Division of Science

Anti-Racism Report

Dec. 2, 2021

Draft 1 of a living document

As scientists, we use a combination of theoretical and experimental approaches to understand and predict the workings of the natural world. As educators, we empower students to use the scientific method, which includes experimentation, computation, critical thinking and mathematical reasoning, to solve practical problems of many different kinds. As a community, we value the use of the scientific method for the betterment of lives and the function of society. To that end, it is imperative that people in diverse parts of society are able to use science to improve their lives, to identify new problems to which scientific approaches can be applied, and to use their life experiences to envision new ways in which science can be practiced.

Therefore, the Brandeis Division of Science is committed to creating and nurturing a diverse community of scholars that is equitable and inclusive. As scientists, we pride ourselves on solving problems, including ones that lead to paradigm shifts. A challenge that we have grappled with is how to create an environment that is inclusive and accessible to all that seek to enter the sciences and experience the invigorating practice of science.

We are renewing our commitment to push towards these objectives by (i) creating a task force to analyze and propose ways to restructure STEM education at Brandeis, working with educators and building on our experiences with programs such as the Brandeis Science Posse and the Galaxy programs, (ii) initiating a tradition in Spring 2021 of periodically holding a division-wide town-hall where we discuss our challenges and evaluate progress towards our goals, and (iii) continuing our efforts to increase diversity in our faculty, students and staff through all mechanisms available to us.

The TILT framework accompanying this document is primarily focused on short-term goals whereas this document includes more aspirational goals, needing more resources.

Community Building and Communication

Our work to improve issues around diversity, equity and inclusion in our community is ongoing, and we seek to increase communication about these efforts to the Brandeis community. The process started with each department in the division creating a Black Lives Matter (BLM) and/or a values statement posted on departmental websites. It will continue with community town halls and other efforts to engage undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. We will develop a "DEI Activities'' page for the division website to better track and publicize our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. We will continue to support student and postdoc-initiated groups like Diverse Brandeis Scholars. Departments have been strongly encouraged to invite graduate student representatives to faculty meetings. We are reviewing the process of choosing departmental UDRs to better involve the undergraduates, especially the BIPOC population, in their selection. Students in the Science POSSE and Galaxy programs will be consulted in reviewing this process.

We are also committed to increasing faculty awareness of diversity, equity and inclusion issues via training, especially with respect to inclusive mentorship and pedagogy. We note that training is also desirable for graduate students, especially those serving as TAs, and postdoctoral fellows. The divisional undergraduate curriculum task force is looking into ways of including instructors of upper level science courses into efforts such as the Justice League.

Each department has committed to efforts aimed at amplifying the voices of scientists from historically marginalized groups by paying greater attention to the diversity of the scientists invited to speak at departmental seminars, journal clubs and other venues. We note that Diverse Brandeis Scholars have been hosting invited speakers of their choosing at our MCB-Neuroscience Joint seminar for several years. MRSEC seminars have hosted speakers from its HBCU partner institution, Hampton College.

Lastly, we are aware of issues with equitable access to undergraduate research positions. We are exploring alternative mechanisms for accepting students into our labs, but fear that this inequity cannot be addressed as long as the demand for research positions far outstrips the supply. We need more research faculty, more graduate student/postdoc mentors and more funds to support undergraduate research.

Curriculum

We are committed to examining our current pedagogical techniques with the goal of increasing diversity equity and inclusion in the classroom. We have created a task force to look at the undergraduate curriculum. The task force includes one faculty representative from each department, the lead UDR for the sciences, and one graduate student representative. In addition, a group of graduate students have volunteered to be available for consultation. Irv Epstein has agreed to chair the committee and Bulbul Chakraborty as the head of the division is an ex-officio member.

A proposal that came up at the first meeting of the task force and has been mentioned in multiple departmental anti-racism plans is the need for an interdisciplinary science course with no prerequisites, which is accessible to a broader undergraduate population. We are proposing the creation of such a course following this model at Columbia.

Graduate student composition

Individuals from underrepresented groups comprised 13% of PhD students In the Division of Science, up from 5% in 2010. This is the result of decades-long outreach efforts that include:

This work has been funded in part with research experience for undergraduates and training grant support. Importantly, the success in the life sciences is catalyzing recruiting efforts in other departments and programs. The Brandeis MRSEC’s partnership with Hampton College is beginning to yield students for Brandeis graduate programs. Departments are engaging with professional organizations such as the American Physical Society (APS) Bridge Program, which will involve building a post-baccalaureate program with some outside funding support. Our outreach efforts must continue if we are to maintain these hard-earned gains, but it is important to recognize that these efforts require University funds and faculty and staff time.

Postdoctoral fellow composition

Diversification of the postdoc population is the next frontier, and critical for the ultimate goal of diversifying the faculty. We are eager to take on this challenge. We would like to explore the possibility of recruiting a postdoc cohort of scientists from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. We recognize that such a program will require substantial resources and are committed to pursuing funding opportunities to support this effort. We note that the neuroscience postdoctoral training grant (PI Turrigiano) and MRSEC with its interdisciplinary research mandate may be able to help in this pursuit.

Faculty composition

We are also committed to further increasing the diversity of our faculty. Of course, this effort requires substantial resources from the university in the form of positions, startup funds and research space. The biology department has been very successful in recruiting three LatinX scientists to their faculty. We will continue to engage in outreach efforts to increase the diversity of our faculty candidate pool including advertising positions broadly, appealing directly to laboratories with large numbers of diverse trainees and requesting candidates to describe diversity, equity and inclusion activities in their applications. We are also ever alert for “target of opportunity” hires at the senior faculty level, for example, in the recently approved search for a MRSEC senior hire. Lastly, we are very interested in the idea of hiring a faculty cohort of scientists from underrepresented groups. The NIH FIRST Award and NSF ADVANCE Awards are possible mechanisms to fund such an effort. We are also engaged in discussions with the dean and provost to find mechanisms for pursuing these initiatives. We would also like to work with the Office of Institutional Advancement to see if such a program would be of interest to a donor.

Our ability to recruit individuals from diverse backgrounds to our faculty is greatly improved when faculty searches are broad in terms of field of research. We look forward to working with the University to renew and diversify our faculty.

Resources needed

  1. Division of Science level administrator to initiate, organize, track and coordinate anti-racism and diversity efforts.
  2. More TAs to enable frequent small stake grading in more classes.
  3. More faculty and graduate students to increase research opportunities and small enrollment course offerings. Additional funding for paid undergraduate research opportunities.
  4. Resources for diversity, equity and inclusion training for faculty, staff and students (e.g., sponsored workshops on campus). In particular, diversity, equity and inclusion training should be part of TA training.

Anti-Racism Plan Framework