In each of my roles as a scientist – teacher, researcher, and mentor – I am committed to cultivating an inclusive and equitable environment that promotes the success of all trainees. As a graduate student, I volunteered to mentor students from underrepresented populations in STEM through several institutional initiatives. As a postdoc, I am funded by an NIH IRACDA fellowship, a program that aims to increase participation and retention of diverse populations in the biomedical sciences. These experiences provided me with the pedagogical training and skills to promote diversity in the following ways:
Using active learning in the classroom
The use of activities in the classroom that promote active learning has been shown to promote engagement and increase retention of students in STEM majors, especially students from underrepresented backgrounds. With this knowledge, I have sought out opportunities to develop and apply active learning techniques both in the classroom and through course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs). As a graduate student, I was a co-instructor for the Pathway to the PhD (P2P) program for three years. This NIH-funded diversity initiative provides underrepresented and first generation undergraduate students from UMass Boston with an immersive three-week research experience. Students were provided with a custom workbook at the start of each experience, which included background and instructions to perform experiments directly related my thesis research and obtain new data. To offer multiple modalities for learning, I had the students complete take home reflective writing assignments and prepare a scientific presentation on their findings at the end of the program. One of the program participants, a first-generation student, enjoyed her experience so much that she completed a research internship in the lab with me the following summer and has continued on to pursue a graduate degree in chemistry.
For my postdoctoral training, I joined the IRACDA-MERIT program at UAB in large part because of the valuable opportunity to teach students at our partner institutions, which include several historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and universities that serve predominantly lowincome, first generation students. I have spent several semesters guest lecturing in a cell biology course at the University of Montevallo. These guest lectures have been a fantastic opportunity to try a variety of active learning techniques, including problem-based learning, think-pair-share, and peer instruction. After class, I engage in discussions with students to determine which activities they found most engaging. I am dedicated to showing students that I value their input in my classroom and will incorporate feedback to improve their learning experience.
Intentional, thoughtful mentoring in my research lab
I have mentored undergraduates, technicians, and Ph.D. candidates, including thirteen who were from underrepresented minority populations and several first-generation college students. With each of my mentees, I aim to support their individual goals and give them the space and resources to develop into scientists with a sense of belonging. I recognize that many students from underrepresented backgrounds are unacquainted with career options and opportunities for professional development that are available to them. Because of this, I created and regularly update a bank of resources for my mentees that includes information about relevant conferences (ex. ABRCMS, SACNAS, etc.), contacts for different career options, scholarship or fellowship opportunities, and seminars and workshops.
I’m also the kind of mentor who will be there for my mentees during personal experiences that leave them unsure of what to do next. When a colleague at UAB passed away unexpectedly in late 2018, his graduate students were left without a mentor with expertise in the field of C. elegans biology. Because of my research background and existing relationships with these students, I stepped in to provide technical expertise, help with writing and editing manuscripts and theses, and career advice and assistance. I approached this mentoring role with patience and kindness, recognizing that these students had just gone through a traumatizing event that would very likely impact their productivity and mindset. The thoughtful mentoring that I provided to these students was acknowledged by UAB’s Office of Postdoctoral Education when I won the “Excellent Peer” award at our annual Postdoc Appreciation Week celebration. Earning this award is just the sort of positive reinforcement that pushes me to continue learning about effective mentoring practices so that I can be a helpful and considerate mentor to each mentee that crosses my path.
Institutional initiatives in the campus community
At each stage of my scientific career, I have engaged with institutional initiatives designed to promote inclusion in STEM fields. At Tufts, I mentored students in the P2P (detailed above) and Building Diversity in Biomedical Sciences (BDBS) programs. I saw first-hand that these diversity initiatives have a profound and measurable impact. A survey of former participants in the BDBS program found that nearly three quarters of the students pursued advanced biomedical training. While in Boston, I also cocoordinated and designed curriculum for the Biology Inquiry & Outreach with Boston University Graduate Students (BIOBUGS) Program. BIOBUGS brought Boston public high school biology students on to BU’s campus for immersive laboratory experiences each semester. Programs such as these provide an important opportunity to fill gaps in high school curricula and enhance college preparation. At UAB, I organized several semesters of a research skills workshop series, which reached students from programs that support underrepresented minorities such as Summer Undergraduate Research Experience in Genomic Medicine (SURE-GM) and Preparation for Graduate and Medical Education (PARAdiGM). I look forward to applying my experience with these structured initiatives at any future institution where I may have the privilege to work.