How can we increase the diversity of people applying for opportunities within astronomy and astrophysics?
Led by Dr Paul Strøm from the Department of Physics, this project sought to ensure people from under-represented communities were aware of the Astronomy and Astrophysics Group at Warwick and the opportunities it offers. The project also endeavoured to give existing students and staff at Warwick an opportunity to create new routes to collaboration and knowledge exchange.
The WAKE programme consisted of two parts.
11 international students who were invited (with 8 attending) to a 3 week intensive skills programme at the University of Warwick
9 Warwick students who were financially supported to go on collaborative travel and/or attend conferences which would help their careers
WAKE attracted visitors from countries across the world, including Brazil, Botswana and Sri Lanka.
Of the 8 visitors, 6 stated they would want to apply to come to Warwick. The WAKE project received 139 applications from 44 countries.
Strong collaboration links have been established between several of the WAKE visitors and the Astro Group. Examples include the collaborations within the Sustainable Space Domain Awareness Group and the White Dwarf group.
It will take 1-2 years for those who attended the WAKE programme to start applying for opportunities at Warwick.
Feedback from international students
"As the domestic troubles in my country have increased, I’ve noticed people in my field leaving which is demotivational. The WAKE programme has given me the motivation to continue my career and given me an opportunity to meet most of the people I cite in my work. Being listed on the WAKE website and since having attended the programme, I’ve found that people now respond to my emails. As a result, I have four PhD interviews in the UK lined up, and hope to apply to Warwick in the autumn." Dhanuska, Sri Lanka.
"I have previously only considered staying in my home country of Botswana due to family concerns. The prospect of leaving Botswana was very daunting to me. WAKE made it clear what other opportunities exist and as a result I am considering applying for PhD positions here at Warwick." Keletso, Botswana.
"I am very impressed by the interchange and collaboration between the astronomy fields within the Warwick astronomy group. It has shown me that although you study very different things, you can still collaborate." Larissa Amaral, Brazil.
"I wish I had not started my PhD in Brazil so that I could have instead started here at Warwick." Larissa Amorim, Brazil.
WAKE gave under-represented early career Warwick researchers the opportunity for collaborative travel and conference attendance which helped boost and support their careers after a long period of missed opportunities due to Covid-19.
The WAKE programme played an important role in giving PhD students at Warwick the opportunities to meet for collaboration and knowledge exchange.
This helped boost their career, enhance their scientific exposure and provide opportunities otherwise inaccessible with limited PhD funding.
Feedback from a Warwick student
"The financial support from WAKE allowed me to work on James Webb Space Telescope data while being present at Johns Hopkins University, in direct contact with one of the Co-PIs. This wouldn't be otherwise been possible, as PhD travel grants are limited and can't support the high cost of longer stays and transatlantic flights. Some results of the work during my WAKE visit have already been published in Nature, and I'm submitting another paper as lead author. In addition, WAKE helped me strengthen and establish collaborations with US colleagues, which I will greatly benefit from during the James Webb Space Telescope science era ahead of us." Eva-Maria Ahrer.
The delivery of WAKE galvanised the existing Warwick PhD students to take leadership and organise workshops on key topics.
The WAKE programme brought together students and staff at Warwick in a completely new way as they worked together towards the common goal of successfully hosting eight visitors and proving them with a suite of workshops and discussions for them to attend.
The team is continuing to create and build a network of WAKE alumni to keep them informed about opportunities (both funding and collaborations).
Although the project focuses on the discipline of astronomy, there is no reason the format and execution of the project could not be used more widely across the University.