Are young Black scientists the key to healthier minority communities?

AstraZeneca and Black Scientists training program could feasibly meet community needs

By Thomas L Blair 24 May 2021 ©

Kayisha Payne

The Covid-19 pandemic exposed the raging health crisis among hard-hit, ill-researched Black communities. But one pool of scientific talent is missing or ignored in science courses, funders and company boards — young Black scientists.

The current state of diversity is poor at best says Kayisha Payne, founder of the Black science professionals network BBSTEM and AstraZeneca scientist. Therefore, we must campaign to educate and harvest Black and brown scientists, women engineers and minority ethnic physicists.

The New Black Scientists

Now, with colleague Kayleigh Vincent, she recruits under-represented African or Caribbean science graduates to forge and further their careers.

Expanding on this theme, Ms Payne believes the career possibilities are far-reaching. In AstraZeneca itself, graduates can get a taste of the world-leading design and manufacture of biopharmaceutical drugs for patients.  Teaching is an option and there are opportunities for individual entrepreneurship.

Same-race role mentors
To better understand the potential impact of same-race mentors we looked up some current Black scientists. Many work in disciplines that could help ailing urban Black communities. And here’s what we found.

The Pollution Expert. Olalekan Popoola’s high-impact research is crucial to addressing the extraordinary rates of respiratory system illnesses, such as Asthma and Chronic Bronchitis, in areas of African and Caribbean settlement. He is Research Associate, Department of Chemistry & Queens’ College.

Theoretical Linguist.  Calbert Graham explores the ways language differences affect doctor-patient communication. He is Leverhulme Early Career Fellow & Research Associate, St John’s College, Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics.

The Cancer Decoder. Lynn Asante-Asare’s work helps improve cancer research. She is a PhD student, School of Clinical Medicine, Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute & St John’s College

The Sun Seeker. Sandile Mtetwa works to provide clean and cost-effective energy alternatives in Africa where sunlight is abundant. She is a PhD student, Department of Chemistry & Peterhouse College,

Food and Health Researcher. Charlotte Armah, a Nutritional Biochemist at the Institute of Food Research, leads experiments on foods that can protect against cardiovascular disease.

New Black scientist’s special tasks*
So, should the New Black scientists of the AstraZeneca and BBSTEM program have a special purpose? In my opinion, they must aim to not only strengthen their scientific expertise but stiffen their social commitment. They must publish well-researched data analyses and propose action plans to policymakers.

Emboldened by an oath to heal all fairly, the New Black scientists can be change agents for the under-served and disprivileged in society.

 * COMMENTARY Why are Black scientists less likely to receive funding for their proposals? And what to do about it?

The New Black Scientists will not have it easy. The funding giants and learned journals are less excited about proposals that interest them.  Such as community interventions in health inequalities. As a result, they receive poorer scores, bad reviews and are less likely to be funded.

The solution is not beyond reach, however. New Black Scientists recruitment programs, such as the AstraZeneca-BBSTEM partners, must help graduates overcome these obstacles. One way is to press for a new “implementation science” that rewards researchers who apply their findings to the bedside, home and community.


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