Friday, November 21, 2008

Increasing Diversity in the Sciences

“The very large racial Ph.D. gap in the natural sciences is striking when we examine black Ph.D. awards in specific disciplines.” * I am all-too-familiar with this fact. I am the only African-American Ph.D. student in my academic department. That will make me the second African-American to earn a doctorate in Biology from my institution. People spout off statistics all of the time, in fact I heard that on average there are only 10 Black Ph.D.s in Biology a year. That seems low, but the fact is Blacks who obtain doctorate degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) is often a single digit percentage point.
* Quote from the article Doctoral Degree Awards to African Americans Reach Another All-Time High in Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.

Faced with these numbers I am relieved to discover programs that aim to attract and retain more Black students to study math and science. I recently learned about the Benjamin Banneker Institute for Science and Technology. The Institution spearheads a variety of programs with one goal in mind: increase the participation of young people in science and technology. One of their programs is the Decade of Blacks in Science 2007-2017.

(From the website)
The Decade of Blacks in Science is a campaign to mobilize, co-ordinate and coalesce the human and material resources needed to solve the problem of the low level of participation by African Americans in STEM fields.

However, this lack of representation isn’t just a concern of Black Academics. It is on the agenda of the entire scientific community. Universities and Professional Science Organizations alike have committees that are devoted to this very topic – increasing diversity – in the classroom, the laboratory, and the professoriate.

But it all starts with one question. What is going on with the pipeline?
How can we encourage students to major in science in college? How can we encourage them to go to graduate school? Where can we find qualified students to recruit into Ph.D. programs?

First, students of color, and of particular interest to me, Black students need to accept the idea that science is a viable, realistic, and pursuable career and line of study. More and more we realize we need to reach students at younger ages. High school may be too late to cultivate an interest in science – at least it seems so. Second, recruitment strategies may need change. Most doctorate degrees in STEM are obtained at majority institutions, however historically Black institutions produce more students with bachelor degrees who go on to complete Ph.D.s.** HBCUs are essentially preparatory programs for future Black Scientists and Engineers.
** From the article Who Produces Black PhDs? In Inside Higher Ed

I plan to spend some time discussing pipeline and retention of students of color in the sciences at the ScienceOnline09 Conference this January during the Race in science – online and offline Workshop. In the meantime, I encourage you to share with me your thoughts and proposed solutions to this diversity issue.

Article originally posted at


DNLee said...

Check this out.
Engineering's first lady, 2001 Black Engineer of the Year Shirley Ann Jackson, PhD, (and President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York) will talk about the energy crisis and how to keep the US competitive by engaging more American students from diverse backgrounds in science and technology careers. Dr. Jackson delivers the Fall lecture November 20 (TODAY) at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. The museum’s membership department, in conjunction with Science Chicago and MSI's Black Creativity, sponsors the lecture.

I keep missing these opportunities to hear these great scientists speak in person!

go to

Miriam Goldstein said...

I've found marine biology/ecology/oceanography (the three fields I spend my time in) to be shockingly un-diverse. There aren't even very many Asian Americans, never mind Latinos or African Americans. (There are a fair amount of international students of various ethnicities, but that's a whole different pipeline.)

A couple reasons that I've run into that might be preventing students of color from going into the sciences are 1) Lack of childhood exposure to nature - I do outreach to tons of urban San Diego kids who have grown up 5 miles from the beach and never visited; 2) Terrible science instruction in the schools that makes biology = memorizing random boring facts; and 3) Not knowing that you get PAID (a pitiful amount to be sure, but still you get paid instead of paying) to do a science PhD.

My school really wants to increase diversity and is sending me to Science Online to learn ways to recruit students of color through the internet. So I'm really looking forward to your panel!

DNLee said...

More info...It came to me from Tomorrow's Professor newsline. here is the link:
Where are the Minority PhDs?

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