The last year has seen an increase in the number of meetings, summits, and papers calling for changes in the way we fund and structure biomedical research. However, we need to ensure that any changes also improve diversity in STEM to better reflect the population that funds us. At the very least, the community should ensure that proposed changes to how we structure the scientific enterprise do not further harm the diversity of science. In this vein, we co-chaired a subgroup at the Annual Meeting with Jana Marcette from Harris-Stowe State University and Tiffany Oliver from Spelman College entitled, “Increasing Diversity in a Changing Research Landscape”. We hoped to bring some of the discussions we have had with the “Future of Research” meetings we have organized into the context of continuing efforts to build diversity into STEM.
This session took the shape of a dialogue. Mini-lectures by panelists were interspersed with audience-based questions and roundtable discussions to directly address questions, propose solutions, and describe ways to effect change. Tiffany Oliver, starting the session, engaged the audience with classroom quiz technology to anonymously live poll the audience as she presented data on the diversity in STEM, pointed out the benefits of diversity in doing research, and challenged us by stating that it is everyone’s job to improve the diversity of science.
Andrew Campbell of Brown University presented an expansive dataset talking about Brown’s Biomed Initiative to Maximize Student Development (IMSD) and Northeast Scientific Training (NEST) Programs. One piece of data showed that the program’s training interventions result in trainees publishing more first author papers. Dr. Campbell shared a number of ideas about diversifying the academy at the point of training, listed here.
Ahna Skop of University of Wisconsin-Madison represented the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) and described the work of the organization, making the key point that STEM does not represent the demographics of the U.S. She also noted that, although the percentage of women completing their PhDs has improved significantly over time, there is still a way to go for underrepresented minorities.
David Burgess of Boston College discussed ongoing efforts with the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN), a nationwide consortium of biomedical investigators supporting training and career development of underrepresented minorities in science. William Bement from University of Wisconsin-Madison and Gary McDowell from Tufts and Future of Research presented proposals from recent meetings in Madison and Boston aimed at improving the biomedical research system. These two reports were part of an analysis of the consensus opinions across a range of reports recently published by Chris Pickett from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), who gave a talk highlighting how infrequently diversity in STEM was addressed in proposed changes to biomedical research in these reports (including our own).
A number of efforts are under way to improve training, mentoring, and career development in STEM to increase diversity, but we must all assist in this work. Furthermore, when proposing changes to our training, funding, and communication models, we must also carefully consider how these changes could impact diverse groups.
The session was live-tweeted by several attendees; you can find the Storify with major points that came up here.
What do you think about the lack of diversity in STEM? Do you know of any good initiatives to diversify science? Please comment below!
About the Author:
Gary McDowell is Executive Director of The Future of Research, Inc. (http://futureofresearch.org/), a nonprofit organization seeking to champion, engage and empower early career researchers with evidence-based resources to help them make improvements to the research enterprise. He is a COMPASS alumnus.