The Royal Society Career Development Fellowship will open to applications from scientists with Black heritage – a largely underrepresented group in UK Stem academia – this November with the aim of kickstarting their research careers.

Up to five fellowships will be awarded in the first year to outstanding candidates who are completing or have recently completed their PhD. Awardees will receive four years of funding (up to £690,000) for curiosity-led research at either a UK university or not-for-profit research institution. The scheme will also provide mentorship opportunities and training with Royal Society Fellows and professional networks.

This pilot comes after an ‘alarming’ report commissioned by the Royal Society of Chemistry showing no real improvement in the representation of Black people in academic chemistry over the past 10 years with a significant loss of Black chemists after their first degree.

The underrepresentation is visible throughout all levels of academia highlighting the need for intervention to address the leaky pipeline, especially from postgraduate to early postdoctoral stages. Higher Education Statistics Authority data from 2022 shows 4% of Stem students at PhD level were from Black backgrounds, falling to 2.5% among academic staff which is further reduced at the most senior roles. Black people make up 4% of the UK population.

The fellowship scheme, if successful, may be broadened to researchers from other underrepresented groups.