by Masuda Qureshi, CHASE Associate Student at Birkbeck, University of London
In the vast sea of academia, being a black or minority ethnic doctoral researcher can often feel overwhelming and isolating. Far too often academia, particularly senior researchers, are amongst the white, the Oxbridge educated, and elite – how can we change this dynamic and what value non-white or British researchers have – are amongst some of the questions raised at the BAME Doctoral Researchers Event held at the British Library on Monday 8 July 2019.
The day began with two inspiring talks from lecturers. Dr. Nicole King spoke of ‘teaching, Researching and Re-inventing’ demonstrating how, despite the numerous setbacks, she never gave up her pursuit to develop a career in academia. This talk was heartfelt and honest, extrapolating on the very difficulties BAME researchers have, but left the audience feeling empowered, that they too, could make their career successful. Following this presentation was Dr. Emma Abotsi describing her experiences from From PhD to Postdoc, and beyond, as an “unusual” Early Career Researcher, the audience found solace and comfort in her inspiring journey.
The need address BAME researchers are evident in the details of the event. The entire conference room was full. The day was packed consisting of four panels with five researchers presenting on each panel. Researchers came from DTPs across the country, including Scotland. The first panel consisted of papers by Joseph da Costa, Alesia Ofori Dedaa, Chaojing Sun, and Ziwei Wang. The papers varied and reflected the range of interests of these researchers, we heard about Portuguese conceptions of race and narrative framing in Ghana, while also looking to Britain the ‘ideal home’ with British Gas in the 20th Century, and to the future of design technology. The second panel took us across continents, as the speakers Alexander Douglas, Ankna Arockiam, Jasleen Kandhari, Yiran Chen, and Kay Sigh lectured on decolonising aesthetics, western classical musicians in India, Sikh pop art in Britain and Punjab, Alice’s Adventures in China, and Syncretic Kathak. The third panel looked at dimensions and space. With Eileen Yiran Zhao, Negar Ebrahimi, Chandan Mahal, and Arunima Theraja speaking of narrating love in Chinse novels, urban life and happiness, family history and diaspora, and Indian lesbianism in autobiographical writing. I was privileged to be speaking amongst these researchers on my research concerning astronomy and women’s writing in seventeenth-century England. The final panel was also a mixture of genres reflecting the sheer density of research by Mohammed Saeed Nasir, Nathania Atkinson, Krishnan Ram-Prasad, Shani Bans, and Jessie McLaughlin. These inspiring papers spoke of Muslims, women entrepreneurship, decolonising classics, narrating the story of a BAME researcher, and queering white spaces. Throughout the day, there was a definite vibe of encouragement, a robust sense of belonging, a friendly atmosphere created by the incredible chairs of the panels. There are no words to describe the excellence of these scholars; the sheer complexity and depth of their research and its impact are a testament to their value in their fields and academia.
I left with more questions, queries that I hope to value and take on as I build a career. What does the term BAME mean? It is useful to categorize people this way who often differ significantly? Does it recognise our contributions or merely classify us as the ‘other’? What does it mean to be a doctoral researcher of colour in the UK today? Is the term BAME even useful? Where do we fit in and how do we change the scholarship? Perhaps the answer is to change the canon? How to address these is a serious question. CHASE DTP has taken a step in the right direction by putting this event together. However, where do we go from there? What are the short-time or long-term effects? How can we make jobs available to ethnic minorities when they finish their research?
Overall, I felt grounded, knowing that there is a plethora of black and brown excellence in the field. Some brilliant scholars work on bringing marginalised communities into scholarship. Other scholars focus on the English canon, often finding that they do not know where to mediate the lines between being a person of colour and trying to fit into the field. I find solace in knowing that despite being one of the handful of BAME researchers at CHASE, I was not alone. Although I was the sole person from CHASE DTP in attendance, I felt awesome, empowered, and ready to take on this profession. I learnt that as researchers we are not different from our white counterparts, we have value, and incredible knowledge to offer to the world.
Masuda Qureshi, Birkbeck