Science benefits from a diverse group of scientists (Scott Page, The Difference, Princeton University Press, 2007). Our nation already enjoys significant racial/ethnic diversity which will continue to increase; it is predicted that by 2042, the United States population will be “majority minority.” The rich diversity of our youth is very good news for our future because it is from this talent pool that we will find the next generation of scientists, faculty, and leaders. The bad news is that we have not yet figured out how to take advantage of that diverse talent pool. Today, approximately 30% of the talent pool are underrepresented ethnic minorities, yet the scientific workforce is only 9% minorities. About 30% of the students entering college who are interested in studying STEM are underrepresented minorities, but only 17% of the STEM baccalaureates and only 9% of the STEM PhDs are minorities. The undergraduate years are critically important because this is when students explore, decide, and begin to learn the skills for future success in all careers, including science. Faculty have the responsibility and the opportunity to enable the success of all of our students. Because many of the students are underrepresented minorities and most of the faculty are not, there is almost certainly going to be a difference between us and the students in our classroom or laboratory. Thus, it is important to provide faculty the opportunity to develop the professional skills to work across differences. These include developing listening skills, recognizing unintended bias, understanding privilege, and setting expectations.
Dr. Asai is Director of the Undergraduate Science Education program at HHMI. More information here.