Without inclusion, diversity initiatives may not be enough

Double whammy this week about diversity in science and how to change your lab/department/field. I’m not complaining, bring on the diversity!

And in an interesting twist, both of the posts this week (this one too) are peer-reviewed papers, rather than blog posts. Which is awesome.

Abstract below, paper here. And let’s keep talking about this/doing something to contribute.


Diversity among scientists can foster better science (12), yet engaging and retaining a diversity of students and researchers in science has been difficult (3). Actions that promote diversity are well defined (4), organizations are increasingly focused on diversity (5), and many institutions are developing initiatives to recruit and enroll students from underrepresented minority (URM) groups (racial, ethnic, gender, sexual identity, or persons with disabilities). Yet representation of URM groups in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields lag behind demographics in society at large (35), and many URM students feel unwelcome in academic departments and in scientific fields. Why is progress so limited (67)? We see a widespread and under-acknowledged disconnect between initiatives aimed at increasing diversity in academic and professional institutions and the experience of URM students (including many of us authors) (67). We argue that failure to grasp foundations of this disconnect is the crux of why diversity initiatives fail to reach the students that they were made to recruit. We believe that addressing this will resonate with other individuals and groups and help advance discussion in the scientific community.


Chandler Puritty, Lynette R. Strickland, Eanas Alia, Benjamin Blonder, Emily Klein, Michel T. Kohl, Earyn McGee, Maclovia Quintana, Robyn E. Ridley, Beth Tellman, and Leah R. Gerber. Without inclusion, diversity initiatives may not be enough. 2017. Science Vol. 357, Issue 6356, pp. 1101-1102. DOI: 10.1126/science.aai9054


Should I go to grad school?

I have spent the majority of my life as a student. Not too many 33 year olds can say that.  If you include college, people who haven’t spent time in graduate school will now be reaching the break even point on the school/no school ratio, unlike us fools who went to graduate school.

As a result, I get asked “should I go back to school” A LOT. It’s almost always from friends who have been out in the workforce and are thinking of coming back to get a graduate degree. Luckily, since I’ve had to answer this question so many times, I have a well formatted/throughly thought out response.

My short answer is usually, “no”. But here’s why. There are only two reasons you should pursue a graduate degree:

  1. You wake up every morning thinking about the thing you want to study. You are frighteningly passionate about mantis shrimp! You can’t imagine not wanting to know more about the diet of grizzly bears! You wonder about the processes that change organisms over time and can’t help but wonder what parameters affect these processes! In your SPARE TIME you pursue these questions, whether out in nature or on wikipedia. If this is true, then go to graduate school. It’s a number of years (sometimes too many) where you get to study what you want, and answer the questions you find interesting. You will be stimulated by people who are also frighteningly passionate about studying similar questions, and they understand your desires to learn more. If you’re really lucky, you get to teach undergraduates and inspire young and impressionable minds to be as passionate about what you’re passionate about. Go for it – grad school is made for people like you.
  2. You are facing a serious glass ceiling at your current job and getting that graduate degree will allow you to earn SUBSTANTIALLY  more. The first category of people aren’t motivated by money (because despite what you’ve heard, there’s no money in academia, we’re all broke), but if you are, don’t be embarrassed.  Earning a good income and having money is nice, and if getting that masters degree immediately allows you to have greater earning potential, go for it. Get that degree, check those boxes, and get that raise, you deserve it!

If one of these two reasons is not true for you, then you should probably not go to graduate school. There are moments when graduate school is awesome, but there are also long periods when it takes everything out of you. This is true for every graduate student I have ever met. We all look back fondly on those wonderful moments where we bonded or stayed up late studying/working together (some of my favorite memories). But the truth is that you get paid very little or not at all, to do a job that requires all of your time. You’ll always feel like you’re behind, imposter syndrome is a real thing, and it is HARD to get through a graduate degree. But if one of the two bullet points above are true, then you might have enough passion and perseverance to get through. And you might even look back at it fondly.

However, if one of those two doesn’t apply, then I urge you to consider if you’re wasting your time and money.  It is important to be realistic – graduate school years are marked by low pay, and high cost (tuition and living expenses).  Student debt is a national problem, but manifested in your own life, it is a significant mortgage on your future and the choices you will be able to make.  If the reasons below apply to your consideration of graduate study, then you might want to think about a different career trajectory:

  1. You remember college fondly, wouldn’t it be fun to do that more? -Grad school isn’t college. It’s not all football games and frat parties. If you thought you had good time management skills in undergrad, you ain’t seen nothing yet. It is a 60-80 hour a week job, it is meant to grind you down and rebuild you into something better, it is a slog through massive amounts of thankless work. It is not keg stands and afternoon naps.
  2. You don’t know what to do next with your life. – That sucks and I’m sorry. The economy is hard,  and getting a meaningful, professionally satisfying job is difficult. Entry jobs are rarely glamorous or exciting, and “paying your dues” looks (and is) a long and painful process.  None of this will change if you go to grad school. Unlike undergraduate schooling, you have to start grad school having some idea of what you want to do, otherwise you’re just going to leave with more debt, and still not have that job described above. Sorry.

I have had this conversation with dozens of people, and I don’t want to discourage people who are passionate from pursuing their passion. Go for it! The work is hard, but it is sometimes rewarding. The people around you all understand the difficulty of what you are going through, because they are going through it too. Like any group that suffers together, this will make you infinitely closer and build stronger bonds. The friends I have from graduate school are “lifetime” friends, and I still talk to most of them every week. But you need to be sure that you’re going for the right reasons.

What do you think? What were your reasons for going? Do you have regrets?


My PhD cohort: Roxanna Hickey, Genevive Metzger, Hannah Marx, Tim McGinn, Matt Singer and Tyler Heather. I honestly wouldn’t have made it through without their support.


Recommendations for making science inclusive, and how to talk about it with others

Small Pond Science continues to be awesome.

And they highlighted a short peer-reviewed paper that they wrote about how to promote equity and inclusion, which you can find the full text here and the PDF here.

TL;DL version: they have 12 recommendations for broadening participation and communicating about diversity.

Recommendations for Broadening Participation and Communicating About Diversity in Entomology

  • Build meaningful long-term collaborations with faculty and students in Minority-Serving Institutions.
  • When focusing on diversity for seminar series and symposia, take into account not only gender and ethnic diversity, but also institutional diversity.
  • Develop broader impacts for research proposals that provide training opportunities for undergraduates in underserved institutions, because implementation of broader impacts fostering the inclusion of underrepresented groups is uncommon (McGlynn 2013a). However, parachuting into institutions to recruit the “quality” candidates without building relationships with the faculty and supporting long-term mentoring relationships will not serve the purpose of broadening participation (McGlynn 2013b).
  • For graduate admissions, eliminate the GRE requirement and lower GPA thresholds.
  • Observe or participate in conversations in social media with academics representing a range of ethnic, cultural, and institutional backgrounds.
  • Emphasize quality over quantity when developing a piece of work for communication (e.g., blog post, video, podcast). Low-quality work rarely reaches its intended audience.
  • If you make the choice to build your own platform for communication, establish a regular frequency for new material, and stick to that schedule. Blogs are a form of outreach that involves a long-haul investment, because audiences build slowly, and only with regular feeding.
  • You don’t need to build your own platform, as range of existing platforms are available to you, such as Facebook, Twitter, Medium, guest posts in established blogs, and op-ed pieces in newspapers.
  • Don’t be afraid to get it wrong; as long as you are open-minded and respond positively to critical feedback, then you will not become infamous on the internet.
  • Play to your strengths and communicate in a medium and style that works best for you.
  • Engage in communication with the community in a manner that anneals your professional goals.
  • Evaluating your work by comparing your successes to the successes of others is only a recipe for disappointment. Establish benchmarks for yourself, and compare yourself to those benchmarks over time.

The Week My Husband Left And My House Was Burgled I Secured A Grant To Begin The Project That Became BRCA1

(Like many other young scientists) I often struggle and can’t but help feeling overwhelmed with the tasks stacked against me. Paying bills on time, moving forward in work, keeping my personal life from falling apart and maintaining a decent set of hobbies that keep me from working 24/7. And often, I look at other scientists who are successful and marvel at how they don’t seem to be facing these struggles. Am I making it too hard? How are they doing this?

Which is why this story over at Huff Post really struck me. A very successful scientist, Dr Mary-Claire King who was dealing with some VERY personal problems. She then went on to find the gene associated with breast cancer BRAC1 and change women’s health. We all struggle, pretending we don’t isn’t doing anyone any favors.

When have you struggled? Who do you talk to when you do?


Dr. Marie Claire King, talking at The Moth radio hour.

Post-post note: My friend Matt Pennell is unquestionably good at what he does. We started graduate school together, but he was on a different level and at a different pace than the rest of us. But whenever I was feeling stupid or foolish, or just not able to do this academia stuff I would go talk to Pennell. Because he would have a story about how he was struggling, some things he was having problems with, or personal and professional setbacks he was also facing. Matt is, and will continue to be a star, and hearing things like this from someone like that really helped me. Still does.

I want to do research: undergraduate version

Are you an undergraduate and think, “I might be interested in research”?  Are you an undergraduate and want your med school application to stand out?  Are you trying to decide if you want to go to med school?  Do you want a better connection to the faculty whose classes you take?

Where do you start?

To anyone on my side of the equation, it seems pretty obvious and easy: just do it. But I have a good memory and remember the utter fear of asking a professor if I could work with her. So let’s break it down in a few simple steps:

1.Figure out who you might like to work with. Did you have a professor whose lectures you loved? Or a subject that you thought was super cool? These are two great places to start. Another place to go is your University/Department website.  Almost EVERY ACADEMIC HAS A WEBSITE (I need to update mine, come to think of it), and usually they talk about what they do and who is in their lab. Keep an eye on students in the lab (PhD and MS students) and whether the focus of their research work looks cool. Get a feel for who might be interesting to work with, and start reading some papers authored by that person.

2. Contact the person/professor you have selected. Brief emails are great, because these people are likely busy, but be professional. Here’s a shell document I used to help students in the past:

Dear Dr. (Professor Name)-

I am a {your year at the University} student majoring in {your major here}. I am interested in doing research in your lab. Do you have any projects available?

Thank you for your time.

{Your Name}

This allows the professor to know who you are quickly, while not having to dig through a long email. Remember, this is just the first step. Don’t be offended if the answer is “I don’t have time for a new student right now.”  It’s not you! Profs are busy people, and you are asking something of them! When I did this, I had 3-4 responses back – a wider choice of people with whom to explore the next step. I happened to get my first choice, but don’t be offended if they turn you down.

3. Plan to work hard. When I started mentoring undergraduates, I was so excited to be in the role of mentor that I found I felt as though I put in twice as much work as they did on their projects. As I got more experienced, I realized I can’t do that and make them successful (live and learn!). So as a mentor, I had a pretty straightforward method of determining “are we going to work out.” I would start by giving them a task that required hard work for one week. Changing water in snail tanks, or feeding my experimental populations, something that required them to come in a few times in the first week and do something tedious. A LOT of students decided at that point that maybe research wasn’t for them, and that’s fine. But if you want to stick around and get your own project (which was what was in store for week 2), then you need to plan to work hard right away. I know you have exams, and homework, and life is hard. I get it, I’ve been there. But I’m not going to hand you a research project that is a priority for me, when it’s REALLY low down on your priority list.  And every single project EVER has the tedious bits that have to be done.  If you’re not willing to do the tedious stuff, you aren’t ready to do research.

4. Learn as much as you can. Ask questions, make mistakes, get messy! (Mrs. Frizzle, My Entire Childhood <-pretty sure that’s how you cite this particular quote). There is nothing I like more than when students ask to know more. They want more reading, more stats notes, more recommendations on classes or experimental designs. I mentioned above that I stopped doing the work for my students after my first year mentoring (my time became valuable at some point… not sure when…). However, if you want to do the work, I WILL BEND OVER BACKWARDS TO HELP YOU IN ANYWAY I CAN. I got into this field because I like teaching, so be someone who is teachable.

There you go. This isn’t a recipe for success (too many other variables there), but how you can start. Also, this is heavily biased by what I’ve done and the students I’ve mentored. Do you have a way to do it better? Do you tell students something different? Have things changed in the decade since I did undergraduate research?

Let me know!


Presenting my undergraduate project at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research.

Should you go to graduate school?

I’ve come to the realization that I’ve been doing this academia thing for long enough that younger scientists have started asking for my advice (“starting” is the wrong word, this has been going on for awhile…).

And while I’m by no means wildly successful, I have been around long enough that I have advice to offer.

So I’m going to start a weekly series called “When I grow up” going through the different stages of the academic ladder and how to approach them/succeed.

I’m going to start with undergraduate research, but until next week (Stay tuned) I’m going to leave this article here.

More soon.



Sh** male academics say

Gina Baucom asked a simple question on twitter a few weeks ago:

“Seeking info for a talk: what’s the crappiest thing you’ve heard said about a woman academic? (No names, pls RT).”

Then, in response, the women of science spoke up. And it was really, really, really ugly.

Read her response, and a synopsis of the things that women have to deal with in STEM here.