Breaking Down Science, Step by Step

I recently attended a major meeting for a highly-technical, leading edge field of research. I also am employed by an HBCU. I am currently working on some speechifying for my students in the Spring, so I wanted to spitball and share a few observations.

First, I am old enough to remember the start of Women in Science (WIS) organizations and initiatives. They are working. At least 40% (and perhaps as high as 60%) of the attendees at this meeting were female. The older, most-established members were mostly male, but beneath that level were women in highly-visible, high-responsibility, high-prestige positions. Female presenters and organizers were everywhere, and just like their male peers, some were good, some needed practice, but they were scientists and regarded as such. There were still a few special sections reserved for women (a luncheon and a mentoring meeting and a WIS organizing meeting). In fact, of the dozen or so panels I attended, only one stood out as having only three women present (plus one female moderator) and about 20 male attendees. That was the outlier. So it appears there really is increasing parity for women in the sciences, and given one more generation, I expect that will be true from the top down.

The bad news for my students. Of somewhere between 800 and 1200 attendees, from all over the world, there were maybe 10 black people. I can't even say African-American because two guys I met were from Great Britain. There may have been as many people from Finland as there were black researchers. I hope to draft some words for my students to maybe inspire them, but this meeting was really surprising by the absence of black scientists. I hope to work with my administration to help make sure opportunities are not only there (no serious science student at my school needs to pay tuition past the sophomore year - there are so many programs offering waivers and grants), but to make sure they are publicized and to maybe inspire. Clearly something is working for women and it is not working for African-Americans. Thoughts?

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