Diversity, equity, inclusion, and access

Compiled & authored by Goldberg lab members Summer 2020

Promoting DEI&A in research, communication, and the lab

Fundamental concepts in our research, such as heredity and selection, are often weaponized to support racist ideologies. This has been true throughout the history of the fields of evolutionary biology, genetics, and statistics. As practitioners of these fields, it is our responsibility to confront harmful misapplications of science. Below, we note some specific approaches we take toward promoting DEI&A in our research and in dissemination of that research:

Education and language. Lab members are expected to continue to educate themselves and thoughtfully choose words surrounding human diversity, genetics, and race. We also commit to giving each other feedback and to being receptive when receiving such feedback. When publicly disseminating information in presentations and publications, lab members should be deliberate in ensuring that their wording is both socially aware and scientifically accurate. Science does not operate in a vacuum, and we acknowledge personal and social biases.

Teaching and outreach. We work to decolonize teaching and outreach content by 1) selecting readings and other materials that are inclusive of the contributions of Black, Indigenous and URM scientists, 2) recognizing the exploitation of Indigenous and Black people throughout the history of Duke University, and 3) recognizing the systems of oppression within STEM a global level.

Community. We try to diversify our lab and the scientists we interact with. In addition to promoting diversity in the recruitment and retention of collaborators and lab members, we aim to amplify BIPOC scientists and other marginalized groups when nominating or inviting seminar/symposia/panel speakers.

Open science. Finally, we believe that open science is important in pushing STEM toward inclusivity and equity. Steps towards open science include: preprinting articles, making raw data publicly available, and ensuring that methods and code are transparent and public.

Demystifying the academic process: applying for positions at different stages

Academia has many unwritten rules that complicate expectations and put up barriers to participation (sometimes referred to as part of the hidden curriculum). Here we aim to clarify the trajectory of an academic career path within our field and what steps you can take. Some of these norms vary by field and country. This is written primarily thinking about ecology & evolutionary biology (EEB) in the USA, with some notes for related fields.

Applying to PhD programs

Almost all science PhD programs cover tuition and give you a stipend during your PhD. Programs differ in how you are paid, the amount, cost of living, and what duties are required (e.g. teaching assistantships).

Applying to PhD programs is a difficult, time-consuming, and expensive process. Importantly, most programs offer fee-waivers. These are often through the graduate school of the university--check university websites, google, and ask program administrators! Many programs are also dropping the GRE requirement, especially in 2020.

Many EEB programs directly admit students to a specific PI’s lab. In this case, it is important to gather information about certain labs. It is common to email PIs to make sure they are accepting students, and learn more about potential projects and their mentoring style.

For other programs, especially cluster programs such as UPGG or CBB at Duke, decisions about specific labs are made once enrolled in the program. These programs usually involve some sort of rotations. Contacting potential advisors is less common, but reasonable.

Advisors are often excited to hear from potential students and future colleagues! Professors are busy and your email may get lost; if you don’t hear back, consider following up after ~2 weeks. Some professors may never respond. It may be a lost email, a policy of not contacting students before applications, or other reasons not related to you. When emailing, be brief. Introduce yourself and current position. Be specific about your interest in that lab and what research you are interested in. It is also good to confirm they are accepting students and through which programs. Do your research before emailing; check their lab website, the department programs, and send your CV.

Choosing a PhD advisor and lab is a big decision. The PI-PhD student relationship is important and long-lasting. Remember to choose a lab environment and PI mentor, not just a scientific project. Consider mentoring style and fit; people work differently. Talk to current and former lab members! Similarly, you will be living in the local area and town in which you do your PhD for 4-6 years. Make sure you can be comfortable, safe, and happy there.

Job opportunities post-PhD

During your PhD, you will learn a variety of skills that can be marketable for academic, non-academic research, and non-research positions. Most PhD students do not become academic faculty, and there are many other reasons to do a PhD. Talking to your advisor and committee early can help you plan appropriately.

Seek out opportunities proactively to build a variety of skills during your PhD. These include mentoring undergraduates, university or conference committees, volunteering at museums, and potentially internships.

Some common avenues post PhD include museum positions, government positions like USGS, a variety of research and non-research industry positions (from companies like 23andme or Genentech to consulting firms), staff scientists, science communication or editing, and nonprofits like CZI or Gates Foundation.

If you go the academic route, many fields start with a postdoctoral position (see below), followed by a position as an assistant professor. Even within academia, many types of universities and colleges exist. Generally, research-oriented universities will emphasize research with some teaching commitment; medical schools may have little to no teaching loads, with higher grant expectations; teaching-oriented schools come in different varieties, with some emphasizing undergraduate or Masters research and community colleges emphasizing broad education opportunities.

If things are not working out, most programs have an option to leave with a Masters degree after a few years. This isn’t a failure; it just means that a PhD or this PhD isn’t for you or for right now.

Applying to postdoctoral positions

Applying to postdoctoral positions is less structured than for PhD programs, and they often last 2-4 years in EEB fields. Postdocs are expected for most academic jobs in EEB; they may be helpful for other positions too. Field and wet-lab projects are often longer than computational positions. Start thinking about options early, maybe a year or so ahead of time to allow for fellowship applications.

Email potential advisors, even if they are not advertising specific openings; we are excited to hear from you! Briefly introduce yourself, attach a CV, and ask about potential positions (include your timeline for graduation). Be specific about your research interests and why you are interested in that lab. Make sure to read the lab website thoroughly, including recent publications, information about current lab members, and information about joining the lab, if available. Start reaching out up to a year ahead of time if you plan to coordinate fellowship applications, otherwise 4-8 months is common. It can take substantial time to interview and process any administrative hiring paperwork, so plan ahead.

How do you choose a postdoc advisor? Think about recent papers or conference presentations you enjoyed. Chat with people at conferences. Think about your long-term goals, what skills or study organisms would complement your background and enable an independent research agenda.

Some labs may have funding available, others may be willing to sponsor or co-apply for fellowships with you. These include NSF postdoc fellowships and NIH F32, private foundations, and university-specific fellowships (see: https://research.jhu.edu/rdt/funding-opportunities/postdoctoral/).

Good luck!

DEI&A learning resources at Duke and beyond

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Anti-Racism (DEI&A) is an ongoing process and requires consistent effort from community members and willingness to learn. Duke University has many opportunities for trainees, faculty, and staff to incorporate DEI&A thinking into their work, training, and professional development.

Individual Coursework & Training

Undergraduate courses:

Duke Center for Genomics, Race, Identity & Difference (GRID). Courses on Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications (ELSI) of genome science and medicine, particularly as they relate to race. Graduate students may enroll, audit, or apply to TA these courses.

Graduate courses on pedagogy:

College Teaching, Diverse Learners and Contentious Issues

Teaching Race, Teaching Gender. Humanities & Social Sciences-focused

Faculty programs:

Teaching for Equity Fellowship. Year-long program of workshops and training events. Fellows gain teaching skills and resources for working with diverse learners, tools for discussing topics that surround race and identity that may arise in the classroom, and methods to incorporate equitable pedagogical practices into curricula.

Group Training, Workshops, & Educational Opportunities

Duke community members can take advantage of training and educational programming on cultural competency, reducing bias in evaluation/hiring, inclusive pedagogy, combating harassment and bias in the workplace, and more DEI&A efforts.

The Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Advancement, and Leadership in the Sciences (IDEALS) office and the Office of Biomedical Graduate Education (OBGE) often host events or workshops for trainees and faculty, advertised on their listservs and websites.

These offices also often partner with Duke programs, departments, and other campus initiatives and groups to host these events. For examples of such programming and events, see the Duke Biology Department’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Anti-Racism (IDEA) committee’s past events.

Departments or research groups can design and host their own group-specific DEI&A events. In addition to partnering with IDEALS or OBGE, groups can request workshops or educational sessions through the Office for Institutional Equity.

ELSI-focused Centers & Seminar Series

Trent Center of Bioethics, Humanities, and History of Medicine. Seminars broadly related to the ELSI of biomedical sciences

Duke Science & Society. Coursework, a master’s program, an undergraduate Certificate program, and events/workshops for all those interested in discussing bio- and tech-ethics and our role as scientists in service of society.

Building Community

An important facet of DEI&A is building a sense of community, support, and cultural awareness here at Duke. Trainees can work towards these goals by participating in campus student identity groups for race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender and sexual identity, disability status, etc. These groups are welcoming and inclusive spaces and can foster bonds with those who share our life experiences as well as allow us to gain new perspectives as allies.

Other resources: Articles, Books, & Resource Lists

Responses to 10 Common Criticisms of Anti-Racism Action in STEM, a repository and review of scholarly literature curated by Maya Gosztyla, Lydia Kwong, Naomi Murray, and Claire Williams, focused on the experience of BIPOC individuals in STEM.

Understanding our eugenic past to take steps towards scientific accountability, in this short article Rori Rohlfs provides a brief overview of the history of eugenics in the fields of statistics and population genetics.

Toolkit: Race, Ethics, and Justice in Genetics, UW Genomics Salon-cultivated list of topics and references on ELSI of our genomics research.

Superior: The Return of Race Science, Angela Saini’s book is a good introduction to the history and resurgence of race science in biology.

Want to teach eugenics history in your genetics class? Advice and resources to take the leap!, Michele Markstein and Gregory Davis provide resources and strategies to include the history of eugenics in genetics courses.

Diversity and inclusion activisms in animal behaviour and the ABS: a historical view from the U.S.A., in this article Danielle N. Lee focuses on the field of Animal Behavior, but also includes informative and broad discussions on the history of racial and social justice and diversity activities in the sciences.

STEM equity reading list, Needhi Bhalla Lab-cultivated list on research articles related to equity in STEM research and training.

Reading and Listening for Change: Anti-Racist Resources, Duke-cultivated list of Anti-Racism resources.

Culturally Aware Mentorship, Sherilynn Black and Angela Byars-Winston lead this NIGMS webinar on effective and culturally aware mentorship.

Reporting or combatting issues related to DEI&A

Avenues to discuss or report issues:

Discuss with advisor or supervisor

Report to Director of Graduate Studies, department Chairs, or program leadership

Seek support from the Dean’s office. (e.g. the Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs serves as an external academic advisor for all graduate students)

Request confidential guidance from or mediation with Ombudsperson

File complaint with Office of Institutional Equity

Finding support and taking care of yourself:

Seek mentors outside of your lab or department, if you can. When struggling, it can be extremely beneficial to speak with someone with an academic or STEM perspective who is not involved in your work or does not know those with whom you work.

Find community support through campus community groups (see above).

Mental health resources


Counseling & Psychological Services

Women’s Center (for any student who is a survivor of gender violence)

Duke Reach


Personal Assistance Service

○ International Students/Postdocs/Staff

International House