Diversity in UK Polar Science Initiative

Improving diversity in UK polar science

Start date
1 September, 2019
End date
31 December, 2020

The Diversity in UK Polar Science Initiative

This initiative was established by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in recognition of the lack of visibility of ethnicity in the scientists and staff working in UK Polar Science. Currently, less than 3% of people in UK Polar Science come from a BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) background.

As diversity and inclusion improvements are associated with increased productivity, improved problem solving, recognising and valuing different perspectives, the FCO in partnership with BAS want to explore the current situation in UK Polar Science. By quantifying the issue and understanding current barriers, the initiative is looking to complete short and long term projects and to advocate ongoing policy recommendations, which will improve diversity in UK polar science. It is widely believed that  STEM professionals recruited and retained from the broadest possible pool in the UK will unleash scientific discoveries, greater resilience and future proofing for the sector.

The projects

Short term projects that comprise this initiative include:

  • Citizen science volunteering project to count Seals from Space in December 2019
  • Polar Horizons – improving diversity in polar science connection project in March 2020 (Apply Here)
  • BAME in polar science workshop in spring/summer 2020 (details to follow)

Volunteering project to count seals from space

BAS welcomed 10 UK undergraduate students from the 2– 6 December 2019 to take part in a volunteering project to count seals from space. The students were selected using social media and non-traditional pathways to attract BAME students to participate. Traditionally projects such as these, that offer industry credit and career progression opportunity, exclude minority students due to social and institutional barriers and this project aims to address this imbalance.

Using a database of satellite images of sea ice and seals, a group of non-expert volunteers conducted seal counts. They will be compared to the expert counts to determine variance and confirm the suitability of applying citizen science at larger scales. The monitoring of Antarctic seal populations can indicate changes in the Antarctic ecosystem’s status and health. These seals inhabit the dynamic and inaccessible sea ice zone, making traditional surveys (aerial/boat) logistically difficult. To overcome this, Very High-Resolution (VHR) satellite imagery provides an opportunity to identify seals and their habitat with greatly reduced cost and effort.

Volunteers at BAS as part of counting seals from space project in December 20192019

The work conducted during this week-long citizen science seal count campaign will contribute towards a joint World Wildlife Fund, Scott Polar Research Institute and British Antarctic Survey project to determine large-scale population counts for Antarctic seals. The volunteers will be awarded with a certificate confirming their participation and professional development on this research project. Given that sea ice volume is predicted to decline significantly by the end of the century, the monitoring of Antarctic seals and their habitat is pivotal to polar marine conservation. This project will be run annually.

Polar Horizons project

The Polar Horizons project will take place over a week in March 2020 and provide early career STEM practitioners and students, an opportunity to experience research science in a polar context. During this week, BAS will open its doors to applicants from the broader UK STEM education community to experience what it’s like to work in polar science and discover how they can get involved.

A week ‘immersed’ in polar science

The STEM participants will have the opportunity to tour the BAS facilities, take part in workshops, hear from invited speakers and spend two and a half days shadowing a polar scientist or engineer. In return,  UK polar scientists will make new contacts across UK Universities, look at STEM in a different way and forge new collaborations.


We are seeking BAME, LGBTQ+ and disabled researchers and students with the right to study or work in the UK. You must be currently enrolled in UK Higher education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths subjects and STEM-related fields, who want to find out about polar science and its broader implications for Planet Earth. Post docs or recent graduates are also welcome to apply.

To apply click HERE

Closing date: 7th February 2020





UK Polar Science Diversity Initiative Aims :

  • To enable relevant and timely discussion of the current state of race and gender diversity across the UK Polar landscape, in the context of the current BAME population (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) in UK STEM Higher Education.
  • To enable discussion of the issue of the lack of diversity in the current social and political context and deliver a key project aim of raising awareness internally in UK Polar Science and in a broader STEM context.
  • The Initiative aims to deliver 4 – 6 engagement projects that are planned to have multiple impacts, firstly, to influence Senior Leadership and UKRI policy to be aware of institutional barriers to diversity. And secondly, to deliver positive cultural and behavioural change through UK Polar Science staff engagement and engagement with the wider UK Higher Education community.

BAS staff serve as EDI champions to:

  • Demonstrate their understanding of equality, diversity and inclusion and be willing to embed it proactively.
  • Be able to maintain objectivity in supporting and sign-posting staff and students.
  • Willing to collaborate and engage others across the department to spread best practice and opportunities to advance EDI.
  • Willing to lead on and involve others in any projects that might enhance BAS’s EDI profile.
  • Work with HR and the Staff Forum to produce E&D priorities supported by local action plans.