Thursday, November 28, 2013

On Diversity: a couple of suggestions for increasing ethnic and gender diversity in your department

Over the last few years I’ve been chair of the Diversity Committee at the college level and I think we’ve come up with some innovative and cheap ideas to increase ethnic and gender diversity. We are mainly targeting increasing gender and ethnic diversity at the faculty level and I’d like to share two of the simplest of these changes that I think have the potential to work anywhere. These are (1) the appointment of a Diversity Advocate on every faculty search and student recruitment committee and (2) the creation of a hybrid postdoc/assistant professor position to bridge targeted hires to becoming stronger candidates for tenure track positions.

1. The Diversity Advocate position is simply appointing someone already on any faculty search or student recruitment committee as the person who will bring attention to diversity issues related to the search. This person should try their best to contact groups, clubs or individuals representing traditionally under-represented groups in the field related to the search. So for instance a member of the search committee for a position in Ecology could contact the Women and Minorities in Ecology (WAMIE) Committee to ask them to spread the word among their members about this search and to encourage their members to apply for this position. Too often the pool of applicants for a given search have few applicants that are women or members of underrepresented minorities. The reasons for the paucity of underrepresented candidates varies (follow @DNLee5 and @AtheneDonald for some answers). Having a Diversity Advocate ensures that someone is trying to make an honest effort to increase diversity among the pool of applicants. Likewise the Diversity Advocate could call attention to someone who didn’t make the shortlist but is the strongest candidate not to make it among those from traditionally underrepresented groups. It might be someone that the department decides to add to the shortlist because it is otherwise not very diverse. I’ve seriously seen several cases where this additionally invited candidate blows everyone away and has gotten the job. The beauty of the Diversity Advocate position is that you don’t need to add a new person onto a committee, you are just appointing someone already on it to help advocate for diversity. In our College we have a form that we ask each Diversity Advocate to fill out and send to our Dean once the search is done. This tells us what was done to increase diversity among the pool of applicants (

                        Examples of what the Diversity Advocate can do:
(1) On A Search Committee - encourage or seek out minority/female applicants from other institutions to apply for a particular job opening for an upcoming search
(2) On A Graduate Admissions Committee – ensure that applications from underrepresented groups are properly treated and perhaps act to connect potential faculty members with these applicants
(3) On A Search Committee - encourage the department to bring in a 3rd or 4th short-list candidate among the pool of job applicants if none of the top choices are female or part of an underrepresented minority

2. We also recommend the creation of a hybrid postdoc/assistant-professor position to target diversity hires for folks who are not quite ready to join the tenure track. This position is not a postdoctoral fellowship nor a tenure-track position but something in-between that is meant to be a bridge to a tenure-track faculty position. The position can be used to target postdoctoral students of underrepresented groups that don’t quite have a strong enough CV to compete for a faculty position. The intent is to create this position to allow the candidate to apply for grants and write papers in order to become more competitive in a faculty search in the future (hopefully at our institution but not necessarily).
(1) On paper to be titled a “Research Assistant Professorship” but is not initially a tenure-track position.
(2) The candidate can apply as a PI for external grant funding and is expected to apply
(3) The candidate will work in a fostering PI’s lab (mentor’s lab) as a post-doc would, but with greater independence. Some funds will be provided for equipment that would stay with the mentor’s lab and for disposables. Some funding may also be made available for the mentoring PI’s as incentive to take the fellow under their mentorship.
(4) Expected to write and publish scientific papers in order to become competitive for an R1 position.
(5) Will have a mentoring committee (composed of at least three senior faculty) just like assistant professors receive. This committee will provide feedback to the researcher on their progress and will prepare a report for the Chair of the department.
(6) Expected to build CV to eventually apply to, and join, the tenure track.

   This hybrid position is meant to help seal the leaky postdoc pipeline where many underrepresented candidates drop out of science because of the lack of opportunities. Unlike the Diversity Advocate position this position actually costs money. However, it is a worthy investment if the result is someone who becomes a strong candidate for a faculty position that would have otherwise become another statistic.

I’ve been on three diversity committees: once as a graduate student, once in my department, and now as chair at the college level. Just having one of these committees in your department should be a must if the faculty are serious about dealing with issues of diversity. I’ve seen real progress being made by the suggestions of these committees.

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