2016 #DiversityJC – Ian’s Year-End Review

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It’s the end of 2016 and it’s been a year of change in all sorts of ways (for hopefully good, but also almost certainly for the worse in many ways too, especially on the diversity/inclusion front as at least the US became demonstrably less friendly following our 2017 election). 

In this post, Ian, Emily, and the good Doctor give our thoughts about this past year of DiversityJC and some ideas for the future. Emily’s post is here.

Remember you can subscribe to the DiversityJC Newsletter to keep up with all our discussions and posts.

 

One of our topics this year was ideological diversity and the discussion focused on how to incorporate different political ideologies into academia, a generally more liberal place outside of a few disciplines (Economics, for instance). It’s not always easy – for example, we can’t incorporate creationism since it isn’t a science (and even runs anti-science, as when it ignores evolution). There are also some social attitudes that shouldn’t be tolerated – racism and sexism for instance (these things are present enough already and have prevalent myths surrounding them).

Julia Shaw, a scientist studying memory wrote a post for Scientific American “I’m a scientists and I don’t believe in facts” writing

“Scientists slowly break down the illusions created by our biased human perception, revealing what the universe actually looks like. In an incremental progress, each study adds a tiny bit of insight to our understanding.

But while the magic of science should make our eyes twinkle with excitement, we can still argue that the findings from every scientific experiment ever conducted are wrong, almost by necessity. They are just a bit more right (hopefully) than preceding studies.

That’s the beauty of science. It’s inherently self-critical and self-correcting. The status quo is never good enough. Scientists want to know more, always. And, lucky for them, there is always more to know.”

That is exactly how science works (and it does work, just look around at your entire world and realize it’s the result of curiosity-based scientific inquiry).

The science of studying inclusion and diversity is similar. In this case, research shows us that science is still not an inclusive place, the Nobel prizes being one example of that.

Inclusiveness takes understanding and compassion. All of us need to at least try and understand where the bias, fear, and even possible outright hatred come from.

Science breaks down and expands our perspective. It can challenge tradition and authority. These aspects of science are needed now more than ever, given what is shaping up to be an anti-science, anti-inclusive, anti-compassion administration. There are steps to take in moving forward, both nationally, but especially locally, as we go about our lives.

I’ve been introspective and thought a lot about how to be inclusive as a cis white male this year, especially as I’ve been writing more and more. Thinking about how to talk about these issues, because these are tough topics to talk about, and thinking about them because white people generally don’t experience them.

It’s all the more important to continue to have these discussions and figure out how to bring people along, raise everyone up (whether that is economically or in terms of ensuring everyone is truly treated as a human being deserving of compassion, empathy, and support).

It isn’t always easy. Being in a hurry, feeling under pressure and under multiple stressors in our lives (the raw chase to keep up, make money to live, etc.) can easily blind us to social issues, to issues of fairness and inclusion – or to see beyond our own experiences. Part of this past election was a sizable portion of people feeling disenfranchised. They voted for change despite the hateful language and actions of the “change” candidate. I hope more of them speak up to say that the racism, sexism, and xenophobia Trump espouses and is now appointing in his cabinet picks does not represent them, is not what they believe or support, even if they agree with him on other issues (sadly, I haven’t seen a lot of that out there, because it was a package deal). It’s important to keep in mind that Trump didn’t get the most votes as well. 90 million people did not vote, and of those that did not vote for Trump but did pick a presidential candidate, 74,000,000 votes were counted (to Trump’s 62,000,000).

Going forward, be kind, act locally to support inclusion and repudiate bias (even implicit biases as well as ones we might harbour ourselves).

Ian (@IHStreet)

Image from Flickr by Leland Francisco,  CC2.0 : Kindness is like snow “Kindness is like snow – it beautifies everything it covers” (Quote possibly by Khalil Gibran).

 

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2016 #DiversityJC – Emily’s Year End Review

social-justice

It’s the end of 2016 and it’s been a year of change in all sorts of ways (for hopefully good, but also almost certainly for the worse in many ways too, especially on the diversity/inclusion front as at least the US became demonstrably less friendly following our 2017 election). 

In these first 2017 posts, Ian, Emily, and the good Doctor give our thoughts about this past year of DiversityJC and some ideas for the future. Ian’s post is here.

Remember you can subscribe to the DiversityJC Newsletter to keep up with all our discussions and posts.

 

I avoided writing my DiversityJC year-end review for weeks. Sure, I was busy with work, and then with family and friends and the holidays. But… I also didn’t really know what to write. 

Revisiting anything in 2016 seems… completely overshadowed by the US election. The incoming president. His cabinet picks.


I was derailed by this election. Absolutely and completely. I didn’t do any work for days – weeks even. And I know that’s one of my own forms of privilege – the ability to press pause while I grieved and clicked on links and read posts and tried to make sense of what happened, what to do next. And wept.

While I’ve been back to work (clearly), I’ve still been struggling to come back to social media. Aside from the easy, escapist space of Instagram, my online presence since November has comes in strange fits and starts.  Engaging seemed at once inconsequential, given what has happened (and will happen), and all-encompassing – I have been absent for days to weeks from Twitter, but posted long-winded statements and questions on Facebook, laying aside research to obsessively follow and respond to the conversation that resulted.


Eventually, I found myself in this place where I was completely torn. On the one hand, I feel like I am not doing enough to prepare and to fight what is happening, what is going to happen – on the other, starkly aware of the risks to my own research should I take any more time away.

I was desperate for some time, some space to regain my balance. To see clearly my way forward. More days were lost as I spun my wheels.


Over the holidays, I was finally able to carve out a little of that time, that space. Not much, but some. I also relied on the voices of those more eloquent than myself:

Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: “Re-framing Ocean Conservation in this Post-Election Era”
Dr. Eric Anthony Grollman: “Why I am Committed to Fighting Oppression in Academia”


I also finally sat down to review the topics our Diversity Journal Club has addressed in 2016 – which was strangely challenging. I am so focused on what’s next, on 2017 – and, as I mentioned, it’s been really tough for me to look back at … Before. It already feels like another era.

But what I realized as I read over our recaps and intros that ruminated on why women leave STEM, whether we can overlook someone’s behavior in light of their achievement, on toxic masculinity and Nobel prizes and how bias and the imposter syndrome are connectedall of these things remain critical. Their importance as examples of why inclusion and diversity matter, how they translate into the science I love so much, the science that loves to believe it is objective and above such social ills – these matter not less but more in the coming months.

We also started out 2016 talking about what “diversity” means. That conversation had me reading some posts that were challenging and eye-opening (for me anyway), and thinking about why diversity matters beyond being the right thing to do. We also discussed what it means to be an ally, and why Orlando is poignant not just for us as people, as citizens, but also as scientists.


These conversations are still a form of activism – a critical one. We must continue to highlight and share the science that shows us how much inclusion matters, and that the scientific community is not above or immune to the societal ills of prejudice and bias. We must continue to talk more broadly about what diversity and inclusion look like, how social justice cannot end at a lab or office or classroom door. We must continue to educate ourselves and each other. If this election proved one thing, it’s that we need to listen more, educate more, engage more.

This is a crucial way forward in this new political climate. Conversations like those we have under #DiversityJC are more important than ever.


In the end, as 2017 rapidly approaches like a freight train, my answer came clearly one night as I lay fretting and awake: I simply resolve to work harder. One thing that becomes more obvious the older I get is that there are indeed no do-overs. We have this time, now. That is it. We don’t other chances. It sounds cliche and trite – but it also seems more true now than it ever has to me before.


My research will get done, but I also turn more attention and more effort to my To Do list – not just in the weeks following November 4th, but from here until we go back in the election booth in 2018, and in 2020. And beyond – bias and discrimination do not end along party lines. I am focused on a job that values and allows for social justice work as an explicit part of the package. I want to do good science – but I want to make science better even more.

Discussions as part of the Diversity Journal Club hold a central place for me to forward my own education, as I push my career in new directions, and, I hope, the education of others. I hope more people share the research and topics we look to cover in the coming months, more join us. I hope to post more here, too – to put this space to good use.


Our work is just beginning.

Emily (@DrEmilySKlein)

Albert Einstein: he was an introvert. What about you?

Diversity JC 2015 review- Ian’s edition

The #DiversityJC managers are all going to write year end posts with thoughts about the discussions we’ve had about Diversity in STEM and perhaps some things looking forward to 2016. 

In March, I think, Doctor_PMS and Emily asked me to join the editorial team and be a discussion moderator and pitch topics, etc.

I’m happy to be part of the DiversityJC team, but I was nervous about becoming part of the regular crew, after all, I’m a white, straight, male in STEM working at an Ivy League institution. When one of the central problems is unconscious bias, I’m probably as blind as they come.

I did take the implicit bias test for gender in STEM and fell in the middle as not particularly biased. And I’ve been mostly listening to discussions surrounding diversity, women in STEM, etc. on Twitter the last few years before becoming a moderator here.

I also got to help coordinate putting together a panel on Diversity for the Future of Research Symposium in San Fransisco. And I found the Diversity panel at the Future of Research symposium in Boston this last fall was enlightening.

I believe in fairness and equality; I genuinely get upset at injustices I see in the world even though I feel powerless to do much about most of them.

My lens into diversity is two topics we did discuss this year: mental health (I’m working to manage depression) and introversion. In the US at least, the quieter ones among us are often discounted or ignored. I’ve had my ideas in meetings and other places ignored only to have something similar brought up by someone else and given credit. But from the stories I’ve heard of the lived lives of women and POC in the world, my experiences with feeling like an outsider or unwelcome somewhere are minor.

In some ways I prefer being invisible, but that also feels like a privileged position for me to be in to make that choice (& it isn’t all upside, either).

So with that, I’ll list a few thoughts that I’ve had in thinking about diversity in STEM more this year than I have probably in any other year.

  1. Even being aware that there’s bias in the world and it affects certain populations isn’t sufficient to prevent bias. It’s like the general cognitive biases all humans have. Being aware of confirmation bias or loss aversion does not make me any less prone to do it. I can be aware of biases, but the fact is I will almost always be able to put it aside to go live my life while those with direct experience can’t really do that (barring a cultural change which I do think is starting to happen, but it’s a long slow process).
  2. Time matters. A lot of diversity issues seem to come from people having a lack of time, feeling rushed, and not incorporating empathy into their daily routines. I think there’s a famous study where seminary students were induced to feel late and therefore a lot less likely to give money to a homeless person on their route to a class. Listening, empathy, not dismissing someone out of hand takes time. Learning about diversity takes time (it’s not a light switch you flip). If you’ve said or done something offensive, thinking about it and learning takes some time. And when someone in an institution does something wrong, it will take at least a few days for them to act to dismiss anyone too (by all means call out the behavior and ask for dismissal, but demanding it be immediate is unlikely to occur).
  3. Economics is a factor. In STEM, there is a problem in many fields of not having many women or POC. And there are many cultural factors at play that have to be addressed. The life sciences have done a bit better on the gender front at least, achieving parity of PhDs awarded and getting there at the postdoc level. The pool of talent is there for promotion to the faculty level and yet it’s been at ~20% for at least the last decade. What gives? Some of it is certainly culture that needs to change; those making decisions about hiring are too often not aware of their unconscious biases and it is difficult to envision a blind academic interview. However, another factor is the economics of the STEM world right now. Funding is tight, there aren’t that many tenure track jobs available and they are fiercely competed for. While I can’t say for sure, diversity would be more easily increased in an expanding job market, or at least one that’s not as restrictive. And for white male postdocs like me, being pro-diversity almost by definition feels like it means leaving the career path (note: this isn’t a woe is me statement, but I, by definition don’t currently contribute to the diversity of STEM, luckily I want to find something outside of STEM). I know the booming tech world might be a counter example here, though I also find it possible that #gamergate and the #IamAnEngineer flash points are happening because diversity is rapidly increasing in those sectors and the negative reaction might be an extinction burst; a unleashing of outrage before something changes permanently. At the same time, tech has had a huge diversity problem since at least the 1980’s and probably before (but women did used to be the majority of computer programmers).
  4. Build diversity in from the beginning and being a good mentorTwo things brought up at the Future of Research Diversity panel brought up some good points that diversity works best when it’s jus there from the beginning of planning anything, any panels, etc. Making it an afterthought is almost always problematic. Moon Duchin, a professor of mathematics at Boston College (I think) talked about two dangers that mentors (esp. men, but anyone) of an under-represented groups or women can tend to over-praise and fail to warn mentees in their work that can ring false or not do the mentee any favors down the line in their careers. This is why any mentor needs training in diversity and as the, I hope, well known definition of feminism states: treat everyone as equal.
  5. Being pro-diversity. I don’t call myself an ally, feminist, or other supportive person, though I’d like to think I generally am. And I do my best to write in a gender neutral way (following the Finkbeiner rule). This is because self-labeling champions of diversity often seem not to be. I don’t need thanks or praise or acknowledgement for something basic like trying to treat people as they would like to be treated. I’m sure I am not perfect in this and as noted above feel like I have many blind spots still and though I haven’t analyzed this, I don’t have a huge amount of exposure to diversity (except maybe on Twitter, but even there, probably not great).
  6. (Added post-posting): Remembering science is done by people. I’ve been doing a lot of literature searching and reading of science and was struck by just how often I ignore the authors of a study to get right to the content, data, etc. It’s hard to remember that science is done by people. Sometimes it’s possible to note the lab or senior/corresponding author of a paper. Though this may not be an explicit example of bias as I skip it no matter who the authors are (especially if theres’s a long author list), it is a step where we just miss those that are contributing to science and that might well impact women/URMs more than men (not that it’s OK to dehumanize men, either). There’s an obscuring of contribution that can happen. I’m not naturally a self-promoter, in fact, I’m the opposite. I am aware science is done by people, but going back to point 2, in the rush of doing science, it’s easy to look over that fact.

In 2016, I look forward to continuing diversity discussions here and listening more to other’s stories in the new year.

Look for Doctor_PMS and Emily Klein’s posts in coming weeks and for some questions on Twitter about our 2016 schedule.

Ian Street (@IHStreet).