Beyond the thrill of discovery and a fascination with microbes, for me personally, a major draw of a career in academia has always been that I feel I can be myself in this community. This is partly because I am a white man, and in addition my preferred style and bearing fit with stereotypes of what a (micro)biologist (can) look like. As I am writing this in July 2020, I have only fairly recently realized what an enormous privilege that feeling is. From this perspective I am committed to make my communities, scientific and otherwise, as welcoming to all as they have always felt to me.
First off, there is no place for racism, discrimination, or sexual harassment in science (or society, for that matter).
Anyone engaging in any of those should face professional, and where possible legal, consequences. But beyond overt misconduct, there is a very large gap between an experience that is (just) bearable and a welcoming one.
Building a more welcoming community includes eliminating microagressions from daily life. Little things that can feel harmless to the person saying or doing them, and may not be meant to harm, can have an outsized influence on the receiver’s daily life. To create a welcoming community we have to reflect how our words and actions affect those around us. For example, a brilliant person I have worked with once thought they were not cut out for science because a teacher told them “spelling is a window into intelligence”, and spelling wasn’t their strongest subject. While this example is from a school setting, our impact on others’ perception of (their place in) science and the academic community doesn’t stop at the door of the classroom, or with adulthood. It extends to coworkers, students, and any everyday interaction. I’m learning to pause and think how I affect others around me, and promise to be open and responsive to criticism when I inadvertently slip up. Please never hesitate to bring those slip-ups to my attention. I also promise to use my privilege to speak out when I see microagressions happen, or when asked to do so on behalf of someone who doesn’t have the same luxury.
Building a welcoming community also includes ensuring a safe environment for everyone. While I wish it was otherwise, there are inherent power dynamics between researchers at different career stages in academia. A general awareness of those and how they impact interpersonal interaction is a prequisite for a community where people can be and feel safe.
It is important to note that I haven’t always actively contributed to a welcoming and safe community. Never with malicious intent, but because of indifference or negligence born out of ignorance and naivety, and not recognizing how my perception differs from others. This is not meant make excuses, but to illustrate that this page is not intended as performative, but rather to indicate I try better myself by listening and learning.
Resources to make Caltech’s campus a more welcoming space
- Caltech Center for Inclusion and Diversity (CCID)
- Geological and Planetary Sciences DEI resources
- Biology and Biological Engineering diversity & inclusion
More broad links