DR. VALANTINE'S FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Hannah A. Valantine, MD Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity
Any athlete can attest to the value of a level playing field: winning is hard enough without starting from behind. This month, we highlight examples of how biomedicine has some work to do when it comes to ensuring that all scientists have access and support to launching a career and being successful at it. Check out these articles about GRExit, ending manels, and the ever-present minority tax.
Many college students headed for grad school in the life sciences can get rid of one arduous (and expensive) task: taking the graduate record examination (GRE). Half of all molecular biology PhD programs now no longer require this standardized test, and several other disciplines have also dropped the requirement. The GRExit movement is being driven by studies suggesting that good GRE scores do not predict future success in grad school (and beyond), and because access to the test (and preparation) is a deterrent for individuals from underrepresented groups. However, not everyone is on board. The vast majority of PhD programs (more than 90%) in chemistry, physics, geology, computer science, and psychology still require the GRE.
A lot, says a new study in which physics and biology professors at eight public research universities were asked to read and evaluate the CV of Ph.D. applicant looking for a postdoctoral position in the prof’s respective field. The CVs varied only by candidates’ gender and race, as indicated by their first and last names. The results aligned precisely with those of a landmark study published in 2012, showing that scientists rely on stereotypes when asked to make hiring decisions. In the new study, both physicists and biologists rated candidates with women’s names as more likable than men. But physicists rated male candidates as more competent and worth hiring than female candidates, and they also rated Asian and White candidates as more competent and hireable than Black and Latinx candidates.
The 2018 Gender Diversity & Inclusion in Events Report analyzed the gender diversity of more than 60,000 event speakers over a 5-year period, spanning 23 countries and thousands of the world’s largest professional events, revealing that nearly three-quarters of all global talks are given by men. The pattern is apparent in science too, as noted recently by NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins. At the June 13, 2019 meeting of the NIH advisory committee to the Director, Collins announced that he will no longer speak on scientific panels if they don’t include women ("manels").
The aptly described “minority tax” is the burden of extra responsibilities placed on minority faculty in the name of advancing diversity. This burden – and its companion, the “gratitude tax” (choosing to spend more of their time working on community efforts to “give back”) creates stress and professional hurdles for women and scientists/physicians of color, as articulated recently in a personal account published in the journal Academic Medicine. The authors of a nationwide survey of U.S. ecology and evolutionary biology doctoral programs put numbers to these observations, showing that non-white, non-male, and first-generation faculty were consistently more likely to engage in diversity and inclusion activities. The study authors conclude that institutions should consider strategies to reallocate resources and reconsider how faculty are evaluated to promote shared responsibility in advancing diversity and inclusion.