Help us to diversify and humanize biology courses!

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a guest post by Project Biodiversify (www.projectbiodiversify.org @biodiversifying)

We contain multitudes. Our courses should reflect this.

We contain multitudes. Like an ecological niche, a person’s identity is composed of infinite dimensions that make up a person or group’s collective identity space (Figure 1). However, in science – a discipline that has historically valued objective and unbiased contributors – students and researchers often find it difficult to freely express their identities. Being open and valued because of our identities enhances social justice, makes us more productive, and leads to innovation. Yet, because science is embedded in a biased society, our scientific community is often unwelcoming to people from many backgrounds. Women, people of color, the LGBTQIA+ community, and likely many other groups (that we lack data for) are marginalized or underrepresented relative to their global populations. 

Figure 1: A person’s identity, like an ecological niche, is comprised of infinite dimensions, some of which are included in this depiction of “identity space”

Who is doing science goes on to influence the research questions that are pursued and how results are framed. This affects whether marginalized and underrepresented students find science relevant to themselves, which also influences recruitment and retention. For example, biology has been weaponized against marginalized groups throughout history and, in many cases, still is today. Students that see these harmful biases may be alienated from pursuing a career in biology or doing research that is inclusive to their identity. This perpetuates the stereotype of who scientists are and what kind of work they can do, thus contributing to a cycle of exclusion (Figure 2). 

Figure 2: Explicit and implicit biases act as a selective force against students from underrepresented groups (akin to stabilizing selection). The low diversity of scientist role models has created the scientist stereotype which further fuels the selective force against students from underrepresented/marginalized backgrounds through mechanisms such as stereotype threat. Made with figures modified from Western Michigan University, Fermi Lab, and Your Article Library.

We need change. 

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They’re not even trying at NIH

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I just saw this, and I think everybody needs to see this. Here it is:

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Gender inequity at every step of publishing

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I sat down to my laptop this morning and was looking forward to getting to work. But then I looked at the news.

And I saw this:

The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) came out with a report last week about biases against women in the publication process. The highlights — or rather, the lowlights — are in the story in Nature about this report. It’s a one-minute read, please read it. Continue reading

Look in your own backyard

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Metaphorically, that is.

What can you do to increase the representation of minoritized people in your department and in your lab?

Well, the big answer to the question is that anything worthwhile takes work. This is not just worthwhile, it’s important. So, it will require effort on your part. And it means challenging yourself to learn new things, and instead of just adopting new practices, but are open to a new mindset, which means aligning your actions with your values. That’s hard work.

But do you want an easy win? Do you want a practical piece of advice, about something you can do that will work? Continue reading

Play The Game, or Change The Rules?

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I feel a dilemma — or rather, a tradeoff — when I think about investing time, money, and effort into supporting undergraduates to gain admission to graduate programs.

On one hand, we all know that the system is rigged, such that students who come from whiter and wealthier backgrounds have a huge leg up. Continue reading

NSF Graduate Fellowships and the distant mirage of an equitable pipeline

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It’s that time of year again. Congrats to the 2000 students who are recipients of the GRFP! From talking to so many panelists about their experiences, it’s clear that they could fund so more people, and every single one of them would be quite worthy of the support.

If there was such a thing as a Blog Citation Classic™ list for this site, then discussions about equitable distributions of NSF graduate fellowships would definitely be on there.

I can concisely encapsulate these concerns: Your odds of personally knowing someone who got a GRFP from your undergrad years might be best predicted by the size of the endowment of that institution. NSF is working hard to be inclusive with respect to gender, ethnicity, and various axes of diversity, but the bottom line is that students attending wealthier and more prestigious undergraduate institutions are more likely to end up with fellowships. Continue reading

Dismantle the pipeline

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The pipeline metaphor has a lot of problems. In STEM careers, people come from a wide range of backgrounds, receive undergraduate and graduate degrees, and are bound for a wide variety of destinations. A path into a STEM career shouldn’t have to be linear, so a pipeline doesn’t make much sense.

However, I get why people like to use the pipeline metaphor. Continue reading

When you are asked to review a paper that you’ve already reviewed for another journal

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This situation can be a bit of a conundrum if you haven’t dealt with it.

Let’s say you review a manuscript for the Journal of Scientific Stuff. Ultimately, that paper ends up getting rejected by JSS. Some time goes past, and you are asked to review what appears to be the same manuscript, by the editor of Proceedings of Scientific Stuff.

What to do? Continue reading

Are REU programs as amazing as their reputations?

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I know a lot of scientists who got their start from an REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) program. One summer as an REU has the potential to be transformational.

Advancing science in the US (and elsewhere) requires us to fund undergraduate research, and ensure that undergraduate researchers have thoughtful and attentive mentorship. We already spend a lot of money on training students – and I’d like to make sure that these efforts have the biggest bang for the buck. We are focused on broadening representation, but we haven’t seen the changes we need. Can we make REU programs* more effective? Continue reading

Recommendations for making science inclusive, and how to talk about it with others

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You’re reading Small Pond Science right now — but a lot of our colleagues don’t read anything resembling a blog. So, for them, I’ve just published a short peer-reviewed paper about how this site addresses a common theme: how to promote equity and inclusion, especially for students in minority-serving institutions.

Think of it as a blog post, but with a lot of useful references in peer-reviewed journals and with the bright and shiny veneer of legitimacy from journal that’s been in print for more than a century. And hopefully fewer typos. Continue reading

Not waiting for the dinosaurs to retire

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I hear this a lot: “Bad behavior in academia comes from the guys who have been around for a long time. Times have changed, and they’re stuck in the old ways. We can’t change these guys, but they’re on their way out — and once they retire, things will get better.”

In some narrow cases — an isolated department here or there — this might be true. But as a general principle, I think it’s deeply mistaken.  Continue reading

The deficit model of STEM recruitment

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As we train the next generation of STEM professionals, we use a filter that selects against marginalized folks, on account of their ethnicity, income, gender, and other aspects of identity. This, I hope you realize, is an ethical and pragmatic problem, and constrains a national imperative to maintain competitiveness in STEM.

When we are working for equity, this usually involves working to remediate perceived deficiencies relative to the template of a well-prepared student — filling in gaps that naturally co-occur with the well-established inequalities that are not going away anytime soon. These efforts at mitigation are bound to come up short, as long as they’re based on our current Deficit Model of STEM Recruitment. Continue reading

I am complicit

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My academic societies support the March for Science. So do I.

I’m familiar with the arguments for and against the March, from major newspapers and social media. If you’re not familiar, don’t worry, I won’t rehash them for you.

I think it’s possible for some people to have an ethical position to oppose something, and for others to have an ethical position to support the same thing. Nobody’s got a monopoly on being right. Continue reading

NSF Graduate Fellowships and the path towards equity

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When I visited the SACNAS conference some weeks ago, I spent most of my time in the exhibit hall, chatting with students at their posters and scoping out the institutional recruitment tables. A few organizations had primo real estate, with a large amount of square footage right by the entrance. They had a small army of representatives, always busy with students. The ones that I recall include USC, Harvard, and NSF.

There’s no doubt that NSF is serious about its institutional mission to develop the most talented scientific workforce in this country, which means we need scientists from all backgrounds. If you think that NSF isn’t committed to the recruitment of underrepresented minorities (URMs), you probably don’t have a lot of experience with NSF. They not only care, but they also put a lot of thought into how to do it right. Continue reading

Bias in graduate admissions

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Yesterday, I received an epic comment on a recent post of mine about minority recruitment. I want to share it:

This fits my experience so so well. I am first gen American, started at community college, transferred to a good public university and struggled but ultimately graduated with a 3.2 GPA and did OK on GREs. Had zero “social capital” (and had no idea what that was). I was lucky to have a TA (PhD student) who took me under her wing and had me volunteer in her lab a few hours a week and an excellent professor in my last quarter who informed me about internships and helped me secure one specifically targeting minority students (and it was paid!). Anyhow, after gaining a lot of experience though field jobs , I applied and was rejected from many PhD programs and ended up going to a small CSU, racking up student loans and working full time while getting my Master’s. I then applied to one of the better ecology programs with excellent letters of reference and was flatly denied. Again, luckily I had a greater supervisor at a govt agency who was very supportive and together we published a couple of manuscripts. I re-applied to that same ecology programs and was offered a multi-year fellowship (no TAing, no RAing). The only difference in my application was the publications. Now that I am in the program, I look around at a sea of white faces and most of them I have come to find out are straight out of undergrad, no pubs, very little experience, just great grades and test scores and a lot of social capital and opportunity (paid internships, semester at a field station, paid field methods courses, etc) . What a load of crap.

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Recruiting underrepresented minority students

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The last couple weeks have posed a challenge, as several people have contacted me (mostly out of the blue), asking me for ideas about specific steps they can take to improve the recruitment of minority students. This isn’t my field, but, I realize I’ve put myself in this position, because it’s a critical issue and I discuss it frequently. I’m just one of many who work in minority-serving institutions.

I realize that most of the suggestions I’ve given to people (but not advice) are generalized. If several folks are writing to me, I imagine there are many more of y’all out there who might be thinking the same thing but not writing. Hence this post. Just with my suggestions. Continue reading

Let’s nominate folks for NSF’s Waterman award, including women

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Every year, the National Science Foundation gives an award to the most bestest early-career scientist in the US. It’s up to the scientific community — that’s me and you — to make sure the pool really has the best. Which means it has to have a lot of women in it.

Months ago, we had a small spike in traffic here at Small Pond because we joined the chorus wondering how NSF can manage to go thirteen years without giving the Waterman Award to a woman. Continue reading

NSF’s Water Man award

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When I was a tween, a cutsey feel-good book was a bestseller: All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. If we learn to solve problems as kids, that should help us solve similar problems as adults.

Let’s do a kindergarten-level exercise in math and pattern recognition. Can you figure out what shape comes next?seriesa

If you said star, you’re right! Congrats!

Let’s do another one. What shape do you expect to find next?

seriesb

If you said star again, then that means you’re two for two. Good job!

Let’s look for another pattern:

WaterMEN

What do you think comes next? If you guessed 2016, then you’re right! Your pattern recognition skills are fantastic! Continue reading

Public scientists, the twitterverse, thought police, feminism, and the fanatical mob

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I’m on vacation. But while I was posting a few photos on social media (amazing National Parks and a wooden carving of bigfoot drinking a beer) I stumbled on some extended silliness among fellow scientists that I want to discuss. Luckily, I woke up early, my family is sleeping in, so here goes.

A very-routine event has somehow caused some a great worry: A famous person said something rather hideous. This hideous opinion was put in quotes and got circulated on twitter. A storm-of-righteous-indignation built on twitter, and spilled over onto facebook and other media outlets. Within a few days, this famous person got “in trouble,” insofar as a famous and powerful person can genuinely get in trouble for voicing a contemptuous opinion.

This is a very common story. It’s a little different because of the specifics: Continue reading

What unemployment taught me about dual-career parenting

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I’ve made a point to not mention this over the last several months, because I try to keep this site (mostly) professional. But — of course —  personal and professional matters interfere with one another. We are all working on the same 24 hours per day, no matter how it gets sliced up. Continue reading

Will work for food: How volunteer “opportunities” exploit early-career scientists

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This is a guest post by Susan Letcher, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at Purchase College in New York.

A recent job posting at Cocha Cashu caught my eye:

What: Co-Instructor for the Third Annual Course in Field Techniques and Tropical Ecology

Where: Cocha Cashu Biological Station, Manu National Park, Peru

When: September 1 (arrive a few days earlier)- November 30, 2015

Oh cool, I thought. A field course based at a premier research station. Sounds great. But as I read further, a sinking horror took over: Continue reading