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Wellcome Sanger Institute announces three inaugural Excellence Fellows

The first three Sanger Excellence Postdoctoral Fellows have been announced and will join the Wellcome Sanger Institute in the coming months, with all in place by the end of January 2023.

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The Excellence Postdoctoral Fellowship* was launched in December 2021 and is designed to support the training and career development of scientists from Black heritage backgrounds.

The Fellowship builds on the Institute’s commitment to promote greater equality, diversity, and inclusion within the organisation by recognising that persistent racial inequalities disadvantage people from Black backgrounds in all walks of life, and that talent and excellence is lost along the academic pipeline due to discrimination and racism.

The Fellowship will be an annual offering, accepting at least two Excellence Fellows every year, and provides a fully funded three-year fellowship. This year there are three exceptional fellows who have been appointed: Dr Ore Francis, who will be working in Sanger’s Tree of Life programme, Oumie Kuyateh, who will join the Parasites and Microbes programme, and Kudzai Nyamondo, a Sanger and Cancer Research UK Excellence Fellow, who will be working in the Cancer, Ageing and Somatic Mutations programme.

“While we recognise that there is more we must all do to actively address racial inequalities across our sector and beyond, it is our hope that the new Fellowship will start to help to level the playing field by providing a clear career development pathway. This includes training, mentorship, sponsorship, and support built into the scheme to ensure that Black researchers can achieve their full potential. This will be an ongoing journey for all those involved; we are reviewing the process and seeking feedback so we can ensure that we are learning and evolving our support for the Fellowships as we go on. We will use our learnings, and those from other organisations to help ensure an inclusive and supportive process that centres Black talent and excellence.”

Dr Saher Ahmed, Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at the Wellcome Sanger Institute

Oumie Kuyateh completed an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry at University College London before continuing on to Wellcome’s Hosts, Pathogens and Global Health PhD programme at the University of Edinburgh. Oumie will be working in the Parasites and Microbes programme, focusing on the development of the respiratory microbiome in early life, and how it is affected by environmental factors. Her work could potentially be used in the diagnosis and treatment of respiratory infections such as pneumonia and meningitis.

Kudzai Nyamondo, who is a Sanger and Cancer Research UK Excellence Fellow**, holds an undergraduate degree in Bioscience with Biomedical Science from the Robert Gordon University (Aberdeen) and a Masters in Clinical Pharmacology from the University of Glasgow. She is currently in the final stages of her PhD in Cancer Sciences, focusing on how the bone marrow microenvironment supports the survival of cancer stem cells in chronic myeloid leukaemia. She will be working in the Cancer, Ageing and Somatic Mutation Programme at Sanger and her project will be aimed at understanding the timelines and trajectories of blood cancers. This will inform our understanding of cancer evolution and create opportunities for novel early detection and intervention strategies.

Dr Ore Francis completed his undergraduate degree in Biochemistry at University College London and worked as a research technician at the University of Bath, before going on to the University of Bristol for his PhD in Biochemistry. Dr Francis is interested in how we can use sequence predictions of proteins in eukaryotes to gain insights into how they work together to create and sustain life.  He will be working in the Sanger’s Tree of Life Programme, which aims to genetically map all known species of animals, plants, fungi and protists in Britain and Ireland.

All three successful Postdoctoral Fellows have gone through a competitive multi-stage interview process to be selected for their research position. They will receive ongoing support from within Sanger, and via Wellcome Genome Campus-wide initiatives such as the Race Equity Network.

The Fellowship is supported by a wide network of people and institutes throughout the UK who helped design and develop this programme, to create a community of support that can be accessed at any point. The unsuccessful applicants are still included in the network and have access to mentoring sessions with steering group members to support them as they move forward in their career.

The Fellowship is part of a wider Race Equity Strategy; this includes other initiatives such as reverse mentoring and an anti-racism development programme, in which leaders and staff from across the Sanger Institute are playing active roles. Active evaluation processes will take place on an ongoing basis to inform the direction of the strategy and develop future programmes.

“Partnering with the Wellcome Sanger Institute in co-funding one of the Sanger Excellence Postdoctoral Fellows is one way that Cancer Research UK is tackling the inequalities that face Black researchers. In order to make real progress for people with cancer, we need the sharpest scientific minds and a strong careers pipeline for Black researchers at all levels. Supporting impressive and promising researchers like Kudzai Nyamondo is key to helping us build diverse and inclusive research environments where the widest variety of people can thrive.”

Dr Iain Foulkes, Executive Director of Research & Innovation at Cancer Research UK

“I am excited to welcome the Excellence Postdoctoral Fellows to Sanger in the coming months. As institutions and individuals we must all do our part to break the ‘glass ceiling’ of career progression for Black scientists. Diversity helps our science to thrive, and we must constantly listen, learn, and evolve to ensure that everyone is supported personally and professionally.”

Professor Sir Mike Stratton, Director of the Wellcome Sanger Institute

More information

*The Fellowship is open exclusively to early-stage researchers who have an undergraduate degree and a PhD (or equivalent research experience) awarded from a UK institution and are from a Black heritage background.

**The Sanger and Cancer Research UK Excellence Fellow is joint funded by Cancer Research UK and the Wellcome Sanger Institute.

Applications for the next round of Sanger Excellence Postdoctoral Fellows will open early 2023. Click here to register your interest in the 2023 Excellence Fellowship application:

Further reading: The Broken Pipeline – Barriers to Black PHD Students Accessing Research Council Funding. Available here: The Broken Pipeline – Barriers to Black PhD Students Accessing Research Council Funding – Leading Routes