Beyond “The Pipeline”: Reframing Science’s Diversity Challenge

Written by Dr. Kenneth Gibbs Jr.

One of the most commonly used metaphors for describing the solution for growing and diversifying America’s scientific talent pool is the “STEM pipeline.” Major policy reports have called on the U.S. to enlarge it so it does not fall behind other nations. Scholars and the popular press have highlighted the need to fix pipeline “leaks” that result in the disproportionate losses of women and minorities. While this metaphor has been helpful in focusing attention on careers in science, I am increasingly convinced that it fails us because it limits our view of the problems and their solutions. Further, these failures are actually hindering efforts to enhance scientific diversity—that is, cultivating talent, and promoting the full inclusion of excellence across the social spectrum.

Limitations of the “Pipeline”
The “pipeline” refers to the educational pathway—from elementary school through college, graduate school or the postdoc—that students complete in the pursuit of a STEM career. There are (at least) two big limitations with the metaphor. First, it reinforces the notion of a strict, linear sequence for becoming a scientist where none exists. There are of course certain benchmarks and competencies that need to be reached for one to be a capable scientist. However, if science wants to benefit from the talents of people from all backgrounds, then diversity efforts must focus on making sure there are more pathways that allow capable, hard-working people to join and participate in the field.

Second, and maybe most importantly, the linear nature of a “pipeline” means that the only way to enhance scientific diversity is to increase the number of people from underrepresented backgrounds entering the system. That is, pipeline framing focuses attention on the number of scientists from underrepresented (UR) backgrounds, and takes focus away from whether the environments and systems in which they are educated and work are supportive and promote inclusion. A major presupposition of pipeline framing is that if more girls and women, minorities, or whatever UR groups were interested in science and progressed through the system, scientific workforce diversity challenges would be solved. While numbers are of course part of the issue, a study I recently published with my colleague Kimberly Griffin suggests that the reason for the lack of diversity is much more structural in nature.

Disparate Career Trajectories Among PhDs
Professor Griffin and I
have spent the past few years studying science PhD recipients. By definition, PhDs are committed to science—no one does that much schooling if they’re not. Moreover, having reached the end of the educational “pipeline,” a PhD recipient has navigated any potential barrier to access, retention, or persistence. Thus they provide an excellent group from which to test the idea that by increasing the number of trained people from UR backgrounds, we can enhance diversity.

In our work, published in PLOS ONE, we surveyed a large sample of PhDs in the biomedical sciences (my home discipline). We asked them about their career preferences over time, as well as factors known to be important in pursuing a scientific career—mentoring, self-confidence and graduate school experiences. We also included objective measures—for example, the number of scientific publications they had produced and the types of institutions where they were educated. If the “pipeline” framing was correct, then one would assume there would be no differences in career trajectories of these Ph.Ds. across lines of race/ethnicity or gender after accounting for any potential differences in these important factors.   However, our results showed just the opposite.

When statistically accounting for any difference in these important factors, including objective measures, women and scientists from underrepresented minority (URM) backgrounds were 36-54 percent less likely than White or Asian men to express interest in a career as a faculty member in a research university upon the completion of graduate school. Further, URM women PhDs were twice as likely as scientists from all other groups to express high interest in a career outside of research.

Let that sink in.

Among science PhDs who are otherwise similar on important metrics such as publication record, mentoring support and self-confidence, we still see differences in the career pathways they show interest in pursuing. This, in my view, means that simply focusing on getting more people into and through the educational system will not be sufficient to solve science’s diversity problems. Instead, efforts must focus on creating a system that highly trained and talented scientists from all backgroundswant to be a part of.

Toward Systemic Reform
To be clear, I support programs and initiatives that aim to increase the numbers of students generally, and from UR backgrounds specifically, entering scientific training. I have benefitted from many programs that support young scientists.  These include the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, UMBC’s Meyerhoff Scholarship Program, the Leadership Alliance, the National Science Foundation’sGraduate Research Fellowship Program, and many more.

Having more scientifically trained people, no matter what career pathway they take, is in my view incredibly important. However, efforts to increase the numbers of women, minorities and other UR groups in the sciences should be coupled with reforms that make sure the institutions training them, and the funding agencies supporting scientific research, promote inclusion.

In addition to focusing on the number of individuals the system produces, policy efforts must also focus on making sure that all scientists have high quality experiences and are well supported throughout their education, training and career.My hypothesis is that if scientists from all backgrounds felt that they would be well supported in the scientific enterprise—particularly the universities where the bulk of federally-funded research is conducted—then we would start to see greater levels of diversity.

Diversity is a byproduct of a highly functioning system that supports scientists from all backgrounds. Hence, we need to go beyond “the pipeline” and begin to tackle the institutional and systemic structures that lead to the loss of talent from diverse backgrounds in the sciences. In subsequent posts, I’ll share more on reasons why I believe these differences exist, and how we might begin to tackle them.

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the positions of the institutions with which he is affiliated. To see more of our work, follow the links below:

“Biomedical Ph.D. Career Interest Patterns by Race/Ethnicity and Gender”

“What Do I Want to Be With My Ph.D.? The Roles of Personal Values and Structural Dynamics in Shaping the Career Interests of Recent Biomedical Science Ph.D. Graduates”

About the Author: Kenneth (Kenny) Gibbs, Jr., PhD, is a Cancer Prevention Fellow at the NCI. He’s a lab scientist turned science policy-ist whose research focuses on strengthening the research enterprise through promoting inclusive excellence. Follow him on Twitter @KennyGibbsPhD and@STEMPhDCareers.

Article reposted with permission from the author. Originally posted in Scientific American Voices Blog.

Could Tuition-Free Colleges and Universities Help Diversify STEM?

Money pig graduate

Written By Dr. Erika E. Alexander

In recent months, several legislative proposals have been presented that might signal the end of times for college tuition. These proposals have been put forth by legislators in Michigan, New York, Tennessee, Oregon and Mississippi, and would allow students to get a college education at the state or community college of their choice for “free”.

Michigan House Bill No. 5315 (affectionately called The “Pay It Forward bill”) would provide up to 200 in-state students interest-free loans for college tuition at either a 2- or 4-year institution. Once a student has graduated from their institution and attained a position that puts them above the federal poverty line, they are required to pay a fixed percentage of their adjusted gross income into a fund, which will provide for financial aid of future college students. The amount the student would pay depends on what type of school they attended; 2% for community college students, and 4% for public university students. Students would be required to pay this percentage for five years for every year they attended school under the program. This means, a student who attended a Michigan school for five years, would pay 4% of their income into the fund for 25 years.

In New York, the idea is to provide New York residents free tuition to attend a university, college or community college within the SUNY (State University of New York) system. In return, students are required to complete 250 hours of community service a year while enrolled, and commit to stay in New York for five years after graduation, presumably to keep well-educated talent within the state. While costing the state close to $1 billion dollars to implement, the co-sponsors of the NY bill say it will result in $3 billion dollars of community service hours, as well as increased sales and property tax revenue created by students starting their post-graduate lives in the state.

While these proposed programs in Michigan and New York, as well as the programs in Tennessee, Oregon and Mississippi, might encourage students from all walks of life to consider college as an affordable option, the question arises of how this would really change the college population. I argue that these programs would also have the effect of increasing diversity in STEM fields.

One obvious effect of these programs is that free tuition would allow more low-income students to access schools with high quality STEM programs and cutting edge research. These students would get to interact with and be mentored by world-class researchers and faculty, generating many future opportunities to which they may not have previously had access. It would also make the path easier for students who need a little help to strengthen their knowledge of hard sciences, but can’t afford to pay for community college alone. According to a recent report by the Institute for College Access and Success, African-American, Latino, and Native American community college students are more likely to attend schools which do not participate in federal student loan programs. In some states, particularly in the south, more than a fifth of community-college students are denied access to federal loans. This means that in order to gain education, students must pay tuition for these schools out of pocket. Community college tuition has been steadily increasing, as more students see them as a viable alternative to traditional colleges. By removing this barrier to education, students can focus maintaining the program’s GPA requirements and getting the most out of their college experience.

Similarly, removal of the intimidation factor of soaring loan interest rates and crippling debt may encourage other students to follow their passion. The average student might choose a degree in a field that they are not particularly enthused about because they know that their future career will pay enough to keep them living comfortably while they repay student loans. Conversely, scientists generally choose their field for the love of science and knowledge and not the money. Most postdocs can describe in detail the profound sense of dread they experienced upon receipt of their first college loan repayment notice from Sallie Mae. By eliminating the threat of unmanageable future debt, underrepresented students may feel more comfortable pursuing degrees in STEM and even academia.

Another benefit to the programs would be the retention of homegrown talent. While I do advocate seeing the world a bit before settling down, many urban areas would benefit from educated locals staying around. These students could help to make a difference in their own communities, by demonstrating that college is possible and by using their education to make changes. Providing an incentive to attend a great college and work in one’s home state could be particularly tempting to talented students who already have familial obligations. The opportunity to attend these schools close to home for “free” may make the offer one that is too sweet to resist.

I would also posit that by increasing underrepresented minority access to high-quality programs, more role models in STEM would begin to appear. Aspiring scientists of color would see many people who look like them in top positions, demonstrating their passion for their work, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson would become much less of an anomaly. This might inspire younger students of color to pursue their dreams of being an astrophysicist, starting a booming technology startup business, or becoming a star of their own engineering television show. And thus, the cycle would continue, until “underrepresented” is no longer an accurate description of people of color within STEM careers.

For now, this idea of a “free” college education is still within the legislative proposal stage. There are still kinks to work out including: whether/how students should be evaluated for acceptance into the program (GPA, essays, application?) Should schools also be subjected to a rigorous selection process in order to be allowed to participate? Another issue is the seeming dependence (at least in Michigan) upon graduate repayment of loans to sustain the program over the years. How will the governing body ensure that graduates will be able to repay their interest free loans (ie secure employment that puts them “above the poverty line”), and that their repayment will be sufficient to aid future students? Despite these questions, this concept of a free education is still very interesting, and one that just might change the face of STEM and academia.

 

As an aside, there are still free (Really. It’s FREE free) educational options for the curious. One such option is to complete a MOOC. MOOCs (massively open online courses) are free online course taught by video lecture to thousands of people at a time. Topics range from “Developing your Musicianship” (Berklee College of Music) to “Programming Cloud Services for Android Handheld Systems” (Vanderbilt University). The Poston Collective has written about these useful mini-courses before, and you can read more about them here. While these free courses generally don’t result in a traditional degree, they are often taught by industry leaders and can be a great way to keep up with a dynamic career field. Many esteemed institutions of higher learning including Stanford, Harvard and MIT have released free MOOCs.

What About Your Friends? Building a Community in Your PhD Program

 

Written By Dr. Chloe N. Poston

If you attend enough panel discussions on diversity and inclusion in the academy, you will eventually pick up on a ubiquitous theme of “creating a community”. Usually this speaks to the idea that people are more likely to thrive in a difficult program or department if they have a solid support system and do not feel isolated. Check out this video to learn more about how important community can be.

To be successful in graduate school, and perhaps to have a bit of fun, you will want to be strategic about who you choose to be a part of your community. Here are some key people who you might want to seek out during all of those “getting to know you” activities before class actually starts.

1. The study buddy: this person is as ambitious and committed to completing their program as you are.  They don’t have to be in the same program as you, but they are open to sneaking you into the best conference room in their department (the one that has the dry erase markers that actually produce ink and enough white board space for you both to work through ideas) for a study session from 7pm– until… This person will also make sure that you are home safely when “until” is 2am.

2. The motivator: this person will look you squarely in the face and tell you that you have been slacking and if you don’t get it together, you won’t graduate. This person also listens to you cry for any reason and tells you today may have been a bust, but tomorrow will be greater. You actually believe them when they tell you both of these things.

3. A Professor: this is not your academic adviser or anyone on your committee. This is a person that you can come to for advice about how to deal with your academic adviser and your committee. This person will help you learn how to navigate the nuanced world of academia while stepping on as few toes as possible. This person is more difficult to identify, so seek them out diligently and be very mindful of their time constraints. When a professor you meet says “stop by my office” and you aren’t taking their course at the moment, you really should stop by.

4. The ABD (all but degree) friend you rarely see: this person is trying to graduate. They are usually on a strict time clock. They are making plans for the future and trying to write a dissertation. This person can give you truckloads of advice about how to survive this stressful phase. This advice is going to contain the phrase “start writing early”… They will help you prepare applications for jobs or figure out how to network your way into a great post-doctoral position. Even if it’s not advice, you can learn from their example on what to do and what to avoid as you think about your career after graduate school. You can get face time with this individual by offering them free food and/or coffee.

5. The “I work” friend: during my PhD program I had an awesome cohort of friends and we all were in school, except for one friend who always replied to the tired graduate school conversation starter of “what department are you in?” with a confident “oh, I work”. This person reminded us all that there was a life outside of the university. He invited us to events in the community and helped us build lives off of campus. You need this friend for your sanity as a whole person. Trust me.

6. The “WE GOTTA MAKE IT” friend: This friend is willing to listen to your oral proposal defense 10 times until you feel comfortable with it. They will read chapters of your thesis and make corrections. They will quiz you on topics for important exams and they won’t say anything about the inconvenience not only because they know you will do the same for them (and you will), but because they truly believe that WE GOTTA MAKE IT!

All of these people will show up to support you in your highest and lowest moments and you’ll consider them your dearest friends by the time you are Dr. So and So. They will be the main characters in your “remember that time in grad school…” stories for years to come and what you come to think of as your supportive community.

What other kinds of people do you think are important to create a supportive community as you matriculate through a PhD?

 

Hashtags and (Mental) Health: A Shared Experience

mentalhealth name tags

Written by Dr. Erika E. Alexander

On Thursday, May 15, twitter account @BlackandSTEM started a conversation about mental health of graduate students using a hashtag of the same name. @Blackandstem asked a simple question: Have you ever used therapy? As discussion of the topic progressed, I was struck by how few commenters there were and the homogeneity of the sample.

The lack of commenters is one that may appear have a simple explanation, but really reflects a more complex issue. Investigation of twitter avatars suggests that the virtually all commenters were black women. This reflects both the small representation of African-Americans within STEM fields, but it also signifies the unwillingness of this small population to show what may be perceived to be weakness. In a group of people who are already facing a lot of pressure to thrive and exceed expectations, there is no room for anything that might suggest they are not the “chosen ones”, the great and perfect ambassadors of their race or ethnic group.

Several commenters brought up the issue of “the strong black woman/man” and how this term makes it almost impossible for people within the African-American community to feel justified or supported in getting mental health help. They cited statistics (albeit a bit out of date) about the rates of depression and suicide in the African-American community and many expressed disappointment about how high these statistics were. A little digging into more recent analyses shows African-Americans are 20% more likely to report having serious psychological distress, but are less likely to receive anti-depressant prescription treatment than Non-Hispanic Whites. Non-Hispanic blacks also have higher rates of self-reporting feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness and that daily life is an effort than Non-Hispanic Whites. Read more here. It would appear that Non-Hispanic Blacks have the same issues dealing with daily life as other races, but they are less likely to ask for help coping with these issues. So why are they not seeking help?

I believe this relates to my second observation: how many tweeters wished that they had in fact gone to therapy while pursuing graduate degrees in STEM fields, suggesting that they did not seek help when they needed it. Professionals of color in STEM face an immense amount of pressure, from families, colleagues, and from themselves to be the best. Graduate programs in STEM often place them in departments where they are one of very few (and sometimes, only) person of color, This has a tendency to add an additional layer of stress, in the form of striving to represent their ethnic group in a positive way; to prove that they and those like them do belong in this ivory tower of knowledge. While some thrive in these high-stress situations, others may need a little help to develop healthy coping mechanisms, particularly when negative situations arise. However, in a field that looks down upon any sign of weakness, it becomes exponentially more difficult to admit that one needs help, let alone reach out for it. In a previous Poston Collective article, Dr. Chloe Poston does a fantastic job of describing the pressure that professionals of color and women in STEM careers face to be perfect, todisprove stereotypes about their racial or gender group, and to show no weakness, even if it comes at the expense of their mental wellbeing:

“….without being likeable, a woman may be respected but whispered about by her peers. Men don’t really have this problem, because aggression is generally accepted as a masculine trait. Women of color must maintain the balance described above and manage to negate stereotypes without losing a sense of identity. I would argue that this is the case for any person of color.”- from Women Aren’t the Only People Who Should “Lean In”

This story and hashtag bring up very personal memories for me. During a particularly rough patch of my graduate studies, I began seeing a therapist for about a year. At my graduate institution, as at many institutions, psychological health services are covered by student health insurance, and they were happy to plan our meetings around my hectic schedule. Sharing my experiences with an impartial professional helped me work through a lot of my issues, and I felt more capable of handling my workload and personal life. During the time we spent together, she helped me develop essential coping mechanisms that assisted me throughout the rest of my graduate school experience. I credit my time with this therapist with helping me finish the rest of my graduate program in a strong, confident manner. As a result of my experience, I am a passionate proponent of using therapy to work through difficult situations, whether one is in graduate school or in other phases of life.

By placing mental health on the very bottom of their list of priorities, many STEM graduate students are doing themselves and their field a great disservice. You simply cannot be the best scientist/engineer/mathematician that you can be, without taking time to care for yourself mentally. Many people work out at the gym and eat a healthy diet because they consider it fueling and maintenance of their body; they hope that by caring for their body they will increase its longevity and power. But they seem to forget that their minds need care as well, and that without mental maintenance, it does not matter how well you care for the rest of your body. I believe that finding ways to maintain one’s mental stability is essential for completing graduate school and many commenters on the #blackandstem topic agree. In fact, I suspect the attrition rate for people of color would significantly decrease if mental health resources were made more available, and if the stigma associated with asking for help was reduced. STEM fields are losing some of the world’s greatest researchers because they did not receive the assistance they needed to thrive at the graduate school level, or because they did not feel comfortable asking for help.

So how do we make therapy in graduate school less scary? We start talking about it. A lot. To everyone and anyone who will listen. I salute @BlackandStem for starting this discussion on twitter, and encourage others to start talking conversations about the importance of mental health on other social media platforms. At an individual level, those of us who have used a therapist can share their experiences with others who may be having difficulties. We can pass along information about nearby mental health resources so that people know they have options. We need to let people know that it is ok to ask for help when they need it, and that choosing their mental health over what someone else might think is always the right choice. We must change the narrative from shaming people who show “weakness” by seeking psychological help, to one that celebrates their discernment and courage in fixing problem before it gets worse. By doing these things, maybe we can help slow the tide of researchers leaving the world of STEM before it is their time and encourage the innovators of the future to continue along their career path.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. What are some other ways that we can change the narrative about the value of maintaining mental health? What are some ways you use to cope with the emotional roller-coaster of graduate school and STEM careers?

The Alumni Call to Action: To Give or Not to Give

Written by Dr. Stacy-Ann Allen Ramdial

I recently came across a post online titled, “Angry Graduate Just Wrote This Letter To His University. It’s Hard Not To Agree With Him.” The body of the post details a letter sent by an unnamed student to his graduate institution’s Alumni Office in response to a request for monetary donations. Reading the letter made me reflect on the many instances when I received such a letter in the mail or a phone call requesting donations from my undergraduate Alumni Office. Each time, instead of feeling a sense of pride and school spirit, I felt utter resentment. However my resentment did not stem from not being able to secure a job after completing my degree, but rather my experience at the institution.

Like many people I have met, I can honestly say I had a very memorable undergraduate experience. Unlike most however, I wish I could erase a majority of those memories, which were not peppered with quintessential positive all-american experiences. I chose my undergraduate institution because it was advertised as a place that not only emphasized academic excellence, but considered the whole person. One of my fondest memories from my undergraduate institution was from my orientation weekend. Standing in the cafeteria, while the afternoon sun engulfed the room making everything look golden, I learned the college’s fight song with my mother. I remember thinking how great it would be to recreate that moment in the future with my offspring. That moment might have been the last time I felt a genuine, engulfing sense of pride and community because by the time I graduated I realized that all those wonderful ideals that attracted me to the school were mere talking points. My four-year experience taught me that I was at an institution that did not value my presence and contribution, and frankly did not want me there.

Having had such an underwhelming experience, it was no surprise that at the first occasion for solicitation of a donation (ironically before I had even gotten my degree) I was at a loss for words and numb to the idea of giving to a legacy that I felt so little connection to. Moreover, for years after, I still did not feel a sense of loyalty. Maybe Alumni offices that can’t seem to get students involved should consider not just the fact that the institution offered students a “world-class” education and a name that strengthens the value of their degree, but also consider the value of providing a well-rounded experience.

I believe that universities take for granted the importance of an alumni’s experience.They rely on some unwritten rule that graduates are obligated to give back because of the perceived value of the degree itself and the idea that by earning the degree one had to have had a positive experience. This presumption is no more apparent that when a solicitor for the Alumni Fund calls and explains that as an alumni I should give back so that the school can continue to provide the same “great” experience I had to future students, and to preserve or increase the value of my degree. Interestingly, not once has a solicitor asked what my experience was like, nor  if I calculated the value of my degree the same way they did.

I can’t deny the fact that in earning my degree I am apart of a community and legacy. And while I may still have reservations about providing monetary support at present, I do believe that I should contribute. I do so by giving back my time, to shaping that legacy and sense of community so that it reflects the ideals that I envisioned when I first applied.

What are your thoughts on giving back to your Alma mater?

What role do you think your undergraduate or graduate experience plays or played in determining whether you give or not?

Why women leave: The academy’s problem with retaining a diverse professorship

Written by Dr. Erika E. Alexander

I walked into the building with a knot in my throat and sweaty palms. I got on the elevator and rehearsed my script.  Just a few weeks ago, I had successfully defended my PhD thesis to rave reviews. I had several federal grants on my resume, including a fully- funded postdoctoral fellowship, teaching experience many would kill for and a doctorate from an Ivy League institution. I could handle the first day of a new job, right? Right?

As the elevator glided to my floor, I wondered in a run-on sentence: “Is this what I want to do with my life? I don’t know anything about genetics and Emory is a really good school and OMG, what if I FAIL????” The elevator doors opened and I searched nervously for my office door.  As I took a deep breath and crossed the threshold, I considered, “What makes black women stay in STEM academia? Is the love of science enough to keep them satisfied, knowing that their academic struggles will always differ from those of their colleagues?”

The grand debate on why the academic pipeline is hemorrhaging people of color has been going on for decades.  I can’t count the number of workshops, focus groups, and back-room conversations that I’ve been asked to participate in as a graduate student, that focused on why (or why not) I, as an African-American woman, wanted to stay in academia.   Whether it’s the soul-numbing politics, shrinking funding pool, difficult job market, or just the fickle nature of the scientific beast, as it stands today, the professoriate doesn’t seem to appeal to many doctoral students of color. The numbers of STEM doctoral graduates of color that go on to industry and the private sector continues to rival the numbers who stay in academia.

It’s slightly gratifying to hear thing are looking up for us. With programs like ADVANCE (National Science Foundation) geared towards increasing the numbers of women in STEM careers, the number of women in the professoriate is steadily rising. This tells us that academia is evolving, albeit slowly.  According to the Chronicle of Higher education, in 2011, a number of doctoral granting institutions indicated their professoriate was comprised of a low of 23% and a high of 63% women.  However, this same data indicated a much bleaker picture for minorities overall, with some schools showing as few as 0.1% black, 1.1% Hispanic and 0.0% Asian faculty members.  NSF also shows a small amount of change over time, with 3.8% of all research institutions showing underrepresented minorities as full time professors in STEM in 1993 and only 5.9% in 2010.  Research I institutions showed even smaller numbers, with 2.5% of underrepresented minority faculty in 1993, increasing to 4.2% by 2010.   This means that although the professoriate is becoming more gender neutral in leaps and bounds, there is still a long way to go to making it a more diverse and culturally friendly career choice.

So how does a black female academic find a place in a world where there aren’t many who look like her? Where she not only questions herself, but where others also are likely to question her abilities?  What keeps her in the game?

One way is to model successful programs such as ADVANCE, so that they identify and represent the needs of minority applicants.  Many universities are trying to do just that at the graduate student level, by using outside researchers to form focus groups to find out what students of color need to succeed.  Stellar intra-university professional development programs have been created as a result, which better prepare underrepresented graduate students for a future career as a STEM academic. While, I applaud the initiative, it seems that are many more steps that still need to be taken.  Focusing on preparing students for a particular career is all well and good, but if the job culture is not welcoming to them as an individual, it won’t make a difference how perfectly prepared they are.  Students will simply take the preparation and use it start new careers in other fields.  Academia must be a chosen career, and in order to be chosen, the academy has to start making room for different experiences.

There is often talk of increasing the numbers of underrepresented professors in science. I would posit that it is equally important to focus on keeping them there. People choose to stay in a profession when they feel valued.  I would like to see more federally supported programs that address the needs of underrepresented minority faculty.  Government agencies should consider rewarding schools that take the time to ask their faculty what they need to feel included in the academy, and actually use that feedback to implement these programs successfully.  Institutions should find creative ways to celebrate the diversity of their faculty instead of just by asking for their participation on every diversity committee on campus. Only then will a professorship in STEM at a research-intensive university become more attractive to underrepresented minority doctorates that are on the fence about their chosen career path.

To regain their edge as a competitive field in this day and age, the academy needs to undergo a cultural shift. By sincerely demonstrating how valuable the individual experiences of a professor are to the institution as a whole, universities can create a field that is more about people than publications. That’s what will draw the brightest stars of all colors and creeds to the STEM professoriate and continue to keep them burning bright.

What are some ways to keep diversity in the academy? Are you a STEM professor who chose to stay in academia? What made you stay? I’d love to hear your comments below.