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Winter 2022 Newsletter

Spotlight on Katherine Xue

Katherine Xue

For our Winter Newsletter Spotlight, we are delighted to feature Dr. Katherine Xue. Katherine is a postdoctoral fellow in the Biology Department and is a science communicator who has written articles for the New Yorker, Harvard Magazine, and The Conversation. Katherine has served on the Biology Department’s DEIB Committee for the past two years and is a recipient of the 2021 Postdoc JEDI Champions Award. What follows is a short excerpt from an interview with Katherine by Sid Dhawan. Please see the extended version in which she talks about her academic journey, her work on the DEIB Committee, and shares advice for mentors and trainees in our department.

Interviewer: What do you see as a significant barrier to diversity and inclusion in our community or academia more broadly?

Katherine:  I think money is one of the most significant yet overlooked barriers to DEI in our community and academia in general. Access to education and training depends on who is being paid and who can afford to pursue opportunities. An example is whether undergrads are allowed to pursue opportunities and be able to take credit hours or volunteer. Does this hamper access to other opportunities like pursuing classes they are interested in? For graduate students and postdocs, it is a choice of whether they are going to take a lower-paying job in an academic institution versus industry or other comparable options where you would be paid more highly. As you go further along the academic training path, your respective socio-economic background determines your choices of the paths you pursue. People from more secure financial backgrounds do not have these constraints. This is a huge barrier to equity. I don’t know how to fix it. I wish people would talk about it more as solutions would be forthcoming. 

Interviewer: What advice do you have for trainees in our department, specifically with respect to advocating for themselves and paving the path for the next generation of trainees to follow them?

Katherine: The advice that comes to my mind is that, as a trainee, it is easy to assume that structures and practices are there for a good reason and have been there forever. When, in fact, a lot of our practices are just continuing without questioning or rigorous evaluation. These are what I call invisible practices. Within a local context like a lab or a department, people have a lot of power to change these practices that are harming us and posing as barriers to diversity and equity. I think trainees should feel empowered early on to trust their instincts and speak out when they see harmful practices. Our instincts about what’s wrong or unjust are more often than not right and good and should be acted on. As I go further into my postdoc training, I am trying to be aware that I should not be limited by the structures I work in. As a practicing scientist and academician, it is often vital to unlearn what one has learned in the past.

Welcome again to the Department of Biology DEIB newsletter! It’s been a while since our last update so we have lots of news to share.

The DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging) Committee was reestablished at the end of Fall Quarter after elections by Biology graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, with 9 new and 9 returning members (listed at the end of
the page). In addition, a number of key documents prepared by the committee are now available on the departmental website, including our Mission, Vision, and Values Statement for building a more equitable Biology Department and a Community Standards and Accountability Policy that outlines University expectations for inclusive and respectful behavior. We are also expanding the website to include more resources to support equity and belonging in the Department and provide an option to provide anonymous feedback to the DEIB Committee.

The last few months have been busy! On May 27, 2021 we held our first DEIB Townhall online. Co-chairs Kabir Peay and Sue McConnell answered questions submitted online in advance and from meeting attendees in real time. We plan to hold another similar Townhall this coming Spring so be on the lookout for announcements. 

Changes in Graduate Admissions & New Departmental Trainings Offered

Regarding graduate education, the Committee successfully  advocated for removal of GRE scores from Biology PhD applications and, with members of the Biology Preview Program, developed a guide to applying for graduate school , and placed it on the department website. The Committee also helped organize a series of training sessions on Microaggressions led by Joseph Brown, Associate Director for the Diversity & First-Gen Office for the School of Humanities & Sciences (H&S). Training sessions were held separately for faculty, staff, and trainees (students + postdocs) and were attended by 76 members of the department (28 faculty, 30 staff, and 18 trainees). In addition, Biology faculty attended a multi-day workshop on Culturally Aware Mentoring held by the Center for Improved Mentoring Experiences in Research (CIMER) and three virtual workshops on Creating Inclusive Spaces of Belonging by the Berkeley Interactive Theater. This training will be offered again to all faculty on May 11 and May 25th. While the last two trainings are focused on faculty, the University now also offers a Certificate in Critical Consciousness and Anti-Oppressive Praxis (CCP&AOP). for graduate students and postdocs. Applications for the program are open every Autumn. In addition, H&S hired a new Associate Director for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (Bianca Zamora) who will be focusing primarily on staff. The strategic plan for staff includes DEI training for all H&S staff and managers, opportunities for DEI professional development, anti-bias education, and other new DEI support resources. Upcoming programs available to H&S staff include a two-part training on DEI theory and practice and an “Inclusion in the Workplace” workshop series where staff can earn a certificate upon completion of the first three workshops.

The Department and University are collecting new data to inform new initiatives

The DEIB Committee and University have also been actively gathering information on campus climate to better understand obstacles and solutions to belonging. The Committee, led by postdoctoral scholar Dr. Katherine Xue, held separate focus groups for postdocs and first-gen low income (FLI) undergraduates to understand their experiences in Biology. These conversations helped initiate new policy, such as making VPUE Summer Research funding available last Spring quarter (in addition to Summer) to make these research experiences more accessible to students that may have other responsibilities in the summer. For these and other efforts on behalf of the Committee Dr. Xue was honored with a Stanford Postdoc JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion) Champion Award.

The University also published its first campus-wide climate survey on diversity, equity and inclusion. The IDEAL diversity, equity and inclusion survey revealed that many Black, Indigenous and People of Color, and transgender/non-binary people, and people with disabilities, experience marginalization, exclusion, discrimination, and harrassment on campus. This troubling yet unsurprising finding motivates us to strengthen efforts to create inclusive spaces and to eliminate practices and behaviors that marginalize members of our community. 

New community building efforts are getting underway

In recognition of this need, the University has launched a number of programs to support community members. Two programs - Student Projects for Intellectual Community Enhancement (SPICEand the Diversity Innovation Fund (DIF) - provide up to $5k in support for graduate students and postdocs to develop their own projects that create community engagement and advance graduate student diversity.  The University has also opened a new community building space for students with disabilities. The RAISE doctoral fellowship program provides ​​one quarter stipend and tuition each year for three years to “​​​​to support experiential learning opportunities, coupled with cohort-based skills training and community building to better connect their research to action and impact.” The RAISE application deadline is March 23, 2022. The DEIB committee is also hoping to start organizing new activities to build community so please take a moment to look at our new survey and let us know what we can do that would most appeal to you!

Biology and Jasper Ridge lead outreach efforts at SACNAS & ESA

Members of Biology Department and Jasper Ridge Biological preserve participated in many activities during the 2021 SACNAS National Diversity in STEM Conference. Though the conference was virtual, it provided the amazing opportunity for 1,015 students to participate of which 870 presented research presentations. Of those 870 presenters, 712 were first-time presenters and 439 first generation college students! SACNAS is an inclusive organization dedicated to fostering the success of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans, from college students to professionals, in attaining advanced degrees, careers, and positions of leadership in STEM.

Learn more about the Stanford SACNAS chapter and the 2022 SACNAS conference in Puerto Rico.

Three current Stanford Students and SEEDS Chapter members, Julien Ueda, Micaela Chapuis and Sydney Schmitter, were awarded and participated in the 2021 Virtual ESA Annual Meeting. Stanford Biology Alumni, Amelia Zuckerwise also received and participated as a SEEDS Alumni during the 2021 meeting.

Read more about the Stanford SEEDS Chapter, and apply for the 2022 SEEDS scholarships for undergraduates and graduate students.

Also, if you are thinking about attending ESA 2022 in Montreal, Canada, please prepare in advance by reviewing the travel requirements (abstracts were due March 3, 2022). 

Getting a handle on personal wellness resources

We have heard many times that adequate support for personal wellness and self-care is particularly important for community members that experience exclusion or marginalization. While the DEIB Committee is looking for ways to address these needs within our department, we are also compiling a list of new and existing campus wellness resources. First, the School of Medicine has created a new program to provide hardship funds that all Biology graduate students are eligible to receive (as members of the Stanford BioSciences program). Importantly, hardship is defined very broadly, so these funds can be used to cover expenses like mental health co-pays. The spring 2022 application period opens in March. We encourage anyone who may need them to apply for these funds! The School of Medicine also offers free mental health support; all BioSciences students are eligible. A similar hardship program is available to all postdoctoral scholars and Stanford has recently launched a partnership with Meru health to provide a free mental health support program available to all employees and their dependents.

Jasper Ridge was awarded the 2021 OBFS Human Diversity award

In a virtual ceremony held September 23, 2021, Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve was honored with the Human Diversity Award by the Organization of Biological Field Stations (OBFS). The award was presented at the OBFS 2021 Annual Meeting, which took place at Flathead Lake Biological Station in Polson, Montana. In presenting Jasper Ridge with the award, OBFS noted “the great thoughtfulness and care in the range of programs your station seeks to provide was inspiring to the award review committee. Moreover, we commend you for reaching so many students throughout your station’s vast programming. Overall we believe Jasper Ridge can serve as an important model for others within the OBFS community to think about emulating.” Some of the activities recognized were started by members of the Biology: Professor Rodolfo Dirzo and postdoctoral research Tyler McFadden have been instrumental in building human diversity programs at Jasper Ridge. Additionally, Julien Ueda was awarded an OBFS Meeting Support Award to participate in the 2021 OBFS meeting. Julien is pursuing a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Science in the Department of Biology and is a member of the DEIB committee. 

Learn more about the Human Diversity Award