People Need Positive Role Models to Inspire Them

Dwayne Spirteri, a Research Associate at the University of Glasgow, who helped advise on the development of the James McCune Smith PhD Scholarship programme, is photographed in the University’s flagship James McCune Smith Learning Hub. Credit University of Glasgow.

As UofG launches a new employer-supported scholarship programme to fund Black UK students to undertake PhD research, Dr Dwayne Spiteri explains why the James McCune Smith PhD Scholarship programme is an important step forward.

As an undergraduate, I studied Physics with Particle Physics and Cosmology at the University of Birmingham and really liked the research aspects of my degree.

I knew early on in my undergraduate that I wanted to investigate what a career in Physics was like but having no financial support outside of the student loan, the scholarships I earned in my undergraduate went a long way to providing me with the footing necessary for me to make the step to apply for doctoral programmes.

After graduating, I ended up at the University of Glasgow and I completed my PhD (with the Particle Physics Experimental group) last year. I now work at the University as a Research Associate.

Black students are under-represented in Higher Education, particularly at PhD level. From my experiences, from undergraduate study through to PhD to Research Associate, I must have met and worked alongside thousands of scientists from across the globe yet I’ve seen fewer than a handful of Black students and only a solitary Black academic in [Particle] Physics.

People need positive role models to inspire them, and more importantly, they need to be visible.

The simple fact is that while getting academic positions is very difficult, there aren’t enough black students doing postgraduate research in the first place. It’s important that actions are taken to remedy this if universities are to be seen as centres for learning in the modern era. It means breaking down the implicit societal barriers to education, the principle of these being money and access.

I believe that providing targeted pathways to access to Higher Education can help do this. This is why I helped to advise on the development of the James McCune Smith Scholarship programme. In addition to the stipend, the scholarships have industry placement options, mentorships and community building which I hope can provide a dedicated stream of Black students entering postgraduate positions at the University of Glasgow, and give them the opportunity to use the experience as a springboard into positions for which they have been historically denied.

The James McCune Smith PhD Scholarships

A total of 10 fully-funded, four-year James McCune Smith Scholarships are open for applications from UK-domiciled Black students to undertake postgraduate study in any discipline. The successful applicants’ research will begin in October 2022.

Eight of the James McCune Smith PhD Scholarships are funded by the University, and are open for applications for PhD students working in any of the disciplines represented across the University’s four Colleges.

Two more are funded by GSK, which has partnered with the University to support scholarships in medicinal chemistry and organic synthesis. 

The James McCune Smith PhD Scholarship programme will provide successful applicants with access to external mentors, six-month placements, leadership training, community-building activities and networking opportunities.

Visit the James McCune Smith PhD Scholarships webpages for more information on the programme.


Who was James McCune Smith?

James McCune Smith received three degrees from the University of Glasgow, the last of which was an MD in 1837, before setting up medical practice in lower Manhattan.

He grew to be recognised as a leading intellectual, developing prominence in the New York black community and the abolitionist movement.

The new PhD scholarships were officially launched on 17 November to mark the anniversary of James McCune Smith’s death on that date in 1865. 




First published: 2 December 2021

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