Dr. Maitreyi Das’s Statement of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion
I was born and raised in Mumbai, India and moved to the United States as a post-doctoral associate. I grew up in an upper-middle class family and had plenty of exposure to science and higher education from an early age. After moving to the US I have made every attempt to educate myself about increasing diversity, equity and inclusivity in academia. In my experience, a lot of diversity initiatives focus on recruiting trainees and students from diverse backgrounds but do little to create an environment where these recruits can thrive and succeed. My approach to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) is not just to increase the number of diverse participants but to create an environment that promotes equity and inclusivity for all, both in the class and in the lab. I view EDI activities as not only important for promoting underrepresented groups, but also for educating traditionally privileged groups about the misconceptions and inequities in society. As a female scientist of color and an Immigrant, I provide a unique perspective for inclusivity in academia and I am a role model for underrepresented groups in STEM. I take this responsibility seriously and make sure that as a professor I provide a welcoming and safe environment that allows students/trainees of all racial, religious, ethnic, gender, and socio-economic backgrounds to grow and thrive. My lab at present is one of the most diverse labs in our department with students from different backgrounds, such as race, ethnicity, and social-economic backgrounds. I am still a student when it comes to EDI initiatives and I have listed below some strategies and activities that I currently practice to promote Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity in my lab and the classroom.
- Given the limitations in the lab, as much as possible I provide research opportunities for students from less privileged backgrounds. Time and again this strategy has worked for me and I have discovered some exceptionally talented students.
- I run my lab with strict adherence to an environment of respect, compassion, and empathy for all my trainees. Trainees are made aware at the very onset that hateful and discriminatory behavior will not be tolerated in the lab.
- Trainees are encouraged to reach out and ask for help whenever needed. This is only possible when I as a PI work on gaining their trust. I work on educating myself about the challenges and struggles faced by minoritized groups so I can help them better. I feel strongly that I have to be proactive in my approach. Educating myself allows me to identify potential challenges for trainees and help them accordingly.
- Every trainee must have multiple mentors. I make sure to reach out to diverse scientists in academia and introduce them to my trainees. This allows the trainees to reach PIs outside the lab with different experiences and perspectives than me.
- In my grants, I always budget for undergraduate student stipends to perform research in the lab so that they can avoid having to do multiple jobs to pay for college.
- Each student is unique with their strengths and weaknesses. I pay close attention to the needs of the students so that I can tailor my mentoring style accordingly. The goal here is to help the students thrive.
- I encourage students to work on their Individual Development plans (IDPs). This helps the student and me to keep track of their goals, their progress, and identify areas that need special attention.
- I provide hands-on training for all the research trainees in the lab, especially in the first two years. Since I do bench work in the lab, students can approach me anytime with questions and doubts. This makes for a better experience for the beginning students as they feel more confident in their research activities.
- In the first couple of years in the lab, I help students design experiments and plan their projects. The goal here is that as the student near the end of their degree, they will be independent researchers.
- I provide personalized training with writing manuscripts and grants. Science writing is not taught in college and most students do not have any insight into how to write scientific papers. I work with students closely, by not only editing their documents but providing detailed explanations for all my suggested edits. Students are encouraged to think about the best ways to present their data and the precise language that will enable proper comprehension by the reader.
- Students are trained to hone their communication skills. They get multiple opportunities to present their research through posters and oral presentations at meetings. I provide detailed training on the best practices for presentations.
- Networking is an important aspect of doing science. Science is a team endeavor after all. I provide opportunities for networking to my students through meetings and seminars. I also train them on how to effectively network in academia.
- I regularly participate in different outreach activities in the University and the community and encourage my graduate students to do the same.
In the Classroom
- I recognize that students come from diverse backgrounds with different levels of preparedness. I structure my lectures keeping this in mind and provide additional help to students whenever necessary.
- I make every effort to keep the cost of learning in my class as low as possible and avoid the use of expensive in-class tools/technologies.
- Underprivileged students are often less interactive in class and hesitate to take advantage of all the learning opportunities due to their past experiences. I make every effort to be cognizant of these issues and reach out to students who appear to be struggling in class and provide help whenever possible.
- I teach science in an inclusive manner where I emphasize the research contributions of women and people of color. Textbooks often ignore these contributions and do not highlight these scientists. A simple image with the contributions listed on a slide in a lecture goes a long way in helping all students see the contributions of scientists from diverse backgrounds.
- I design the curriculum and exams to ensure students of all backgrounds are evaluated fairly. The exams will be designed to tests the student’s strengths and basic understanding of scientific concepts. An inclusive approach to exam design will consider the diverse strengths and weaknesses of students.
- I take advantage of the fact that I teach molecular and cellular biology to undergraduates. This allows me to include descriptions in my curriculum on how science refutes false ideas such as climate change, vaccine denial, anti-GMO, eugenics, and race and gender as biological constructs.