Author: Calais Prince | Category: Beyond The Bench | Cell Biology, Genetics & Molecular Medicine (CGM) | Cell Biology, Genetics and Molecular Medicine | November 20, 2015
Calais Prince is a graduate student in the Integrated Biomedical Sciences program. Prince is currently working in Dr. Leslie Myatt’s lab where they are studying the effect of pre/early pregnancy obesity on placental function.
Diversity in science acknowledges the potential for greatness
in individuals who are underrepresented. It builds relationships and improves
our creativity. It improves our work environments and strengthens our
I recently attended a writing workshop with the Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) scholars. There was an incredibly
productive scientist who described her experiences in STEM and what her career
path was like as a Chicana in academia.
She provided personal examples in which peers discredited her
abilities, mentors questioned her intelligence, and colleagues with fewer
credentials were promoted ahead of her. Some of the challenges that she
discussed are comparable to my own experiences.
Conversely, she was able to whether the proverbial storms
because she was able to build a support system outside of her immediate
environment. She also had the wherewithal to allow her science/research to
speak for her capabilities.
Her story reminded me that many individuals from
underrepresented groups share similar journeys while advancing through STEM
fields. It also spurred me to put together a few thoughts regarding diversity
in STEM, what it means to our field/industry, and how diversity affects the
Diversity refers to variation/differences and consists of
many facets, but I will specifically focus on differences pertaining to social
identity (socioeconomic status, ethnicity/race, gender, etc.). There are
considerable efforts in place to increase diversity in science.
For example, funding opportunities through the National Institutes of Health (F30, 31,32; R03, R25, etc.), the United Negro College Fund/MERCK, and the National Science Foundation have been established to
promote and support funding of historically underrepresented groups in the
These efforts are necessary and appreciated as they provide a
means of support and provide credence to the capabilities of underrepresented
Ph.D and M.D./Ph.D students to a stimulating field. I agree with the sentiment
that is conveyed in the message that “we need to do more because only 1 in 11
Ph.Ds are awarded to minorities in science and engineering” (National Science
However, I argue that it would be imperative to begin
exposing students earlier in matriculation to research/STEM careers, possibly
in elementary school. When underrepresented students recognize and acknowledge
that a career in STEM is a viable and rewarding option, we solidify the future
of the sciences.
In addition to starting the conversation sooner with
students, I think it would be equally beneficial to prepare mentors in order
for them to be able to work with a diverse group. Preparing and training
mentors will foster an enriching and welcoming environment for diversity.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the
importance of encouraging a diverse environment from the perspective of the
From a very young age, I had opportunities to interact with
students from a variety of socioeconomic, ethnic, and racial backgrounds. These
opportunities expanded my academic and social aspirations as I learned: how to
relate to peers that were different from my neighborhood friends and develop my
love for science.
I attended a diverse elementary school where we frequented
the Field Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, and the
Museum of Science and Industry. I also attended a diverse high school where: I
volunteered at the
Museum of Science and Industry, volunteered at several
animal clinics throughout Chicago, and taken several AP courses. Were it not
for the experiences early in my academic career, I would have been ill equipped
for undergrad and graduate school.
Although we are making headway, at times, we forget about the
needs of the individual. From the lecture that I attended, it was clear that
increasing the number of students/faculty from underrepresented groups is not
enough. Changing our attitudes will potentially attract and retain
The "Beyond The Bench" series features articles written by students and postdoctoral fellows at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio.
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