Photograph of conference session in the Conference Centre auditorium

New insights into the experiences of different groups at research conferences in the UK

Date: 25 January 2023

Exploring participation at conferences, and how we enhance our own learning and training offer.

Research conferences, symposia, and meetings, form a key part of academic life across all subject areas from the life and physical sciences, to the arts and humanities. Conferences provide a platform for sharing the latest knowledge in a specific research field, networking with peers and collaborators, and building connections which enable career development, and the creation of new projects and funding applications.

As a leading provider of research conferences, focussed on genomics, health and disease, Wellcome Connecting Science has always been interested in the experiences of delegates at our meetings. We know, both from individual feedback, and longer-term analysis, that our conferences provide excellent opportunities for knowledge exchange and networking; and have led to the development of new project and grant proposals, research collaborations, and journal publications. This is great news if you are ‘in the room’ and actively participating in these meetings; but what about those who aren’t in the room, and why might they be absent?

We were aware that our delegate base achieves broad parity in relation to gender, but is not particularly diverse in relation to race and ethnicity. We commissioned Sea-Change Consultancy, a behavioural science-led consultancy with a focus on diversity and inclusion, to explore the views and perspectives of researchers from racially minoritised backgrounds on their experiences of scientific conferences.

Using both quantitative and qualitative approaches Sea-Change have identified a number of themes relating to the experience of those from minoritised and non-minoritised groups at research meetings in the UK. Although based on a small sample, an anonymous survey revealed that those from minoritised backgrounds faced more financial challenges in attending research conferences (including our own), and were less likely to feel welcome at these events. As part of in-depth interviews, the intersections between race, gender and career-stage became more evident; with barriers to conference attendance relating to time, funding, and caring responsibilities cited broadly, but with minoritised groups being impacted more by some of these elements.

This report has produced a number of important insights and recommendations, both for our programme and the conferencing sector in general. We are now actively considering how we respond to these, to ensure that we are able to implement effective changes through spring and summer.

We will provide updates on our progress, as we move from reflection to action, so sign up to our newsletter or follow us on social media, to keep in touch with our programme and our Learning and Training team. We are also interested in sharing our experiences with stakeholders in this sector.

The report can be downloaded from the link below.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss this further, please contact Dr Michelle Bishop or Dr Ireena Dutta.