Spring 2022 Newsletter
Spotlight on Tanvi Dutta Gupta
For our Spring Newsletter Spotlight, we are delighted to feature Tanvi Dutta Gupta. Tanvi is a junior majoring in Biology and a member of the Hadly lab. What follows is a short excerpt from an interview with Tanvi by Sid Dhawan. Please see the extended version in which Tanvi shares advice for prospective majors and discusses representation in ecology. If you are interested in sharing your biology story please email Sid (sidsd27 [at] stanford.edu (sidsd27[at]stanford[dot]edu))!
What drew you to join the biology department at Stanford?
I was drawn to the biology department primarily by my lab, where I had been eavesdropping on lab meetings and doing some small projects since freshman year. Joining the biology department let me formalize my commitment to the lab and make it a part of my academic plan! I loved the research being done and how people were so willing to engage with ideas from different fields and other sets of skills, as well as the strong applications-based focus, and I knew I wanted that research to be a part of my Stanford experience. More broadly, I wanted a way to engage deeply with ecological questions in a systemic way and the major pushes me to ask those questions from different perspectives—chemical, physical, and more—that I wouldn’t engage with otherwise.
How have you found community and mentorship in the department?
Ecology is a very small group with not that many people across the undergraduate body but it does make it that much more magical when you find another ecology major in a room. Primarily, I’ve found community through my lab and mentorship among the incredible professors who teach ecology here. Finding community has required a lot of putting myself forward and making active connections. I let myself say yes to everything, even—especially—when I felt like I didn’t know enough or have enough experience to enter the room. Many people here, especially, recognize the challenges of finding mentorship (especially as women of color in STEM!) and are incredibly generous with their time and energy. It has also been valuable because the people I’ve met through the biology department are primarily graduate students, postdocs, and professors, meaning that I’ve gotten a chance to see how career paths and postgraduate plans look like into biology in ways I can’t see elsewhere in my more undergraduate-focused communities on campus.
As everyone heads into summer, we encourage you to reflect on the past academic year and think about the year to come. Despite challenges over the last year, we on the DEIB committee are heartened by the incredible efforts of our students, postdocs, staff and faculty to make our department, university, and society a more just and equitable place. We hope that highlighting some of these activities here will promote optimism and excitement to keep engaging over the summer and into the next academic year.
One thing we’ve repeatedly heard is that members of the department are seeking more connection with each other, both around DEIB issues and more generally. To facilitate communication, the DEIB committee held our second Community Conversation on May 11th. Over 40 people attended, and we answered questions about the committee’s work, listened to concerns about the department and took suggestions for future committee directions.
To get a sense of what other activities could create a sense of community, we distributed a community engagement survey, which returned 83 responses from undergraduates, graduates, postdocs, staff and faculty. From this survey, there was great enthusiasm for creation of affinity groups focused on DEIB, having educational DEIB-related seminars for the department, increasing the amount of DEIB-related information on our website, and creating programs that facilitate 1:1 informal conversations across the department. Next year we look forward to funding and implementing these wonderful ideas!
In the meantime, there are a number of campus-wide community events, such as a series of events and activities between June 15-24 to honor and celebrate Juneteenth.
A number of Spring events focused on the role of Indigenous peoples in science and the University. On May 13, the Department of Biology co-hosted author and professor Robin Wall Kimmerer at Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve where she delivered a lecture entitled Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants. Recently, Hopkins Marine Station announced the renaming of one of its lecture halls in honor of the university’s first native Hawaiian professor, Isabella Aiona Abbott, in addition to an annual lecture named after her. Department of Biology researchers also participated in a genomics study in collaboration with the Muwekma-Oholone peoples in support of their efforts to reclaim ancestral heritage sites.
The University’s Diversity and Access Office supports Stanford staff groups to “provide all staff members with opportunities for professional, educational and social support.”
Stanford Student Affairs also launched a new “Stanford Against Hate” website to provide resources for anti-hate education, support and empowerment.
Building Skills & Resiliency
Critical to building an inclusive and equitable community is giving members the skills to be better mentors and resilient in the face of challenge. After holding focus groups to identify needs in the postdoctoral community, members of the DEIB committee (Colleen McLaughlin, Bryan Juarez, and Katherine Xue) organized two new training programs aimed at building mentoring skills and community for postdocs. The first was a whole day workshop on May 25 led by Steven Lee on culturally aware mentoring and in partnership with the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs. The second is a postdoc-led “Entering Mentoring Bootcamp” that brings postdocs together for bi-weekly lunch meetups over the summer for facilitated discussions of mentorship practices. Both programs were launched in collaboration with members of our Department Committee on Postdocs.
Finding adequate mental health resources is a major challenge for many graduate students that struggle with belonging in our department. While our long-term goal is to advocate for increased mental health resources from the university, in the short-term to try and lower the barrier to accessing existing resources we published a guide to finding mental health support at Stanford developed by Biology graduate students on a new “wellness” tab on the departmental website. In the future, we will add resources applicable to other Biology cohorts.
New University training programs and resources are available. The IDEAL Learning Journey for Staff - a program to build awareness, skills, and create a sense of belonging - was launched on March 14, with an expanded IDEAL training program available for managers. Faculty have not been specifically invited to participate in the IDEAL Learning Journey but can request to be enrolled by submitting a help request that goes to the learning journey team.
Biology has many resources to help Biology undergraduates navigate the major and the Department, but some of these are difficult to locate. To increase access to these resources, undergraduates on the DEIB committee updated the Biology website to make access and navigation easier for students A Canvas site for Bio undergrads and prospective students is under construction as well – it will provide a one-stop source for information and will enhance connections and inclusion through its chat functions. The DEIB committee is also collaborating with BioBridge to implement experiences to enable undergrads in the department to get to know one another, support community building access tracks, and facilitate peer mentoring.
To try and improve mentoring quality for undergraduate students doing research in biology the DEIB committee is organizing a focus group on undergraduate research experiences. All undergraduates that have had research experiences in biology (and particularly those from FLI or underrepresented backgrounds) are encouraged to participate! Participants will receive a $20 Amazon gift card as thanks for their time. Anyone interested should contact Sid Dhawan (sidsd27 [at] stanford.edu (sidsd27[at]stanford[dot]edu)) to sign up.
Getting the Word Out
A major goal of the DEIB committee has been to improve communication within the Department, through newsletters, focus groups, “community conversations”, and improvements to the Department website. But we also want to communicate our commitment to equity and inclusion beyond the University, so that we continue to attract the best staff, students, postdocs and faculty. One new initiative we launched this year aims to improve graduate student recruitment through a new Biology Ambassadors program. Through this program, the Department has offered to provide annual financial support for two faculty and two graduate students to attend the SACNAS and ABRCMS conferences. 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.” ABRCMS “was founded to encourage minority, first-generation, veteran, and disabled students to pursue higher education in STEM…and is one of the largest professional conferences for underrepresented scientists at various stages of their professional and educational journeys -- providing additional programming for graduate students, postdocs and non-students.” Ambassadors will work with Steve Lee (Assistant Dean of Inclusion, Diversity & Equity) and Joseph Brown (Associate Director for the Diversity & First-Gen Office) to coordinate outreach at the conferences.
We hope you have a wonderful summer and look forward to reconnecting with all of you in the fall!