Authors: Dr Tiffany Chiu, Dr Órla Murray, Katarzyna Zukowska and Marine Coispeau
The Supporting the Identity Development of Underrepresented Students (SIDUS) project is funded by the Excellence Fund for Learning and Teaching Innovation. It aims to promote inclusion and diversity and support success for STEMM students to foster a diverse and inclusive academic community for all, especially amongst underrepresented groups.
The project has two phases – ‘Research’ and ‘Pedagogical materials development and implementation’. In the research stage, the team conducted 110 interviews with STEMM students from underrepresented groups at Imperial and the University of Reading to explore their lived experiences. We focused on areas such as sense of belonging, disciplinary and professional identities and career intentions, including suggestions on how university can support underrepresented students.
The pedagogical materials development stage built upon these rich interview data. During the summer of 2021, we worked with three dedicated Student Shapers – Marine Coispeau (Life Sciences), Danai Bili (Physics), and Katarzyna Zukowska (Electrical and Electronic Engineering) – to produce our pedagogical materials in collaboration with a professional illustrator, Raquel Durán. We are now disseminating these resources across the College to support students and staff supporting students, particularly with more emotional elements of their student experience. We have already distributed 4,000+ bookmarks!
It was exciting to get to turn our research into creative outputs like these, and particularly getting to work closely with the students. Their creativity was inspiring and allowed us to translate research data into materials that would speak to other students and provide essential information on how to navigate university life and the complicated organisation of the College and the Student’s Union.
We identified themes and powerful quotes from our interview data and used them to inspire a series of bookmarks, posters, and a student guide to Imperial (pdfs available online). We also produced a staff guide to using the materials with suggested activities for incorporating these materials into teaching and supporting learning, induction events, and other pastoral support systems like personal tutoring.
A Student’s Guide to Imperial
Our student guide, bookmarks, and posters highlight important student issues and concerns using interviewees’ own words. Then we identified relevant student support services at the College and other online resources to redirect students to the appropriate information and services to help them access support.
In our research, we found that many students found the transition to university challenging, particularly those from very underrepresented groups. While we aimed our materials at all students, we paid particular attention to the experiences of students from underrepresented groups, highlighting issues like racial microaggressions, accessing mental health services, and imposter syndrome, and ensuring our illustration portrayed a wide array of students and society events to encompass a diversity of student experiences. We also wanted to ensure that all students gain an understanding of the barriers and challenges that underrepresented students face, to encourage greater literacy around social inequalities that unfortunately are still very present across STEMM disciplines and universities.
Katarzyna Zukowska: “I particularly enjoyed the process of creating the materials, from analysing data to writing content and designing. It felt like I was really contributing to the student community and the topics we were touching upon in the handbook were often very relevant to me personally. I was drawing from my own experience on issues such as imposter syndrome, wellbeing, finding a sense of community and identity at university, but at the same time I was deeply reflecting on these topics, identifying helpful approaches and solutions.
“It’s true that doing something for others benefits both sides, and by producing materials to help other students I improved my student experience too. I feel very empowered by the work I have done on the project and I think it gave me courage to stand for a role in the Wellbeing Student Representative network. Throughout the project, we discussed a lot about the importance and impact of diversity and inclusivity, which made me much more aware of the challenges that students from underrepresented backgrounds face, by getting to know these perspectives I learned how to be a better ally.”
Marine Coispeau: “A Students Guide to Imperial” or the Handbook I never got and wish I really did. Fear of not belonging, Imposter Syndrome, Imperial Academic and Social expectations etc are major themes which not only appeared in the SIDUS interview data but also resonated with my own worries as a student. Seeing that these worries were shared, this empowered me to reassure and make a difference for both current and new students. Particularly, when it came to identifying gaps in current resources such as what to expect at Imperial after a week/month/term, the importance of a healthy work-life balance, understanding clubs and societies. Being able to design and conduct Bookmark, Handbook and Poster campaigns as well as contribute to the dissemination of these materials on campus was a beautiful way to give back to the Imperial community.”
Want some SIDUS bookmarks? Request your copy now!
We believe in the power of authentic student stories and evidence-based resources to support students with their transition to and progression through university. Please use/signpost these resources to your students where relevant! Read more about the SIDUS project here and let us know what you think about these materials by filling in a brief form here.