Bake Off, science and LGBTQ+ activism: The many colours of Craig Poku

Alumni news

Data scientist Craig Poku advocates for minorities working in STEM, acting as the role model he never had early in his career.

When his PhD hit a brick wall, Craig Poku (PhD Environmental Sciences 2019) tried his hand at baking. It was a distraction from the experiments and the writing. “The first loaf was raw but somehow overcooked at the same time,” Craig laughs. “But the more you do something, the better you get, so I vowed to bake a new loaf every week.” 

Pokubakes is now a thriving sidearm to Craig’s career as a data scientist – his recipes have featured in Tesco, and he’s appeared as a special guest on TV show The Great British Bake-Off Extra Slice. Rather than conflict with his scientific mindset, the artistry complemented Craig’s work – and he found things began to flow with his studies too.  

“It was at that time I began to embrace my queerness. As my followers grew, people reached out to ask me for food advice, but also asked questions about data and academia and my experiences as a queer man.” 

Until that point, Craig hadn’t felt able to be openly queer in academia. “I just focussed on work. People didn’t talk about their relationships, so why would I talk about mine?” 

But when he did, Craig discovered he wasn’t alone. Now a trustee for Pride in STEM, an organisation that supports LGBTQ+ scientists and engineers around the world, Craig helps to challenge the general public’s perceptions of what scientists should be like, embracing diversity in all its forms.  

Craig Poku stands on the Parkinson steps in graduation attire


“To get to my PhD in the first place, I’d already overcome a lot of statistics,” Craig says. “Black boys are more likely to be excluded from school, they face a biased education system – and that’s before you get to university applications and PhDs. It’s no surprise I was the only Black British person in my department at Leeds.” 

Raised by his mother in South London, it took four meetings with an undergraduate supervisor at Kings College London before Craig even considered doing a PhD. He had no role models to follow into academia, but Craig credits the Black women in his life who helped give him the belief to progress. “Nobody in my family had even thought about doing a PhD. I was the first on my mum’s side to go to university at all. And there was nobody like me doing it growing up.”  

Once studying, Craig cites being Black as his greatest challenge in academia – particularly because it was the more open and obvious of his minority traits. “Once you add in that I identify as queer, it gets even messier. I didn’t feel safe going on certain fieldwork trips in certain countries, for example, because of their laws. LGBTQ+ people are more likely to face barriers when progressing through their careers. 

“But Leeds was that place where I developed my artistic side alongside science work. I began to discover my queerness and embraced it, and I’m grateful for the space to do that.” 

When he did open up about his sexuality, Craig discovered queer academics in the department that he hadn’t known existed. “I wish we’d had those conversations at the start. It would have been nice to know I wasn’t the only one navigating the academic environment under those constraints.” 

In an ideal world, anyone could go to any space and do science to the best of their ability.

Dr Craig Poku

Craig is now a data scientist at Datasparq, which helps companies design ethical data solutions. Through his work, Craig highlights potential threats faced by the LGBTQ+ community in areas such as Artificial Intelligence, where tools used to identify gender or sexual identity have been used to target individuals – particularly in countries where homosexuality is illegal.  

He also shines a light on dangerous biases against minorities in data and research. “There’s a belief that research and data is objective fact and it doesn’t matter who does the work, you’ll get the same result. But the reality is very different. Individual experience and societal norms influence data collection and exclude certain groups. Published research is determined by a peer review process which has subjectivity and results in a lack of representation from LGBTQ+ researchers.” 

His work at Pride in STEM provides an avenue of support for LGBTQ+ scientists and researchers. Within the role, he hosts a podcast and panel discussions which cover topics such as asexuality, race in medicine and data biases. “Things are getting a lot better in the academic world compared to when I started around ten years ago when I didn’t feel comfortable with who I was in that environment. 

“In an ideal world, Pride in STEM wouldn’t exist and anyone could go to any space and do science to the best of their ability. The reality is that it’s still a problem, and there will still be people in the situations I was in. It's clear because we still get a lot of online abuse with this work.  

“But I have a platform and I want to ensure I’m doing what I can to ensure people are being kept safe and I can advocate for them.” 

Pride at Leeds 

Craig’s experiences highlight the importance of the Pride Global Scholarships: a flagship initiative for which the University is seeking philanthropic support.

Spearheaded by Professor Paul Johnson, this ambitious initiative will support postgraduate researchers to undertake rigorous research to better understand and address challenges faced by LGBTQ+ people around the world. As highlighted by Craig, all around the world LGBTQ+ people face issues of discrimination and violence – from name-calling and harassment to being denied employment or healthcare. With donor support, the University could address these critical issues – a commitment which extends far beyond campus, to reach LGBTQ+ people across the UK and around the world. 

Further information

Visit Pokubakes for the latest news and baking ideas from Craig.

For further details, email Ed Newbould, Digital Communications Officer, University of Leeds at