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Video: Diversity in Science & Code Switching

Published on Jul 29, 2020 · Last Updated 2 years 8 months ago


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Presented by: Shawn Bates, PhD


Slide 1: Intro slide

  • Hello everyone!
  • Thank you for spending some time listening to this presentation prepared for the Office of Academic Training and Outreach Programs (ATOP).
  • The topic I will discuss today is diversity in science, including what it is and why it matters.
  • I will also speak about code switching, which is something that we will likely need to address when we increase diversity.

Slide 2: Draw a scientist

  • To start, I’d like you to take a moment to draw a scientist
  • It does not have to be perfect, or a masterpiece, just draw the first image that comes to your head when you hear “scientist”.
  • What do you notice about the scientist that you drew?
  • Maybe it has on a labcoat? Maybe glasses? Is it holding a test tube?
  • Also, and more importantly, is it a man or woman? What race is your scientist?
  • When we’ve done this activity before, we’ve seen that there tends to be some uniformity in the depiction of scientists that people draw.

Slide 3: Google search for “scientist”

  • What many people think of when they imagine a scientist is affirmed when we google drawings of scientists.
  • A quick search brings up several pictures of scientists, but they all have something in common. Overwhelmingly, they are white men.
  • This might not come as much of a surprise, given what is often recognized as g a scientist.
  • Among other things, this highlights the importance of increasing diversity in STEM. Unfortunately, with the status quo people from groups that don’t match that might feel that they do not belong in science.

Slide 4: What is diversity?

  • Before we discuss the importance of diversity in science, let’s explore what diversity is
  • Merriam-Webster defines diversity as:
    • (a) the condition of having or being composed of differing elements: variety/especially : the inclusion of different types of people (such as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization.
    • (b) an instance of being composed of differing elements or qualities : an instance of being diverse
  • Diversity also acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences.2
  • There are many dimensions of race, ethnicity, age, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, physical abilities, economic status, gender, etc…
  • Every person possesses several, intersecting identities and all of these are important
  • STEM lacks a considerable degree of diversity, including racial and ethnic diversity.
    • New data from the National Center for Education Statistics show that in institutions of higher learning across the country, only 24% of faculty are nonwhite, while 45% of students are (Fall 2017).
    • Looking at the graph, you see the clear imbalance that is even more apparent when we look at specific groups.
      • 5% faculty vs 20% students are Hispanic, while 6% vs 14% are Black.
    • Another new study on neuroscience faculty at R1 institutions shows just how stark these disparities are.
    • Therefore, many students may not feel represented while in college, which could lead to a lack of talent in STEM, as well as the loss of many important scientific discoveries.

Slide 5: Why does diversity matter?

  • Dr. Kenneth Gibbs, director of the Postdoctoral Research Associate Training program at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences outlines several reasons why diversity matters in his article, “Diversity in STEM: What it is and why it matters”.
  • Different ideas lead to greater problem solving3,4
    • In his Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, or PNAS, article, and in his book, Dr. Scott Page highlights that diversity is key to excellence. He and his team found that when selecting a problem-solving team (which is what science relies on), a team of randomly selected, diverse individuals, outperforms the team of best-performing individuals. Essentially, diversity of the group matters more than their individual ability. So, diversity is key to achieving overall quality.
  • Scientists from different perspectives ask different questions
    • This is due to the fact that folks from different perspectives derive their questions (and solutions) from their varied life experiences. They might have different ways of approaching work and solving problems, which was empirically shown to lead to better outcomes.
  • Lack of diversity = loss of talent2
    • This is related to the previous slide. Without having representation from many different groups, there is a loss of talent from these groups. The NIH Director Francis Collins has said, “underrepresentation in the workforce leads to the inescapable conclusion that we are missing critical contributors to our talent pool”.
    • Essentially, there are many talented individuals that are being left out of the scientific enterprise because of this lack of diversity. Work needs to be done to remedy this. Without having broad representation across social identities, we may be forgoing economic growth.
  • Diversity leads to economic growth2
    • Long-term economic growth is linked to advancement in the sciences, which relies on talented individuals. Because we are losing the available scientific talent, we will miss opportunities to be competitive globally and to grow economically.

Slide 6: Diversity demonstration

  • For this demonstration, you will need at least 4 groups (with at least 1 person in each group)
  • Print out the puzzle pieces on the slide
  • Give one piece (same color) to each group, and ask them to form a square
  • Have the groups come together, and they’ll be able to see they can form a square with the different colors
  • This demonstration works better if there are groups of 4+. If so, have the groups try to form a square with the colors they have. When they come together, they’ll be able to form the square.
  • This highlights the fact that puzzles, no matter how simple, are better solved when there is diversity.

Slide 7: What is code switching?

  • Code switching is a linguistic term that refers to occasions when a speaker may switch from one linguistic code (language or dialect) to another depending on the social context or conversational setting
  • In more colloquial terms, this may refer to the phenomenon wherein individuals may alternate their voice, their cadence, or their vocabulary depending on their social situation.
    • For example, you may speak differently when you’re at work, versus when you’re with your parents, or when you’re with the friends you grew up with.
    • When you’re attuned to code switching, you see it play out everywhere
  • A fantastic example of this in popular culture is the Key & Peele sketch on Luther, President Obama’s anger translator
  • Increasing diversity in science might lead to the necessity to code switch more often as they try to fit in
    • In fact, research from the Pew Center found that younger, college-educated black Americans are most likely to feel the need to code-switch.
    • Four-in-ten black and Hispanic adults, say they feel the need to code switch. This could lead to feelings of racial discrimination, or at the very least a decreased sense of belonging.
    • We will need to study the effects of code switching in science on the mental health of those who do it in the hopes of mitigating any consequences from code switching.

Slide 8: Think about code switching…

  • You can think about these questions on your own, or if you’re in a group, build discussion around them.
  • Do you think code switching helps or hurts?
  • Why do you think diversity in science is important?
  • What are some steps you would take to increase diversity in science?
  • How does code switching and diversity in science relate to one another?
  • Do you think code switching undermines diversity in science?
  • How have you felt when you have had to code switch?

Slide 9: Key takeaway

  • The major takeaway from this is to embrace diversity. When we increase representation, we are likely to have more effective problem solving, to ensure that all talent is present, and to reap economic rewards. Finally, when diversity is embraced, all individuals will feel welcomed, and the scientific enterprise will flourish. Thank you.