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Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry

Tomi Akingbade wearing protective equipment working in the lab

PhD student Tomi Akingbade runs The Black Women in Science Network.

As an undergraduate at the University of Nottingham in 2018, Oluwatomi Akingbade was keen to meet other Black women in science. Now ‘The Black Women in Science Network’ she founded has over 100 members and is still growing.

“It started off with me working from my room to set up this network, because I wanted to connect with other Black women in science, and sometimes it was hard to find them,” explains Tomi. “I wanted to give Black women a platform – there are many excellent Black women scientists, and we have quite a unique voice that people don’t often hear.”

After completing her Integrated Master’s in Neuroscience at Nottingham, Tomi joined Professor David Klenerman’s research group to pursue her PhD, but has continued to organise events, podcasts and webinars for the ever-expanding network.

A regular feature of the network is the monthly virtual brunch talks which are private and non-recorded, giving Black women a much-needed platform to freely discuss issues which affect their everyday lives.

Tomi has also run a series of webinars in collaboration with organisations such as Quantum Black and Cell Press about potential jobs in the scientific field. “The webinar theme is ‘A Date with…’ referring to a date with your future career,” Tomi explains. “These are for Black women who are interested in learning about scientific fields of work – we are asking all sorts of companies and groups to come and talk to us about their jobs.”

For her next initiative, Tomi has been planning a series of podcasts and has already recorded all eight episodes for the initial series, which will focus on Black women’s health.Tomi points out this is a topic that is seldom covered on mainstream media. She is already researching topics for future series, and is always looking to attract experts for the podcasts.

In her ‘day job’, Tomi is researching the relationship between Alzheimer’s disease and inflammation and does a lot of her work in the lab of Professor Clare Bryant at the Addenbrooke’s campus. Bryant is a member of the Department of Medicine with a keen interest in immunology and inflammation who regularly collaborates with Klenerman.

“I’d always been interested in the multidisciplinary aspects of research,” says Tomi. She jokingly explains: “The way I think about my area is that a neuroscientist  has an interesting hypothesis about inflammation in brain disorders, a biophysicist is needed to develop the techniques and tools to confirm or prove the hypothesis, and you need an inflammation specialist to marry the two together. Working with Dave and Clare’s groups has given me all of that in one place – he’s got a strong bio-physics background and Clare has an amazing command of knowledge over  the immunology and inflammatory side of things.” And Tomi’s neuroscientist background has turned out to be a perfect fit.

The Black Women in Science Network is very definitely a labour of love, and so far Tomi has been funding these activities herself. “I don’t have any sponsorship yet,” she admits, grinning: “No one was going to give a 21-year-old any money!” However, as she plans the network’s second annual event, she now realises she is “getting to the point where the potential is much greater than my purse!”  

Tomi is now looking into other ways to expand the network, which is open to members world-wide. She would like to provide an even broader range of outputs that meet the particular needs of Black women in science. She says humbly: “I’m just a PhD scientist who happens to have a network. I am working to progress the idea to a long term project that can reach as many people as possible. We are aiming to be responsive to the times and provide what is needed.”

Tomi Akingbade, above