Ways to Rethink How We do Academic Work to be More Inclusive

Black lives matter. They matter everywhere, and they matter in science and engineering, but we have far too many barriers and far too few colleagues.

There are so many structures we have in academia that whether we are willing to admit it or not are designed to see if people can hack it. It’s such a strange demented thing. Science and Engineering are already tough enough without putting up artificial barriers. These barriers become pressure points for structural racism, sexism, and bias.

Doctoral Students. If we want to be inclusive and empower students for success, fund them. Don’t fund them on research grants where they are beholden to a specific investigator who, in turn, is beholden to the whims of funding. Fund the students. We have NSF fellowships and others, and they are phenomenal. They give students great opportunities. If if were not for an NSF Fellowship years ago, I would have left science. It allowed me to change fields and find my passion. We need more of these opportunities.

Funding Agencies. Study section pains me. Grant applications should be blind. Study sections shouldn’t judge the talents of an investigator. It’s bunk. It comes up when reviewers find fault. Someone didn’t publish enough of had a gap. Is the work important? Is it innovative? Great. If we are truly putting out PhDs who can propose innovative work, it should be funded. Stop basing proposals on perceived track records and start basing them in creative, important work.

Publishing. In fields where publishers have moved to double blind reviews, the diversity of authors increased. Why is it so important that we know who the authors are?

Team science. We need to find more opportunities for everyone who wants to be part of a team to be part of one. It is incredibly difficult to do science in a silo, but if you are a woman or minority in science, chances are you will not have the same opportunities to collaborate, and if you do, you’re going to be doing the majority of the work– diminishing the impact of being on the team. We need to find ways to promote building more diverse and inclusive teams. Incentives related to funding and publishing can help change the landscape.

These are small but important steps to help change the structural flaws in the system. If academia really wants to undo the structures, start with getting rid of tenure. Tenure is not about freedom of speech. If it was, it would be for all faculty. Tenure is about propagating the status quo.

The status quo needs to change.


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