One step ahead by taking one step back: a different kind of outreach scheme

In January 2020 I co-founded the Piscopia Initiative to encourage women and non-binary participation in mathematical research across the UK. Read here about my motives.

As a student I am constantly surrounded by advertisements for different outreach schemes for PhDs, focusing on a variety of subgroups, disciplines, and locations. However, they all are based on a fundamental assumption: the person reading the ad already wants to do a PhD. This is where the Piscopia Initiative substantially differs. It is our inherent goal to attract capable and talented students who otherwise would not consider the PhD track to begin with.

There are countless anecdotes from (now highly successful) female academics who recall their PhD application as somewhat incidental, often sparked by a comment from someone else, a friend, partner, or academic. While they might not have seen themselves as “PhD material”, their surroundings clearly did – proven right by the incredible success that followed.

By founding the Piscopia Initiative we set out to provide such an environment for female and non-binary students across the UK. We couple detailed information on the application process with the confidence boost many highly successful students need to encourage them on their way towards a competitive PhD application. With campus and online events, as well as our five day virtual PiFORUM 2020 conference, we were able to reach a broad audience across the whole of the UK to increase female and non-binary participation in mathematical research in the long term.

Our initiative faces the unique challenge that we seek to attract students that believe that our events are NOT for them. We overcome this hurdle through careful wording in all our marketing material and by offering value beyond info on the PhD application process (such as general tips on how to write a thesis or tasty pizza at our in-person events). These strategies allow us to interact with a wider group of people and spark interest for a career in research.

The overwhelmingly positive feedback from participants and academics alike shows the need for an initiative like ours. We reach beyond the usual applicant pool to lastingly increase the diversity in academia, from which all parties involved (current and future students, faculty members, collaborators) profit. We inherently believe that the issues of tomorrow can only be tackled by a diverse group of researchers – the Piscopia Initiative is our contribution to shape the research of the future.

Note: This article has also been published on the Piscopia Blog.