EDI Hub Bulletin Profile 6: Meet Rebecca Colquhoun

Rebecca is a committed and proactive advocate for EDI in their department and the wider University, alongside their DPhil studies in Earth Sciences. Here they tell us about their recent projects, which have been recognised at the Vice Chancellor’s Diversity Awards, and what motivates them to work tirelessly to promote EDI.

Their DPhil research focusses on whether large and small earthquakes start the same: “This question is interesting from a fundamental scientific standpoint, as it will give us an insight into the physics going on at the start of rupture, but also has important societal impacts, as it could enable a couple of extra seconds of warning for people in the event of an earthquake. It’s this societal impact which motivates me.” Rebecca’s research is entirely computer based and they particularly enjoy the process of coding and “the sense of satisfaction you feel when you fix all the bugs and your code runs, suddenly giving you results.”

Rebecca has been a student at Oxford for six years and has built many friendships around the University during that time, often cemented through college formal dinners and trips to G&D’s! They were finally able to graduate from their first degree recently and celebrate four years of hard work. As a postgraduate student, they combine their research with a whole host of roles within their college and department, many of which are related to EDI. For example, they represent graduate students on the departmental EEDI committee and belong to the Athena Swan action group. They are also the LGBTQIA+ Champion on the Oxford Doctoral Training Partnerships EDI committee and sit on the MPLS Divisional EDI steering group. 

Rebecca has been involved in a number of innovative and successful EDI projects within Earth Sciences. They co-ran the ‘Unlearning Racism in Geoscience’ group, which won a VC’s Diversity Award for best project in the Inclusive Culture category earlier this year. As Rebecca explains, “for this project I had to creatively translate the US focussed curriculum to make it suitable for our context. We then ran 16 weekly sessions to read and learn as anti-racist people and also to build policies and resources to improve our department. I think that this project was particularly good because of its focus on action, and, in combination with some follow up activities, it has sparked a lot of conversation and progress in the department.” Rebecca is passionate about building community, and co-founded the LGBTQIA+ affinity group in their department, to help bring people together across different levels.

Rebecca was also highly commended at the Diversity Awards for their individual EDI work: “It was lovely to have my work externally recognised, as like many people at Oxford I’m not very good at stopping and seeing what I’ve accomplished!”

Ensuring that everyone has equal opportunities is a powerful driver for Rebecca’s EDI work. “Fundamentally I’m motivated by fairness. I want everyone to have a fair shot at everything, and I recognise that we need to make up for past unfairness too.” Rebecca acknowledges that they have a lot of privilege themselves as a white Oxford student, which motivates them to try to level the playing field: “In my EEDI work I’m always trying to decentre whiteness, and the privileged experience, to centre the needs and voices of the most marginalised.” As a queer and disabled person, Rebecca wants to be a role model for other young people and to make higher education environments more welcoming and accessible, “to encourage kids like me to go to university and ideally, to study Earth Sciences (the best subject!)” 

EDI work is not without its challenges, which is something that Rebecca is keenly aware of: “I think the hardest thing is getting people to move from talk to action. Often it can feel like things get stuck in committees and are talked about endlessly, but that time could be used to create some more tangible results.” Rebecca would also like to see more being done to recognise and reward EDI work, through promotion applications and workload management schemes, as well as remuneration for students. “Often it falls on the most marginalised, and the most precariously employed (or unemployed!) to do the work.”

Rebecca’s desire to drive change is evident in their plans for the summer. In August they will be going to a conference about Justice in Geoscience, which will look back at the last 50 years (since the ‘first national convention’ on diversity in the geosciences), and plan for the next 50. “I’m excited to see where progress has been made and to tool up to be more effective at creating change for the next 50 years.” 

Most of Rebecca’s spare time is spent on EDI work. They have recently been enjoying attending the LGBTQIA+ book club in their department. Rebecca’s passion for promoting EDI and effecting tangible change in the University is clear to see, and we look forward to hearing about their future projects!

Want to be profiled for a future issue?

Email edihub@admin.ox.ac.uk