Friday, December 05, 2008

Increasing Diversity in the Sciences with Mentorship and Conference Attendance

I am continuing the dialogue about Increasing Diversity in the Sciences. This time I examine the initiatives of professional organizations to provide travel awards and mini-mentorship opportunities to undergraduate students to attend scientific meetings.

Scientific meetings offer tremendous learning and networking opportunities for students. This is especially true for students who are members of traditionally under-represented groups. Though you may be one of a few brown or young or feminine faces at the conference, many societies are working hard to get you at that meeting and to keep you coming back. Because conference attendance is not cheap some scientific organizations actually offer travel awards to attract undergraduates to International and National meetings; and they offer mentorship to students who are attending professional conferences for the first time. My primary professional organization, the Animal Behavior Society (ABS), has been a leader in increasing diversity in the sciences. The Membership and Leadership of this society has always been quite progressive. For years the organization has offered a Diversity Travel Grant for students from traditionally under-represented ethnic groups and students from Developing Nationas to attend the annual meetings. Moreover, these travel scholarships are largely by donations from individual members.

In 2002, ABS furthered its commitment to diversity and education when created the Charles H. Turner Program for undergraduate participation at the annual Society meetings. With generous support from the National Science Foundation, the ABS Diversity committee brings a group of about 10 undergraduates to the meetings each year, covering all expenses, and providing a full program of mentoring events including a pre-meeting workshop and mentors. Charles Turner was one of the very first African-American researchers in animal behavior. Among other things, his research showed that insects can hear and exhibit trial-and-error learning. Dr. Turner was a high school biology teacher at Sumner High School in St. Louis, MO. Turner Middle School in the Historic Ville Neighborhood is named after him. By naming the undergraduate program after him, the ABS Diversity Committee emphasizes its goal to increase the diversity of its membership by encouraging researchers of all ages, levels, and ethnic groups to participate in the annual meetings.

Also, the Society of Wetland Scientists (SWS) announces the availability of undergraduate student awards for travel to attend their annual SWS meeting – June 22-26, 2009 in Madison, Wisconsin. The SWS is committed to increasing diversity in its membership and is offering full travel awards and mentoring at the meeting for undergraduate students from underrepresented groups –African-American, Native American, Latino American, Pacific Islander, and persons with disabilities. These awards are supported by the National Science Foundation and individual SWS chapters. The areas of interest of the student participants range from freshwater to marine and involve a wide variety of organism types. Undergraduate participants must be citizens or permanent residents of the United States or its possessions. An undergraduate student is a student who is enrolled in a degree program (part-time or full-time) leading to a baccalaureate or associates degree. Students who are transferring from one institution to another and are enrolled at neither institution during the intervening summer may participate. Spring 2009 graduates are eligible as well.

Application materials and additional information are available from Dr. Frank P. Day, Old Dominion University( Application deadline is December 17, 2008. So apply now and spread the word.

I hope more students at the high school level and beyond become aware of such programs and take advantage of them. I realize not everyone who participates will necessarily stay in the sciences, but I believe having such experiences and meeting people is worthwhile and informs a student’s future career decisions. Any other comments?

Article orginally posted at


Kate said...

I fear that we have by no means eliminated certain prejudices in the field. While we're seeing increasing racial diversity, perhaps you're still seeing (I know my daughter is) a certain preference to males over females in the field... especially at many of these meetings. There shouldn't be barriers to ANY persons in science... yet like gaining the vote, women lag behind when it comes to equality.

Poetry Scores said...

This is the sort of thing I'd like to publish in The American, if you can elaborate it into about a 500 word essay!

DNLee said...

Thanks Kate for your comment. Diversity in the Sciences (Gender & Race) will be discussed at the upcoming ScienceOnline09 Conference. I think thoughts like these are important to the conversation and I will definitely take these ideas with me. But I also encourage you to visitthe conference page - it's a wiki - so you can shape the conference, too, even if you can't attend.

Confluence City: Thanks. I'll get to work on that right away.

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