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NSF Hosts Pride in STEM Panel

On June 24th, the National Science Foundation (NSF) hosted a Distinguished Lecture titled Pride in STEM: A Conversation about Research, Mentorship, and Advocacy. NSF’s head of Diversity and Inclusion Rhonda Davis moderated a panel which featured:

 

 

These esteemed scientists discussed some of the ongoing work to increase LGBTQ+ representation in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. They each talked about their research projects and about some of the challenges, advocacy approaches, and other general advice that pertains to the LGBTQ+ community.

Dr. Jon Freeman researches the cognitive and neurological mechanisms that underlie the less conscious forms of bias (particularly against gender, racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities), stereotyping, and how individuals generally perceive each other. He explained that these implicit stereotypes might affect the perceived fit of LGBTQ+ candidates for institutions, which accounts for the low retention rates shown by research. He recognizes that there are still very little studies on these challenges, and that collecting demographic data is key to changing public policy and more appropriately allocating federal resources in order to better understand and address these disparities, as well as to help institutions such as scientific societies and universities benchmark their progress and push for change. He remarked that it should be a priority for NSF and the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) to continue their current data collection work and to ensure they carry it out in a balanced and measured way. FABBS previously hosted Dr. Freeman in the panel “LGBTQ+ and Multiracial Demographics in WMPD: Opportunities and Challenges for Inclusion” (see the recording and slides here).

Dr. Bryce Hughes’ research examines the trajectories of LGBTQ+ students through STEM and how the intersection between these two aspects of their identity plays a role in the rates at which they graduate with a STEM degree, in the construction of their social networks, and in thinking about their future in the field. His studies have contributed to the relatively sparse literature on this topic, and he believes that further research can help advance conversations about diversity in STEM, as well as the creation of more inclusive environments in the field where there is room for everyone to be able to develop their potential. From his perspective, it is likely not so much of a failure for a LGBTQ+ individual to leave STEM, but instead it is a failure for STEM itself and its culture. He also believes that it is important to focus on micro-interventions to address incidents in the STEM field that may feel small, but are actually very impactful on those experiencing them.

Dr. Wil Srubar’s research focuses on fundamental science and engineering, with an educational component about creating graduate school pathways and providing better mentorship for undergraduate LGBTQ+ students. He explained how his experience as a gay student in STEM influenced how he teaches and mentors, as well as the focus of his research today. He aims to increase visibility, awareness, and retention of LGBTQ+ undergraduate students in STEM. He believes that further research should focus on the nuances between all of the subgroups within the community, rather than lumping them all together. Attention must also be given to how challenges from other underrepresented groups overlap with the LGBTQ+ community. For instance, the issues of systematic racism and of mental health within these groups must also be addressed.

All panelists emphasized the importance of finding role models and places where LGBTQ+ individuals can feel a sense of belonging and can be valued not only for their work, but also for their identity. All of the topics discussed underscore the importance of research in the behavioral and brain sciences in uncovering the best practices to increase diversity.

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