Winter 2021 Newsletter

Winter 2021 Department of Biology Newsletter on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging

Welcome to the second installment of our quarterly updates from the now *officially* named Department of Biology Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Committee. This committee was formed in order to help enhance the diversity of our department, address bias and racism, incentivize work on diversity and equity, create a more cohesive and transparent departmental structure, and create a greater sense of belonging for underrepresented individuals in our community, and we greatly appreciate the support we have received from everyone in the department. By sharing important DEIB related activities from our committee, department, and the university as a whole, we hope to increase transparency, awareness, and engagement in our Biology community.

University-Wide DEIB Activities & Initiatives

Across campus there have been a number of new actions related to the University’s IDEAL initiative. In Feb 2021, select demographic data was made publicly available for most of our professional cohorts (undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, staff, and faculty) through the new IDEAL Dashboard.

School of H&S IDEAL Dashboard

Much of this information is available for the last decade at the departmental level, making it possible to set baselines and evaluate recruitment and retention efforts. The figure here shows gender and race for students, postdocs, faculty, and staff for H&S, which is broadly consistent with what is seen in our department (*note - while anyone with a SUID can access the IDEAL dashboard, departmental data is not shown here based on data-use restrictions and individual privacy concerns). In addition - as part of a campus-wide cluster hire - this January a faculty search was announced for 4 STEM positions focused broadly on research and development on the impact of race in medicine, engineering, computer science, sustainability, and environmental justice. In March, the Provost announced that the office of Institutional Research & Decision Support (IR&DS) will conduct a university-wide survey on diversity, equity, and inclusion in May. IR&DS is currently soliciting community feedback on survey design, which we urge everyone to participate in. Greater participation in the survey itself is also necessary for this data to be useful for our community. This winter also saw the first campus-wide gathering of DEIB committee representatives, organized by the Office of Faculty Development, Diversity, and Engagement. These meetings will be held quarterly going forward and aim to help provide resources to support the activities of departmental and program-specific committees. Finally, in acknowledgment of the pressing DEIB needs on campus, new positions for diversity professionals  were announced in H&S and the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (SE3), and the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs announced three new staff positions to support DEIB-related leadership and program evaluation, recruitment, and oversight of existing diversity oriented fellowship (PRISM) and training programs (PROPEL). Stanford also launched the IDEAL Provostial Fellows Program to recruit early career postdoctoral scholars studying race and ethnicity. 


Actions & initiatives taken by the Department of Biology Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Committee

At the end of Winter quarter, our six DEIB subcommittees convened to share progress and update each other. A short summary of those activities is below:

Diversifying graduate student recruitment, admissions, and retention: The subcommittee has been working on four main fronts. First, evaluating the “IDEAL Graduate Education Excellence Through Diversity Plan” and how these resources and materials could be tailored to the specific needs of Biology admissions committees. Second, working with the graduate admissions committees in each Biology program (HMS, Eco-Evo, CMOB) to build upon and harmonize graduate admissions practices. This year HMS and Eco-Evo implemented a number of changes, such as including graduate students in the application review, and using a standardized rubric similar to the Preview Program that equally weighted (1) Academic Achievement, (2) Motivation for Science, and (3) Diversity and Inclusion. The subcommittee is also planning to advocate for removal of the GRE from application materials instead of the current optional reporting. Third, Molly Schumer gave an overview of the BioPreview program to our  subcommittee, and the subcommittee will help advocate for continued support of this well-received and successful pilot program.  The subcommittee is also using materials developed by BioPreview organizers to write a publicly available guide demystifying the process of applying to graduate programs in our department. And fourth, committee members are working on a comprehensive outreach strategy and funding proposal to ensure that the Biology Department reaches a broad range of prospective graduate students at local undergraduate institutions, including community colleges, and through national conferences such as SACNAS, ESA/SEEDS and ABRCMS. These recruiting efforts will be coordinated with colleagues in other biosciences departments in the School of Medicine. While our current efforts are focused on recruitment, in the future the subcommittee plans to work on issues surrounding retention, such as adequate mental health support. Core subcommittee membersAnaïs TsaiAshby MorrisonChris LoweKabir PeayMelanie BarnettRodolfo Dirzo.

Diversifying postdoctoral scholar recruitment, hiring, and retention: This subcommittee is coordinating its activities with that of the new Biology Committee on Postdoctoral Affairs headed by Judith Frydman and Alice Ting. As the PDA committee will be focusing more on issues of belonging and inclusion, the DEIB subcommittee is concentrating on processes that can help diversify our community of postdoctoral scholars. The IDEAL demographic data reveal that about half of the postdocs in our department are international; of those who are US citizens, most identify as white. Members of the subcommittee are developing a best practices document to enable faculty to recruit applications from diverse candidates and to create equitable hiring processes. Best practices for faculty include developing recruitment strategies to reach diverse graduate student populations, formulating objective criteria to review the credentials of all candidates, standardizing interview practices, involving lab members in the interview and evaluation processes, assessing inclusive outcomes, avoiding unconscious bias in selecting a top candidate, and providing examples on how to define and highlight lab values on lab web pages. The subcommittee has also been exploring ways that interest groups within the Department might partner locally or with others in the University to create more centralized recruitment processes in which diverse candidates could reach out to prospective faculty members. Core subcommittee membersChris LoweColleen McLaughlinKatherine XueMohamad ZoabiSue McConnell.

Diversifying our faculty and strengthening consideration of DEIB work in hiring and promotions:  The subcommittee has been gathering knowledge to understand the state of diversity support efforts at Stanford and to understand faculty diversity practices at Stanford and other institutions (e.g. Columbia, Johns Hopkins, Michigan). This is a priority as faculty are currently the least diverse cohort in Biology (majority male, white). We are also working to create a “start to finish” best practices document of policies for equitable and inclusive hiring for faculty that covers formulation of job advertisements, University programs/funding opportunities for diverse hires, outreach and recruitment efforts, inclusion of DEIB statements in job applications, and protocols to support search committees in conducting an equitable faculty search. The committee also met with Matt Snipp (Vice Provost for Faculty Development, Diversity & Engagement) to learn about current University programs to support diversifying the faculty, such as the Faculty Incentive Fund, the Faculty Development Initiative, the Gabilan Fellows Program, and the IDEAL Impact of Race Cluster Hire.  Core subcommittee membersAshby MorrisonColleen McLaughlinGio ForcinaKabir PeayMelanie BarnettRodolfo DirzoSergio Redondo.

Accountability, transparency and climate assessment: In addition to preparing the quarterly newsletter, the subcommittee is working to solicit feedback on a DEIB Mission, Vision, Values and Strategy Statement (read only copy here) drafted by the DEIB committee. The subcommittee will make revisions based on community feedback with the goal of incorporating the MVVS statement into the department website. The DEIB committee also drafted a rationale for hiring an embedded diversity officer, and the subcommittee is investigating potential sources of support for this position. The subcommittee is working on a number of fronts to gather information to inform decision making and policy in the department, including (1) analyzing data from the IDEAL Dashboard to better understand demographic trends over time and across professional cohorts within Biology, (2) working with each of the DEIB subcommittees on questions to be included on an upcoming Biology faculty survey of views and practices related to DEIB, and (3) planning to work with IR&DS to access information from the campus-wide climate DEIB survey to assess current departmental climate. Another area of active work is the development of Biology community standards, including clear definitions of DEIB transgressions as well as resources to support the reporting and handling of transgressions. The subcommittee is also planning a Town Hall for Spring Quarter to solicit feedback and identify community priorities for transparency and accountability. Core subcommittee membersBettye PriceGio ForcinaJamie ImamJorge RamosKabir PeayMary MolacavageNia Walker.

Training programs (anti-racism, anti-bias, anti-microaggression), mentorship, and teaching practices:  Given the extensive and cross-cutting nature of this topic, members of the subcommittee have made an effort to integrate and coordinate between different subcommittees in DEIB as well as the department as a whole (e.g. Graduate Studies, Postdoctoral Affairs). Work has focused on three categories. (1) Trainings: When effectively integrated into a broader commitment to DEIB issues, training programs can help individuals and groups build awareness of unconscious bias and of barriers to inclusion and belonging. To this end, the subcommittee has first developed a short resource kit on identifying and responding to microaggressions, which will soon be available to all members of the Department. Second, we identified an engaging and informative online Diversity & Inclusion training program developed by EVERFI (which serves over 1300 colleges and universities). We are working with Stanford Human Resources to integrate the EVERFI Diversity & Inclusion platform with the Stanford STARS learning management system, which is accessible to anyone with an SUID. Members of the subcommittee are considering whether completion of Diversity & Inclusion training should be mandatory for all members of our Department (comparable to the completion of Safety Training). Third, we are planning a live Zoom training session on microaggressions and implicit bias, to be conducted by an expert (e.g. Joseph Brown, Lupe Carillo, Terrance Mayes) for the Biology community during spring quarter. (2) Mentorship: The subcommittee is one of several groups in the Department who encourage faculty to improve their mentoring skills by participating in mentorship training and accessing the Medical School’s 360 evaluation process for principal investigators. We are exploring ways for faculty to highlight their participation in such programs to prospective trainees through the Biology website and/or their own CAPS profiles, and we encourage faculty to include mentorship and diversity statements on their lab websites. (3) Teaching: Future efforts will be focused on developing training resources for faculty, staff, postdocs and students involved in teaching. Core subcommittee membersAnaïs TsaiBettye PriceJorge RamosMaria Suarez-NietoMary MolacavageNia WalkerSergio RedondoSue McConnell.

Undergraduate curriculum, teaching, and research opportunities:  Members of the subcommittee have focused primarily on addressing barriers to participation in undergraduate research. The first barrier is financial: students whose financial aid packages require that they work for pay each quarter often find they lack sufficient time for unpaid lab research, and this disproportionately affects the participation of low-income and underrepresented students. Subcommittee members who were undergrads at other institutions reported that it was common at those institutions for students to be paid for performing undergraduate research, whereas in our Department the norm is that students receive credit for research. Only a few members of our faculty have effectively utilized the Federal Work Study (FWS) program to create paid positions for undergraduates (at no cost to the faculty member) to perform laboratory or field research, so the subcommittee has generated a how-to document on creating and managing FWS positions. This document will be distributed in spring quarter. In addition, members of the subcommittee have generated a set of questions for this year’s senior exit survey to estimate the number of students who would have engaged with undergraduate research had they been able to receive financial support during the academic year. Using that information as a guide, we plan to pilot a small-scale redirection of VPUE/UAR summer grant funds into the academic year to support the research efforts of such students. A second barrier to undergrad research concerns access to information about research opportunities and funding sources. The subcommittee has compiled a set of resources to connect students with research programs (such as the STEM Fellows Program and the Neurosciences Undergraduate Research Opportunity fellowships, both of which focus on underrepresented students) and specific labs, to provide information about sources of funding, especially for full-time research during the summer, and to link out to existing resources such as the Wu Tsai guide to finding faculty mentors. Future plans include identifying and developing resources for mentoring and supporting students once they obtain a research position, and improving student experiences in the classroom (particularly in Foundations courses through which most students first experience our Department). Core subcommittee membersAmanda KoongAnaïs TsaiGio ForcinaJamie ImamJorge RamosKatherine XueMaria Suarez-NietoSue McConnell