It is worthwhile to consider the basis for success in achieving diversity in MD programs and the failure to do so in PhD programs and to ask what can be done to remedy the situation. One reason medical schools have been more successful in achieving diversity than PhD programs is that more attention has been paid to the need for diversity.
Andrew R. Marks
Submitter: Neena Grover | NGrover@ColoradoCollege.edu
Published June 23, 2005
It was good to read your editorial “Desperately Seeking Diversity.” I agree with most of the points you make in the article about actively recruiting minority students to participate in Ph.D. programs. The increase in participation of underrepresented minority students from 12% to 14% in medicine over ten years is significant. As you suggest, if these numbers consistently go up, then in the future it would not be surprising to see a larger number of minority faculty.
I teach at Colorado College, a small liberal arts college. In the recent years, the college has made a sustained effort to increase the number of minority students and faculty. In the Chemistry and Biochemistry department of nine faculty, we have three women and three minority faculty (one from underrepresented minority groups). The number of minority students accepted has increased 2% in the last three years alone because of this sustained effort. Yet, it remains to be seen if we increase the number of students graduating with science degrees. The discussions on our campus and others have to go beyond the numbers game. We have to ask ourselves - what are we doing to make these students become successful scientists?
It is unclear to me if scientists realize that lack of diversity influences the practice of science. It is not just a social cause (which in itself should be sufficient.) Yet, most of us do not see the complexity inherent in these issues and consider it a zero-sum game. Inclusion of multiple perspectives in a mostly homogeneous culture of science is likely to produce better science and better connections between science and society.
As a faculty at a liberal arts institution, I have been fortunate to teach a course on “Gender and Science.” What we learn from the historical and contemporary analysis of science and its treatment of women also applies to treatment of minorities. You identified a key point in your article, which is substantiated by much research, that just adding minority students to the current atmosphere is not sufficient. This standard ‘leaky pipeline’ problem has been known for a long time. 1 It is disheartening to see that very little has been done to plug this hemorrhaging pipeline. More would be done if scientists thought about the knowledge building process (epistemological questions.) The role of multiple experiences in building hypotheses and analyzing data is neither discussed nor acknowledged. We chose to believe that science is based on ‘facts’ that are unambiguous and independent and were ‘objectively’ collected. 2 The influence of the language used to describe these facts is transparent to scientific ideals. For example, DNA is defined as the sole genetic informational carrier. DNA by itself does not make an organism. The role of the numerous cellular factors is underplayed in regulating gene expression and differentiation. A different description of DNA – a more interactive and responsive molecule rather than a dictatorial molecule, changes the theories and data analysis. 3 The egg and sperm theories can be shown as blatant examples of culture influencing scientific hypotheses. 4 A broader training of all scientists on understanding the process of knowledge building will possibly change the religious rigidity that marks the current scientific paradigm. In an ideal world, we would realize that each new perspective contributes to knowledge building and diversity will be naturally sought.
In the meantime, minority students need different support networks. The support networks that work for majority groups are many times not available to the minority students, as these are part of informal networks. One on one mentorship, if student and mentors are matched with some care, is likely to produce great results. The role of the funding agencies is crucial in this regard. Yet the next steps needs to be taken – faculty receiving these funding should also be held responsible for training these students to be successful and should be required to do serious assessment to show some results.
Successful programs need to present their success stories in journal and at conferences. The Education and Professional Development Committee of the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology has held sessions on Outreach efforts at the annual FASEB meetings. Other publications such as the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education journal, web-magazine Enzymatics, and ASBMB Today provide forums for dissemination of such information. Your editorial and other success stories should be widely read, distributed, and discussed across the disciplinary-divide. Too often this conversation goes on among a small handful of administrators and faculty. It needs to see the daylight.
1. Athena Unbound, The Advancement of Women in Science and Technology, Etzkowitz, H, Kemelgor, C, and Uzzi, B., Cambridge University Press, 2000.
2. What is This Thing Called Science? Chalmers, A.F., 3rd Edition, University of Queensland Press, 1999.
3. The Gender and Science Reader, Lederman, M. and Bartsh, I, Routledge, 2001.
4. The Egg and Sperm: How Science Constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male-Female Roles, Martin, E. in Feminism and Science, Keller, E.F. and Longino, H. E. eds, Oxford University Press, 1996.
Submitter: Marilee B. Parsons | firstname.lastname@example.org
Department of Natural Sciences, University of Michigan at Dearborn
Published May 17, 2005
I read your diversity editorial with interest. I came across it while finding references for an article on diversity in biochemistry. Many of your points are valid.
I think the sciences are sadly behind in achieving diversity because they already think they are diverse! They are not recognizing the real need to continue to recruit minority students, and just as importantly, to teach about cultural diversity. It is an ongoing problem, requiring constant vigilance.
I teach in Dearborn MI, home to one of the largest "non-minority" minority populations in the US; we have the largest concentration of middle eastern people in the country and these students account for the majority of majors in the preprofessional tracks in our biochemistry program. Many of them choose medicine or dentistry because their families stress the advantages of these careers. Very few of these parents suggest that becoming a scientist is a valid option, and I think this is because they are simply unaware of these options. As you suggest, we need to do a better job of making students aware of these opportunities, and that begins with education about the career options to students, and their parents, in minority families.
Two years ago I initiated a course on diversity for undergraduates, aimed at studying case studies and topics in research and health care treatments. It went very well, and I am writing up the course info and assessment for the journal BAMBEd. Students are extremely naive about cultural issues, and it was rewarding to investigate issues in law, gender, poverty and age discrimination and myths. I hope courses on diversity issues are required on more campuses, but so far there are very few. Thanks for the editorial, there is very little in the literature about diversity and basic science education.