this survey we are working on several projects to support UK Polar researchers, to help foster further diversity and inclusivity within our field. Further information of our upcoming schemes and events will follow in the new year, so watch this space

[1] Nature, 2014. (

[2] Seag et al, 2020. (

[3] Ulricksen et al, 2011. (

[4] Grogan, 2019. (

[5] Dutt, 2020. (

[6] Goulden et al., 2011 (

[7] Equality in higher education: students statistical report 2019 (

[8]Equality in higher education: staff statistical report 2019 (

[9] Office for National Statistics, 2017. (

[10] Exploring the Workplace for LGBT Physical Scientists: A report by the Institute of Physics, Royal Astronomical Society and Royal Society of Chemistry, 2019. (

[11] Olcott & Downen, 2020 (

[12 Equality in higher education: students statistical report 2016 (

[13] UK Census, 2011

[14] The Guardian, 2020 (

[15] Higher Education Staff Statistics 2018/19 (

[16] Equality Act, 2010. (