One look at the American biomedical research workforce and one thing is very clear: It skews heavily toward white males, and making it more diverse remains a challenge.
The National Institutes of Health reports that African Americans, Hispanics and Latinos, American Indians and Pacific Islanders are underrepresented in the field of biomedical research. According to the National Science Foundation, African American students make up 5% of graduate students in science, engineering and health; Hispanics and Latinos, 6.9%; American Indians, 0.3% and Pacific Islanders, 0.1%. White students, on the other hand, comprise 39.6% of graduate students in the field. This disparity is present among postdoctoral appointees as well.
Regarding men and women, male graduate students outnumber female graduate students by about 10%. For postdoctoral appointees, that gap grows to 20%.
These numbers only confirm what most researchers see every day.
However, once each year, students from underrepresented groups gather at Turner Concourse for the Johns Hopkins Diversity Postdoctoral Alliance Committee’s Excellence in Diversity Symposium to showcase their research for the greater community, giving all in attendance a rare glimpse of what the scientific research field would look like if students from diverse backgrounds had equitable access to research programs.
The following faces of diversity at Johns Hopkins Medicine provide a window into a more inclusive world and share their thoughts on the importance of diversity and its future in STEM (science, technology, education and math).
Susana Rodriguez, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Physiology and Center for Metabolism and Obesity Research, and co-chair of the Diversity Postdoctoral Alliance Committee
“Diversity is important in science and medicine because the inclusivity of people who represent all areas of our society promotes better research, particularly because science and medicine are collaborative fields. Through a diverse workforce, we can change how research and clinical trials are performed, which will lead to the reduction of health disparities and improve the quality of care for the prevention and treatment of diseases.
For our future to look like today’s event, we need transformative initiatives that will continue to support underrepresented groups in science and medicine. More importantly, I hope that we gain more support from well-represented allies at the trainee and institutional level, as current diversity and inclusion initiatives are largely driven by the efforts of underrepresented groups.”
Ph.D. student in the Goff lab and the biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology program in the Department of Neuroscience
“When there is diversity in science, we get to bring a lot of different perspectives to the table when coming up with hypotheses. Incorporating different voices and outlooks is very important when developing new techniques and examining scientific questions.
In a diverse future, we will see equal representation of people from different socioeconomic statuses, races, gender groups and sexual orientations, in a space where people actually feel comfortable being themselves and expressing their ideas.”
Senior at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute researching macrophage and prostate cancer racial disparities
“Diversity is important now more than ever because it is widening our range of scientific viewpoints.
In the future, I see everyone having equal opportunities to participate in science and medicine. Right now, we don’t have equitable health care, and there will always be prejudices and biases that contribute to that. However, everyone deserves access to care from culturally competent providers, and that starts with a diverse workforce.”
Jada Domingue, Ph.D.
Co-chair of the Diversity Postdoctoral Alliance Committee and postdoctoral researcher studying colorectal cancer
“As people, we learn to coexist better when we are a part of diverse populations. Science specifically gets better when people of different backgrounds, from race to income, collaborate to move fields forward.
I see the future of diversity in science looking a lot more like today’s event. This symposium shows that people from different cultures and backgrounds are excellent scientists and just as capable as anyone you would traditionally see in the STEM fields.”
Bonita Powell, M.S.
Research specialist in the Ken Witwer Lab who hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in molecular biology
“Diversity is incredibly important in science because it ensures that we are including all perspectives in our studies. Even when determining study design, we have to consider all populations so that we choose the appropriate sample of research participants.
To me, the future of science looks like people from all different backgrounds contributing in the same manner.”
Emmanuel McNeely, M.S., M.H.A.
Predoctoral medical student and research fellow in the Department of Orthopaedics with a research focus on socioeconomic health disparities and patient activation among patients presenting for spine surgeries, and co-founder of the Dr. McNeely Dream (M.D.) Project
“Diversity in science and medicine is crucial. As a black male medical student, I understand the scarcity of black males going into medicine, and I understand that there is a very leaky pipeline into medicine.
I am working towards increasing the number of black males entering medical school, and I look forward to a future where more minorities exist in the medical field so that we can better address health disparities across all fields of medicine.”
Senior, molecular and cellular biology major, at The Johns Hopkins University and researcher in the Mugnier Lab studying the parasite T. brucei
“Diversity is important because each culture presents unique values, and the intersection of these cultures is critical to the development of the STEM field.
The future of diversity in STEM is a world where anyone willing and open to going into research, no matter the race or culture, is welcomed without backlash or discrimination.”
Gabriela Romero Meza, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral researcher in the Mugnier Lab studying the parasite T. brucei
“Diversity is important in medicine, just as it is important in every area, because no matter where we came from or what we believe, we are all human and we all have the same abilities, so we all deserve the same opportunities.
Events like today’s symposium make me believe that diversity in science will be better in the future. I am so happy to see so many scientists here who you might not see at other events and poster sessions. DPAC (Diversity Postdoctoral Alliance Committee) is doing a great job of bringing talented people together. We are still not where we should be, but we are getting better.”
Ayesha Sengupta, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral researcher studying neuroscience
“Diversity is essential to the integrity of science and medicine because our entire objective is to examine problems that exist and develop innovative solutions. As scientists, we cannot do that if we limit our point of view. Without the use of different perspectives, science will become stagnant.
At the moment, diversity and inclusion seem to be more of a priority for people who identify as a minority. I hope that in the future, diversity is an issue and a celebration for everyone.”
Senior at Virginia Tech, and Johns Hopkins neuroscience scholar in the Stafstrom Lab studying pediatric epilepsy
“It is important to promote diversity in science because it affords everyone an opportunity to be successful in this field. It is also vital that we build pathways and bridges to create chances for minorities to thrive in this field.
I believe that programs that encourage young scientists of different backgrounds and ethnicities are what truly make the future of diversity in science bright. The Neuroscience Scholars Program is a shining example of how programs can provide avenues for diverse and budding scientists to flourish in a stellar research institution such as Johns Hopkins.”