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.

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

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. (