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Transforming the Culture for Basic Scientists

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Transforming the Culture for Basic Scientists

Transforming the Culture for Basic Scientists

Co-founders of DPAC, an organization founded to create a “sense of community” for basic scientists here. From left, Dionna Williams, molecular and comparative pathobiology; Marc Edwards, cell biology; and Stan Andrisse, pediatric endocrinology.

Date: 01/25/2017

“Pay it forward” guides every step of the new Diversity Postdoctoral Alliance Committee (DPAC), which was launched in February 2015 to create a clear, consistent voice for and to support the development of postdoctoral fellows and trainees who are African-American, Latino, Native American and Pacific Islanders.

“The numbers of Ph.D.s who look like us are very small”—just 7 percent of school of medicine postdocs and faculty members (based on DPAC’s extensive climate survey of fellows, residents and students in these underrepresented minorities), says cell biologist Marc Edwards, DPAC co-founder and current co-chair. “A sense of community is essential. We want to create exemplars of people like ourselves for young graduate students coming up.”

DPAC, a subcommittee of the Johns Hopkins Postdoctoral Association, centers on research, mentoring/networking and professional development [see sidebar]. Programs range from a trainee welcome event to collaborating with the Johns Hopkins Office of the Provost on the first-ever universitywide Postdoctoral Diversity Fellowship program.

The fellowship is an award aimed at transitioning outstanding postdoctoral fellows to faculty members. “Johns Hopkins was already putting money toward this issue, thus the timing was ideal,” says Stan Andrisse, DPAC co-founder and co-president of the Johns Hopkins Postdoctoral Association. “DPAC was able to help create this transformational postdoctoral-to-faculty transition award that supports five fellows a year,” adds the scientist, who studies polycystic ovarian syndrome, a leading cause of female infertility. Along with Edwards and Dionna Williams, DPAC co-founder and co-chair, Andrisse is among the five inaugural fellows in 2016.

Expanding DPAC’s breadth and reach is a top priority in the year ahead. “We’re interacting with other Johns Hopkins schools and divisions even more, particularly to expand the Mentoring Families Program,” says Williams, a scientist with expertise in immunology and neuroscience.

A speaker series kicked off last spring, with Cato Laurencin speaking on regenerative engineering. In late September, DPAC’s first annual Excellence in Diversity Symposium showcased and celebrated the research of Johns Hopkins University underrepresented minority scholars—from undergraduate students to faculty members—with high school summer trainees invited to present as well. The event featured keynote speaker Hannah Valantine, chief officer for scientific workforce diversity at the National Institutes of Health.

“Diversity is tied to excellence,” Edwards notes of DPAC’s far-reaching impact in only 18 months. “We’re creating an environment where we are no longer isolated and are helping to transform the culture.”