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08 May 2024

Summer Placements Support Black Engineering Students' Personal Growth

With the support of the KCL Race Equity and Inclusive Education Fund (REIEF), the Success for Black Engineers Project (SFBE) supported Black engineering students on a four-week summer research placement either remotely or in person at KCL.

Summer Placements Support Black Engineering Students Personal Growth

Students who participated in the project stated that they not only gained valuable research skills but also developed personal and professional skills and attributes which will help them in their future studies and careers. They highlighted resilience, work ethic, curiosity, patience and self-reliance as being instrumental to their development.

The summer placement project follows a similar format to the King’s Undergraduate Fellowship Scheme run by the Careers & Employability team. During the summer placements, students contribute to research projects whilst working alongside a KCL academic or PhD student and their team. The students complete approximately 150 hours of research either continuously over four weeks or part-time. The funding provided by REIEF has enabled SFBE to provide 20 stipends for students to ensure there are no financial barriers to participating in the placements thereby ensuring equity of access to opportunity.


Before starting their project, students were asked why they applied for a summer research placement. They shared that their motivations for applying were to gain research experience, career/professional development and the opportunity to work with leading academics. Students also reported wanting to put the theoretical knowledge gained in their course into practice, and to see whether a career in academia/research was for them.

“I would like to apply theoretical knowledge gained during the school year in practice. I would also like to network and gain experience in the research world.”

“A better idea of what area of biomedical engineering I am interested and what I would like to do in the future career-wise. To learn from the people around me and gain technical, academic and life skills...”

Feedback forms collected after the projects had finished showed that students gained research experience and skills that they might not have been able to learn in the classroom. For example, students learnt about working in a research environment and how to create and deliver a presentation on their research to an expert audience. Students commented that their research placements were built upon the knowledge learnt within their degree.

They appreciated the opportunity to deepen their understanding of their chosen fields and thought the experience would increase their employability. The placement provided a good way for students to discover if academic research was something they wanted to pursue and to get insight into possible career paths. Students also learnt a great deal from working with postgraduate research students and academics and valued their feedback. Students reported experiencing challenges and overcoming them with help from their supervisors and other researchers.

“I learnt more about myself and some areas I need to work on. I also learnt more about working in a research environment, particularly how procedural and iterative it is…I got to share my suggestions with the team and received valuable feedback… I am grateful for this experience and the opportunity to learn from students above me and find out more about the incredible work happening in my department…”

“I learnt how to properly evaluate [sic] scientific papers to form a professional presentation of my research which I presented to a group of experts. Getting feedback at every step I felt I learnt alot [sic] during my placement and am every thankful for the opportunity.”

Before starting their research project, 33% of undergraduate students who completed the feedback form reported that they were confident conducting research, 25% thought they had strong research skills, and 25% said they had knowledge of academic/research careers. After completing the project, 75% of undergraduate students who completed the feedback form reported that they were confident in conducting research, 50% thought they had strong research skills, and 63% said they had knowledge of academic/research careers.

However, in addition to technical and practical skills, students also developed personally and professionally. For example, they reported learning how to work independently and as part of a team. They also reported increased self-reliance, time management and accountability. Students said the research placement helped promote more inquisitiveness, creativity, patience and resilience. They also learnt more about their capacity to work hard and persevere. These skills are transferable and increasingly important in postgraduate studies and future careers.

“I learned to think outside of the box regarding a particular problem and think of new, and less conventional methods in order to reach a solution… this research placement was valuable as I gained practical skills in creating 3D segments, as well as the knowledge to operate a particular imaging computing program. Additionally, I learned more about my own work ethic and grit, which is helping me, even now, as I complete my degree. It also sparked curiosity within me regarding what I could do with my degree in the future and has me now thinking about areas of biomedical engineering that I am interested in, and steps I could take to gain knowledge and experience in those areas… it allowed me to learn to work on my own and hold myself accountable for various tasks and staying on track with my schedule.”

“The summer placement was extremely enriching and mind-opening. I think by the end of it, I achieved more than I had hoped to achieve. From the placement, I learnt practical skills that would help me not only within my educational career but also in my profession career moving forward. It gave me a deeper and insight into possible career paths that I had been considering. It also made me develop into a more proactive learner and changed my mindset to be more inquisitive and thorough with my thought processes. Furthermore, it unexpectedly aided with my personal growth as I had to adopt a patient and resilient attitude in order to gain the most out of the project.”

“I managed to not only successfully finish the task given for the project, but also learnt to become more self-reliant when working on a project, organising my time, and increasing my hands on technical skills with electronic wiring and design.”

Figure to illustrate the surface scanning with the Einscan Pro+ of a chimpanzee skeleton (left). The reconstructed 3D model (right).
Figure to illustrate the surface scanning with the Einscan Pro+ of a chimpanzee skeleton (left). The reconstructed 3D model (right).


Some students reported having difficulties getting up to speed with the research topic, where this was something unfamiliar or particularly complex. In some instances, this was a limiting factor in what research activities the student could engage with. Sometimes students found remote working difficult and did not feel they received enough guidance or support. Some students found the experience of research was not exactly as they expected – often a slow process with disruptions and not always hands-on. Some research projects were offered on a full-time basis while others were part-time commitments. This sometimes proved a challenge in terms of anticipating how much progress the student should have made with their project.

SFBE aimed to provide the opportunity for all Black undergraduate engineering students who wanted to take part, right from the first year to the final year of their undergraduate degree. In future iterations, we will include supervisors more in the matching process to ensure all students can contribute as much as they wish to and benefit as fully as possible from their assigned project. We will also ask supervisors to set realistic expectations of what the student can achieve within four weeks. For remote projects, we will encourage regular communication between supervisors/research teams and the student to avoid them feeling isolated and without support and guidance. We will also encourage supervisors to set milestones for the student to achieve throughout the project so they know they are on track and can flag any concerns.



The summer research placements are one of the opportunities offered to Black undergraduate engineering students on our mentoring programme. Students on the programme also have access to peer, academic and industry mentors. Students in year 2 and above can also mentor students in the year below. Feedback on the programme from focus groups held in summer 2023 showed that students wanted more in-person events and socials. Our project was lucky to receive funding from REIEF in 2023-2024 to put on a series of informational events with a social element. Some of the funding has been used to pay student event organisers to co-create and co-deliver these events, which include a kick-off event for our mentoring programme and Black History Month celebration, an industry panel event, and events collaborating with industry partners, Ansys and SiSTEM (a network connecting women in STEM). We will share more about the success of these events in late summer 2024.

SFBE not only provides support for current undergraduate students, but also aims to inspire school pupils to study engineering. We run outreach sessions throughout the year at King’s on the following themes: Getting into Engineering, Interactive 3D Printing Workshop, and Applying to Engineering via UCAS.

Our aims for the programme are to increase the representation of Black students within King’s engineering programmes and to support them in achieving first class degree outcomes. We are conducting a research study with the feedback we have received from the SFBE programme to show its impact, providing a blueprint for other departments and universities to implement similar initiatives to further enhance equity of opportunity in students’ transition out of KCL.

Figure to illustrate the dual-arm ultrasound scanning robot at St. Thomas' hospital.
Figure to illustrate the dual-arm ultrasound scanning robot at St. Thomas' hospital.

Blog post written by Sophie Rust, EDI Coordinator, Success for Black Engineers & Success for Digital Futures.

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Sophie Rust

EDI Coordinator