Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Should we attach ourselves to our trainees' successes?

It is common now in talks or social media posts about our trainees to “claim” or “tag” the students as ours. “Congratulations to my former student XXXX XXXX on …” “My awesome student XXXXX see here in the field …” And so on. On the positive side, it suggests pride in the we are working with – and that is a good sentiment. On the other hand, the statement of social media post then becomes about us Professors rather our trainees as individuals.

Hence, I almost never “tag” a student as mine in a social media post. That is, I frequently post about my students – current and present – and their work, but rarely (at least now) do I state that they are “my student” or – especially – my “former student.” It is very rewarding and beneficial to have our trainees do well, but why should we attach ourselves as a rider to that success?

Let’s say, for instance, that a former student just got a tenure track position. We should definitely promote that event on social media – and congratulate that person; but why should we say they were our student? How does that benefit the person the post is supposed to be about? I argue that such tags from supervisors detract from their independence and accomplishments.

I suppose some might argue that “tagging” students as ours could elevate their profile by association with our fame. After all, this might be why seminar speakers are often introduced by whose lab they received their training in – that is, their academic pedigree or genealogy. I bridle at that. First, people should be judged on their own merits, not based on who they have been associated with. Second, people need to show their independence if they are to be successful as independent researchers. Finally, describing a person’s “pedigree” can be embarrassing or insulting – depending on the people in the pedigree. Why should a pedigree have any bearing on the assessment of a person as an individual? What matters is the work that they do and how they navigate research, teaching, and academia.

I encourage you to join me in promoting your trainees without “tagging” yourself as a rider to their success.


Related post: Enough With Academic Pedigrees Already

Friday, February 4, 2022

EDI plans for large grants

 Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) initiatives are important everywhere, including in STEMM fields. They can be especially important to formalize in large collaborative projects that involve many people and extend across institutions and disciplines. We recently had the opportunity to develop an EDI plan during the course of a large grant application for the Canadian Tri-Councils (New Frontiers in Research Fund - Transformation). We share that (submitted with our LOI) plan here in hopes of getting feed back from the community, and also because it might prove useful for others working on (or considering) similar initiatives. The agency-generated topics are in blue - and our text is in black. The text was developed by Natalie Steinel and Kiyoko Gotanda, in consultation with other team members and with the hosting institution - McGill University. The length of the sections corresponds to the agency-specified word limits. References from the "analysis of context" are at the end.

Analysis of Context 

Women, Indigenous peoples, members of visible minorities, persons with disabilities, and LGBTQAI2+ communities are systematically excluded groups (SEG) among university faculty, staff, and trainees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and Social Sciences [1]. This inequity arises from inherent and pervasive systemic barriers including, but not limited to, bias in recruitment, evaluation, and selection criteria and procedures; inaccessible and unsafe spaces; and gate-keeping of who can advance in the field [2,3]Incidents of gender-, sex-, and race-based discrimination and harassment continue to occur in STEM fields including ecology and evolutionary biology [1,3–5].

Such barriers then lead to lack of access to resources, funding, and support for SEG and lack of representation of SEG [4,6–8]. Our project team includes researchers from 12 universities. The student bodies of these institutions are quite diverse (e.g., McGill is the most internationally diverse medical-doctoral institution in Canada with 30% international students), yet systemic inequalities still exist resulting in proportionally fewer SEG students graduating from STEM fields [9]. Also, faculty composition do not reflect the diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences of the current student body. For example, a survey of McGill students on Feb. 2021 showed 41.6% identified as visible minorities, 21.9% as LGBTQAI2+, and 8.3% as disabled [10], yet a survey of tenure-stream professors showed 18% identified as visible minorities, 5.7% as LGBTQAI2+, and 4.6% as disabled [11]. Action is needed to ensure that trainees of all identities have the access and support needed to advance their careers [12]

We are committed to promoting EDI within our team’s institutions, project and field teams, departments, and in STEM and Social Sciences as a wholeTo do this, we will identify and address the systemic barriers to entry, retention, and advancement for SEG researchers on our teams. By implementing transparent hiring processes, mentorship, and a code of conduct, we will establish and maintain an equitable, diverse, and inclusive project team and will not discriminate based on age, race, culture, disability status, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, religion, class, national origin, native language, or veteran status. We also recognize intersectionality of these groups and that individuals do not fall exclusively into a single category.

Team Composition and Recruitment Process

Best Practices: We will promote open opportunities to attract diverse candidates, identify and mitigate biases affecting the hiring process, and create guidelines to ensure that equitable and transparent evaluation criteria are applied consistently.

Relevance: Diverse perspectives and experiences enrich scientific research teams. We know that representation in decision-making groups, proactive identification of biased processes, and implementation of neutralizing measures are essential to remove systemic barriers in hiring.

Approach: We will list positions for faculty, staff, and trainees on university, academic, and public job websites (e.g., University Affairs). We will advertise on online job boards of professional organizations which serve SEG scientists and students (e.g., 500 Women Scientists, DiversifyEEB, and the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science), as well as on social media with EDI tags (e.g., #BlackAFinSTEM). This is an essential first step towards achieving cultural richness, racial diversity, and gender balance for our team.

Biases of selection committee members can impede the hiring of a diverse team [8,13]. Therefore, with guidance from our institutions’ EDI specialists, our research team will establish equitable and transparent hiring guidelines. These guidelines will include requirements for members of hiring committees to complete bias awareness and equitable hiring trainings (all affiliated institutions have access to these trainings). The guidelines will cover interview questions and evaluation rubrics to be applied consistently to all applicants to ensure equitable candidate evaluation. Traditional metrics used to evaluate academic candidates (e.g., number of publications, grants received) can favor the most privileged individuals, Western “ways of knowing”, and traditional academic paths [14]. Instead, we will take a holistic (“mission-based”) approach, taking into consideration a candidate’s entire educational/employment history, all experiences and accomplishments including cultural and community involvement, leaves and extenuating circumstances, strengths, and skills to identify outstanding individuals who might have been eliminated using traditional metrics. One member of each selection committee will ensure the guidelines are implemented.

Expected Impacts and Measurement: Our hiring plan will draw a richer pool of potential candidates and ensure an equitable evaluation process leading to a diverse team which will lead to the integration of a broader range of perspectives in our research and community engagement. An institutional EDI specialist at McGill will annually assist in evaluating the effectiveness of recruitment methods.

Training and Development Opportunities

Best practices:  All trainees will complete an individual development plan, meet regularly with their PI to discuss networking and skills development opportunities, and receive equal financial support to present their research and improve their skills every year.

Relevance: Systemic barriers push trainees from SEG out of STEM fields at disproportionate rates, contributing to imbalances in STEM [15]. Access to training and career development resources is a key determinant of professional success. However, mentors’ biases can result in inequitable support, opportunities, and training [5]. Therefore, formalized development plans and customizable training programs are essential to the success of all trainees.

Approach:We will support trainees in their development to be successful in their next career stage. All trainees will be required to complete an individual development plan (IDP, e.g. while part of this project. They can complete their IDP on their own or in a peer group with other trainees. The IDP will help trainees articulate career goals, guide their progress, and determine scientific skills/networking opportunities to focus on.

All project affiliated PIs will meet one-on-one with each trainee on their team for two hours per month to discuss networking, collaborations, and skills development opportunities and progress on their projects to achieve IDP goals. Meetings will be guided by trainee interests and can include discussion of current or future opportunities, review of job applications, goal setting, or other growth-focused interactions. At the start of the project, we will organize a team-wide training session on inclusive mentorship and meetings to facilitate safe and productive discussions. For SEG trainees to gain mentorship from shared-identity professionals in complement to their relationships in our team, we will connect SEG trainees with national mentoring programs (e.g., The National Research Mentoring Network).

All trainees will receive full support to attend one academic conference per year where high representation of SEG (e.g. Canadian Black Scientists Network) are prioritized. All trainees will also receive equal annual funding from this grant for external career development training of their choice (e.g. skills training).

Expected Impacts and Measurement: Our mentorship approach promotes equitable support, accessibility, and opportunities for all trainees. Flexibility in mentorship interactions and choice of training activities allows trainees to lead their own career development. We will conduct a yearly anonymous survey to evaluate the effectiveness of the training program on trainee skills development, career preparation, and career outcome.


Best practices:  We will create a code of conduct (CoC) to remove unwelcoming and inaccessible spaces by ensuring a welcoming, inclusive, and supportive community for team members, support personnel, and importantly, for community stakeholders.

Relevance: When all group members and community partners are respected, included, and valued, we can accomplish our project goals. Our work aims to restore natural resources for communities who rely on our research sites. Thus, it is imperative we include community and Indigenous stakeholders as team members.

Approach: Feeling excluded or separate from a research team, department, university, or discipline is a major driver of departures of SEGs from STEM fields [4,12]. We will develop a CoC articulating our core values that supports inclusivity, integrity, accessibility, safety, community engagement, and mutual respect and hold all team members to these ideals. This document will establish expectations for everyone in all project-related spaces, a formal complaint process, an anonymous reporting mechanism, and a resolution protocol where a panel of team members will take immediate action on any reported issues. This panel will consist of 2 each of senior PIs, ECRs, trainees, and non-academic partners and be assembled with input from the entire team. This panel will enforce the CoC and address any violations observed. Actions and procedures to address violations will be collectively determined by the panel to prevent subjective or biased decisions. We will create a safe space in which community groups, particularly those who are systemically excluded, will contribute to the development, design, and implementation of our projects. Protection of our community participants is a primary concern. Thus, collaborations with Indigenous groups will follow the Ownership, Control, Access, and Possession (OCAP®) Principles, research agreements will align with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and this will be part of our CoC. We will regularly report to community stakeholders, sharing the results of our work with communities via public lectures and digital platforms.

Expected Impacts and Measurement: Our articulated core values and CoC establish group culture and enact expectations for a healthy and inclusive environment. The provision of reporting options and a panel responsible for CoC enforcement allows for exclusionary behaviour to be addressed, dealt with, and prevented. The panel will conduct yearly reviews including reported CoC violations (within confidentiality restrictions) to determine if the prevalence of CoC violations is changing, if training or other action is needed, and if changes to the CoC are required.

1.         Wanelik, K.M., et al. Breaking barriers? Ethnicity and socioeconomic background impact on early career progression in the fields of ecology and evolution. Ecology and Evolution, 2020 10(14): p. 6870–6880.

2.         Montgomery, B. Academic leadership: gatekeeping or groundskeeping? The Journal of Values-Based Leadership, 2020. 13(2).

3.         O’Brien, L.T., et al., Why are there so few ethnic minorities in ecology and evolutionary biology? Challenges to inclusion and the role of sense of belonging. Social Psychology of Education, 2020. 23(2): p. 449–477.

4.         Cronin, M.R. et al., Anti-racist interventions to transform ecology, evolution and conservation biology departments. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 2021.5: p. 1213-1223

5.         Schell, C.J. et al., 2020 Recreating Wakanda by promoting Black excellence in ecology and evolution. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 2020. 4: p. 1285-1287

6.         Holman, L., D. Stuart-Fox, C.E. Hauser, The gender gap in science: How long until women are equally represented? PLOS Biology, 2018. 16(4): p: e2004956.

7.         McGee, E.O. Interrogating structural racism in STEM higher education. Educational Researcher, 2020. 49(9): p: 633–644.

8.         Handley, I.M., et al., 2015 Quality of evidence revealing subtle gender biases in science is in the eye of the beholder. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 2015. 112(143): p13201–13206.

9.         National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Barriers and Opportunities for 2-Year and 4-Year STEM Degrees: Systemic Change to Support Students’ Diverse Pathways. 2016, Washington D.C.

10.       Nycum, G. Student Demographic Survey Reporting of Preliminary Data to Senate. 2021.

11.       Campbell, A. Employment Equity Biennial Report to Senate. 2021.

12.       Willis, L.M., D. Mehta, A. Davis. Twelve principles trainees, PIs, departments, and faculties can use to reduce bias and discrimination in STEM. ACS Central Science, 2020. 6(12): p. 2294–2300.

13.       Moss-Racusin, C.A., et al., Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students. Proceedings of The National Academy Of Sciences Of The United States Of America-Biological Sciences, 2012. 109(41): p. 16474–16479.

14.       O’Meara, K., et al., Equity-Minded Faculty Workloads: What We Can and Should do Now, 2021. Washington D. C.

15.       Flynn, D.T. STEM field persistence: the impact of engagement on postsecondary STEM persistence for underrepresented minority students. Journal of Educational Issues, 2016. 2(1): p. 185–214.

A 25-year quest for the Holy Grail of evolutionary biology

When I started my postdoc in 1998, I think it is safe to say that the Holy Grail (or maybe Rosetta Stone) for many evolutionary biologists w...