Category Archives: Mentoring & Outreach

Coffee & Conversation with Dr. Claire Moore

Guest Post by Alyssa DiLeo (Neuro). Coffee & Conversation is a series of informal chats with women faculty on campus, hosted by Tufts GWiSE. 

Tufts GWiSE kicked off our monthly Coffee and Conversation series this week with Dr. Claire Moore from the Cellular, Molecular, and Developmental Biology department at Sackler. This series establishes a space to have a casual discussion with female faculty at Tufts to help build personal and professional networks and to share our experiences in science.

Claire grew up in Louisiana during the Civil Rights movement, which would end up being crucial to her future career goals. She understood the low expectations for women in the south: you graduate high school, maybe go to college, and start a family. But, she wanted more. Claire received a scholarship to attend MIT, which, at the time, had a 7:1 ratio of men to women students. She completed a combined BS and MS program graduating with degrees in chemistry and neuroscience. Claire was captivated by science and wanted to continue pursuing her career, but like many of us, took some time deciding what to do next. After a six-month stint in a wildlife biology program at Colorado State, Claire returned to Boston and worked in Phil Sharp’s lab. She demonstrated RNA splicing for the first time, work that would later earn Phil Sharp a Nobel Prize. If she had returned home, she knew she would have been flipping burgers instead of doing EM work in a prominent research lab. She stressed how important these opportunities and supportive mentors were to her career as a scientist since she too suffered from this confidence gap often seen in women. She didn’t believe she was good enough for a PhD, but that obviously turned out to be the well-known imposter syndrome talking, which she insists gets quieter with time. Claire obtained a Ph.D. in genetics in 1982 from the University of North Carolina before returning to Boston as a post-doctoral scholar in Phil Sharp’s lab. She joined the faculty at Tufts University in 1986 where her lab studies post-transcriptional processing of mRNA and its role in gene expression regulation.

Claire understood how important mentoring had been for her as an undergraduate and wanted to give back to the scientific community. Her upbringing exposed her to race and gender discrimination in the South and saw how roadblocks were built in front of people for reasons that were simply out of their control. She developed a summer training program which naturally progressed to the Post-baccalaureate Research Experiences Program (PREP) which places recent graduates interested in pursuing research careers in labs at Tufts. As if that wasn’t enough, Claire also established the training in Education and Critical Research Skills (TEACRS) program that prepares Tufts postdoctoral scholars for academic careers and supports them in pursuing teaching and mentoring activities.

Through these programs, it’s easy to see Claire’s dedication to mentoring at all career levels, especially to underrepresented minorities in science. This past year, in recognition of all she has done as a role model and mentor for women at Tufts, Claire was appointed to the Natale V. Zucker Professorship. This professorship provides her with the tools to further uplift women in science here at Tufts.

Claire told us to learn to be confident in asking for what we want, in saying no, and in asking for help. She encouraged us to find balance in our career roles and mostly pursue the parts that inspired us the most. Importantly, she also reminded us to foster relationships with each other and mentorships with women in higher positions. Claire said the first time she realized her gender could hinder her in science was when she realized her male mentors were more comfortable with male students who, in turn, received more mentorship. Well, we believe we just created our very own girls club.   

If you’re interested in getting involved with GWiSE, follow us on Twitter @TuftsGWiSE, like us on Facebook, or email us at tuftsbostongwise@tufts.edu. Here are some links relevant to our conversation for further reading: The Confidence Code, stopping the tenure clock, Million Women Mentors, Women STEM Networks.

Pathway to PhD> Netflix binge: Luana Melo (UMB) reflects on her winter break

Guest Post by Luana Melo, UMass Boston

Starting off P2P week 2 with Molly Hodul (Neuro)! Courtesy – Aimee Shen

When I thought about how I wanted to spend my three-week winter break, I envisioned twelve-hour Netflix binges and waking up at 11 am every day. What I didn’t expect was to be working in a lab, and attending workshops Monday through Friday, from nine to five pm. That is what my break was like, however, and I don’t regret a second of it (except the ones I spent stuck on the red line after snowstorms). I was privileged enough to have been accepted into the Tufts Winter Enrichment Program: The Pathway to PhD, an experience I will never forget. Those three weeks taught me more than I had could have imagined, and I walked out a better person and scientist.

Over the span of three weeks, I got to participate in seven different research projects, attend workshops, seminars, and interact with graduate students. The seminars were twice a week and were an opportunity for self-reflection and personal statement development. My lab-mates and I used to refer to it as group therapy jokingly. The workshops ranged from a variety of topics, but their general premise was to prepare us for graduate school and develop our professionalism. They were all incredibly helpful, and answered a lot of the questions we all had and made us all feel more prepared to apply not just to graduate school but research programs as well.

Picking worms with Lidia Park (CMDB). Courtesy – Aimee Shen

Despite how helpful the seminars and workshops were, I have to say the best part about the program was the actual research experiments. The research we did was exciting; some focused-on microbiology, some on immunology, and some on neuroscience. My favorite project was the one focused on microbiology. The research was based on the vieSAB operon in Vibrio cholerae, which aimed to determine motility and biofilm-production phenotypes of different VieA mutants in the presence of various nutrients. It was interesting to isolate and test different variables and see what parts of the operon pathway got disrupted. We as a group decided that there needed to be modifications to the experimental design to reproduce the experiment with fructose or sucrose instead of glucose.

“How do antibodies work?” with Reem Abbaker (UMB), Michael Hyde (CMDB) & Nafis Hasan (CMDB). Courtesy – Aimee Shen

That ability to reflect and adapt the experimental design, to think critically about future improvements, and what factors are to be excluded are just some of the valuable skills I learned in the program. I learned about the scientific process and saw examples of it being used, for example, to consider unaccounted factors that could be influencing the results, to determine the relative efficiency of a buffer used, or to think about how the pH might be too high/low, etc. If the scientific process was a book and I an editor, I’d say the point is to look for the plot holes.

Another aspect of the program I enjoyed was working with the graduate students. They were enthusiastic about working with us and teaching us. It was awesome getting to interact with them; they were eager to show us anything we were curious about and to answer any of our questions relevant to graduate school or not. One of my favorite interactions was when a graduate student was telling my lab-mates and I all the frustrating and discouraging things about being a graduate student. She followed it with the gloomiest monotone “but I’m living my dream.” On the elevator ride home, we all laughed about it.

Author with her cohort – Cassie Berluti (UMB), Kayla Gross (CMDB), Luana Melo (author), Reem Abbaker (UMB) & Brian Hall (UMB) (left to right). Courtesy – Aimee Shen

This program was a valuable experience that I think undergraduate students could benefit from immensely. I can’t think of a better way to spend winter break than amongst imaged neurons, and secondary antibodies.

 

NE GWiSE Spring to Action

Guest Post by Alyssa DiLeo (Neuro), Tufts Graduate Women in Science & Engineering (GWiSE)

Tufts was host to the first Spring to Action event organized by the newly formed New England Graduate Women in Science and Engineering (NE GWiSE). The group represents graduate women in STEM from universities across New England in advocating for greater representation and resources for women in STEM fields. Within the context of the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaign, the forum focused on sexual harassment within our scientific communities with the goal of reviewing and creating school specific policy to be presented to each school.

Organizing Executive Board, Courtesy – Siobhan McRee

Dr. Leena Akhtar, a lecturer in Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality from Harvard University kicked off the event as the keynote speaker. She walked the audience through the history of sexual harassment in the workplace and the landmark court cases that ultimately provided protection against sex discrimination. The 1964 Civil Rights act banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, and sex. But, it almost wasn’t. Apparently, the provision on sex was included to sink the bill. That’s right, protection against discrimination based on sex was considered the most unlikely and ridiculous concept to be included in the law at the time.

As the 60s and 70s went on, many court cases, mostly brought by African American women, reinforced the law and made sexual harassment and hostile work places unlawful. Liberal and radical feminist groups organized to hold the government accountable to enforcing these laws and provided resources to women suffering injustices, something that is still relevant today. However, the cultural and societal backlash to the feminist movement was brutal. Change was not welcome in historically male institutions and newspaper articles summed up the feeling over the new law through obscene political cartoons and agonized over the idea of qualified women applying for traditionally male jobs. To quote Mona Lisa Vito, “What a frickin’ nightmare!”

Fast forward to present day and women are still fighting pay disparities, sexual harassment, and gender discrimination. Power structures in academic sciences are still very much in place and institutions mostly want to protect their tenured professors who bring in grant money rather than expendable graduate students. Deviant behavior perpetrated by scientists are usually notorious and well-known within their institutions and can persist because of bystander inaction. A panel including title IX coordinators and sexual misconduct specialists from BU, Harvard, MIT, Brandeis, and Tufts answered questions from a NE GWiSE moderator and the audience inspiring conversation about policies and reporting guidelines in place at each university. NE GWiSE also provided an overview of sexual harassment policies and offices among the New England universities represented at the event. Surprisingly, many do not require sexual harassment training for faculty and staff, especially older faculty, which is an incredibly irresponsible decision that can easily be fixed.

Title IX Panel, Courtesy – Siobhan McRee

Breakout groups formed to discuss these existing policies and create a list of “asks” to be brought back to each school. Tufts will be proposing to mandate tailored Title IX training that includes mental health and cultural sensitivity modules every few years, as well as further incorporating sexual misconduct into ethics classes. In order to better inform these trainings, a climate survey will go out to students, faculty, and staff about sexual harassment and the workplace environment at Tufts. 

Breakout Groups, Courtesy – Siobhan McRee

Despite the fight laid out before us, everyone left this event with hope in their hearts and fuel to continue fighting for justice in academia. This past year we saw Nasty Women unite and march on Washington the day after the president was inaugurated. Powerful men like Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, and Louie C.K are facing consequences for their inexcusable behavior and the world is taking sexual harassment allegations seriously. The conversation about sexual harassment is finally shifting from the perpetrator to the victim and focusing on what can be done to stop these behaviors rather than suggesting the victim was asking for it. These situations are reinforced by power structures and vulnerability often found in the sciences, but it’s beginning to even out as women have the support to continue their careers into higher level faculty positions. Victims of sexual harassment and gender-based violence are being lent a voice to speak out about the injustices they face within the workplace. As Dr. Leena Akhtar said, “this movement is a reckoning” and we’re just getting started.

The NEGWiSE Spring to Action Attendees, Courtesy – Siobhan McRee

If you’re interested in getting involved at Tufts, GWiSE chapters on the Boston and Medford chapters have been established this year and welcome all members of the graduate and scientific community to attend events.

Rosie’s Place Donation Drive Sheds Light on Pervasive Gender Bias

Last December, the newly formed student organization, Tufts Graduate Women in Science & Engineering (GWiSE, Tufts chapter of New England GWiSE), participated in a city-wide philanthropic effort. A donation drive was organized for Rosie’s Place, a shelter focused on helping poor and homeless women; founded in 1974, it is the first women’s shelter in the US. The drive was meant to run from Dec 11-15, and collect tampons, pads and any other menstrual hygiene products.

However, when Siobhan McRee, a Genetics grad student who co-founded Tufts GWiSE, went to place a donation box in the Jaharis lobby, she was informed that she wasn’t allowed to do it, as there is already a “Toys for Tots” box in the lobby. Additionally, the security personnel informed her that she would need approval from the Friedman nutrition school to place a box in the lobby. McRee had already obtained permission from Associate Dean Dan Volchok, following precedence of other donation drives (e.g. – GSC winter clothing drive 2015). Dan V was quick to solve the problem, according to McRee, but she didn’t feel comfortable putting the bin in the lobby anymore. Instead, she decided to try the program offices in M&V 5th floor.

McRee was surprised to find that there was resistance from the administrators too. “You don’t expect pushback from certain groups of people”, McRee explained (most of the office admin are female). The general consensus among the admins, led by one strong proponent, seem to be that the donation bins and the flyer for the drive (approved by the dean’s office) were inappropriate and would make men uncomfortable. She was told to post the flyers and put the bin in the women’s bathroom. A supporting admin later offered their office space to host the bin and collect the donations. Tufts GWiSE informed the student body accordingly and donations were effectively collected from Dec 13-15.

Despite the pushback, McRee believes that the drive was successful, “we filled up the back of a car”. She added that the pushbacks might have actually helped the drive in some way. But, she was dismayed to find that people at Tufts would harbor such old-fashioned views that women’s reproductive issues should not be discussed in public, especially on the biomedical campus of a liberal institution. She believes that this is an indication that sexist attitudes towards women’s health, that are rooted in patriarchal ideology, need to be addressed to create a safe working environment for women and to fight against discrimination and sexual violence. When asked for his comments, Dan V stated that the events that transpired are not representative of the greater Tufts community, and Dean Dan Jay mentioned that he had not heard of the pushback from department admins. Contrary to expressed opinions as to how the drive might offend men, male community members actively participated in the drive, further supporting Dan V’s convictions re: the Tufts community. 

While the Dean’s office at Sackler was very helpful, the response from Tufts university administration seemed lukewarm in comparison. McRee’s husband, after learning of the incident, tweeted to the university and the president. Patrick Collins, executive director of the Tufts PR department, reached out to McRee to take note of what happened. However, as McRee described, there was no followup afterward and she felt that they weren’t proactive about the matter and didn’t offer an apology that a Tufts employee would pose such roadblocks in holding a donation drive for women’s health.

This kerfuffle may seem an isolated incident in a largely liberal institution which has vowed a fight against sexual harassment and violence against women. However, from a broader picture, this doesn’t seem so isolated. It is true that Massachusetts sets a higher standard for women’s rights compared to other states across the nation – from popular support for Planned Parenthood to not having any taxes on feminine hygiene products (otherwise known as “tampon tax”, a discriminatory legislature considering that Viagra enjoys a tax-free status). However, just as racial inequality in the city of Boston exists in a hidden but structural manner, the same is true for violence against women. This violence takes the shape of entrenched patriarchal views that still seem to be pervasive in a liberal community, besides the ubiquitous, more overt forms of violence such as domestic abuse & rape. These views and barriers impede the improvement of women’s health, as McRee’s experience shows, in a manner that is hard to fight against (re-routing, administrative bureaucracy). “I was told to just do it and ask for forgiveness later, but I’m a non-confrontational person, and, this shouldn’t be the norm” McRee explained as to how she felt discouraged regarding putting a donation bin in the lobby.

Such structural barriers to women’s health issues have disproportionate effects along the racial line – the city of Boston reported in 2015 that 69.7% women living in poverty are non-white. Additionally, these barriers affect an even more marginalized community, that of the transgender population, who are routinely turned away from homeless shelters and therefore are at greater risks of harm to their health especially since a significant portion of them turn towards sex work to meet basic needs. The need for menstrual hygiene products are even greater in this community, considering the myths surrounding their bodies and the taboo regarding their identities. In recent years, Boston’s aid to the homeless has grown scarce, especially after the closure of Long Island shelter and with a sizeable portion of this population yet to be rehabilitated. This drive probably could have been more effective and served the needs of a greater portion of the homeless population, if not for such roadblocks.

In the wake of the #MeToo and #Time’sUp movements, agency and ownership of a woman’s body has come into the limelight once again. The belief that women’s health should not be discussed in public is rooted in patriarchy, and that menstruation can cause discomfort to men serves to solidify its ideological grasps on men and women alike. These ideas also rob a woman of her agency and ownership of her body, while adding stigma and shame. These methods of structural violence are more subtle and harder to disavow compared to assault and rape, as the Aziz Ansari case has shown, but they need to be faced and dismantled as well if gender equality is to be achieved at Tufts, Boston or any other community for that matter. McRee believes that both men and women should be part of the conversation surrounding such issues and that men, just as they helped with the donation drive, can play an important supporting role in advocating for better policies to improve women’s health. 

A step towards addressing such issues is already being organized by Tufts GWiSE, in partnership with New England GWiSE – “Beyond breaking the silence, building a collective”, a gender-inclusive forum focusing on sexual harassment in academia will be taking place on March 3rd, 12-6 pm in the Sackler building. The forum intends to discuss sexual harassment issues in the STEM fields, explore current policies at local graduate schools that address such issues and develop a plan of action to collectively advocate for improved policy action. If interested, please RSVP here.  Additionally, events by other groups on campus are also being organized to discuss the state of women in biomedical science. For future events and more information, keep a lookout on the weekly Goods and social media outlets – you can follow @TuftsGWiSE on Twitter and Facebook

Notes from the North – Collaboration and Communication

March is just around the corner, so there are just a couple of weeks before the CMDB and Genetics program students and faculty will be joining me for a weekend in Portland! As much as I want to advertise for the retreat and mention that it is student driven in that talks will be on topics selected by students, the day is structured based on student feedback, and the Saturday night social trivia session was voted in by students, I don’t want readers from other programs to feel left out of my article’s audience. Note on image: lobster coloration really can display Tufts support, the pattern occurs in bilateral gynandromorphs (half male, half female) where one side has normal black/brown color and the other side has a rare color mutation causing a blue carapace. The chance of a half blue/half brown lobster may be as little as 1 in 100 million.

Now, the real reason I mention the retreat is that over the last three months I have been collaborating with student and faculty colleagues at three separate campuses along the New England coast to help bring this retreat together. It has required learning and practicing organizational skills, shared decision-making skills, delegation, and diplomacy. These are all skills worth cultivating for anyone who may participate in scientific collaboration, so it is helpful to seek out collaborative experiences early in a scientific career. Here is how helping to plan a retreat becomes practice for collaboration and communication:

Integration of multiple viewpoints. One of the great advantages of working as a group toward a common goal is that collectively the group has abundant experience to draw from in order to propose ideas and predict where problems may arise. While planning the CMDB/Genetics retreat we felt it was important to be respectful of all organizer opinions and concerns and at the same time try to incorporate as many ideas from the retreat participants as possible. This of course meant instances when compromise and diplomacy were necessary. Delegation of point people for specific tasks also helped mitigate conflict because one person has had primary responsibility while others advise.

Faculty as peers as well as advisors. Speaking of advising, I have found that a benefit of helping to organize such a large event for the CMDB and Genetics programs has been the need to interact with many faculty and staff in a capacity slightly different from that of my usual student role. Over the course of our academic careers our view of academic mentors shifts from their being “sages on the stage” in high school, undergrad, and early graduate school, to being approachable human beings with advice that ranges far beyond the scholarly later in graduate school, post-doctoral fellowships, and early career. The increase in responsibility that comes with becoming a peer as well as an advisee is not something I think consciously about very often, so this has been a valuable exercise in examining the evolution of these relationships. Recognition of this changing role can facilitate collaborative scientific work because it gives you confidence in your value to a project.

Interaction at a distance. The CMDB/Genetics retreat brings together students and faculty from four campuses in two states, making it imperative that we utilize methods of communication that are speedy and reliable. Now imagine if we were on different continents! For the most part this has meant heavy reliance on email, but we have also found it helpful to setup online video conferencing for regular face-to-face interaction. Meetings can be tricky to schedule for groups comprised of very busy individuals, and it is easy to fall into the trap of holding too many, however they are important for quickly refocusing the group after a period of productivity. Another tool we have made extensive use of that is suitable for both near and far collaborative efforts are online workspace platforms such a Google Drive that allow multiple users to work and edit simultaneously. This is especially helpful in generating a living record of how the group’s ideas and priorities change over time. I think one of the greatest lessons I have learned from helping to organize the retreat has been realizing the importance of keeping a centralized record of decisions. It has allowed the retreat planning committee to understand the logic that got us to a particular point, and then guided us as we moved forward on a number of occasions.

The best way to improve any set of skills is to go out and practice them, so look for those collaborative opportunities!

New England Graduate Women in Science & Engineering Retreat, August 19th

NE GWiSE Inaugural Retreat!

New England Graduate Women in Science and Engineering (“N-E-G-wise”) is a new alliance between groups of graduate women in STEM from universities in Boston and across New England. We’re joining forces to address the issues facing graduate women in STEM. Join us for our first event, the NE GWiSE Inaugural Retreat, this summer! Details can be found below or at our website, https://negwise.wordpress.com .

Description: Come join us at NE GWiSE’s Inaugural Retreat- a day of connecting graduate women from different universities and collaborating to help make NE GWiSE an organization that can effectively address the issues we face and create change within our community.

We will start off the day being inspired by our opening keynote speaker (TBD). Next, we will have introductions by partner GWISE groups and breakout sessions to discuss how NE GWiSE will function. Finally, we’ll end the day with a scavenger hunt and BBQ social! This is a great opportunity to meet graduate women from different departments and universities, share best practices and recurring issues, and foster collaborations and friendships across the region. We hope to see you there!

Registration closes August 16th at 5pm so sign up now!

Date: Saturday, August 19th, 2017

Time: Registration is 12-1 pm, Opening Keynote starts at 1 pm, Event goes until ~7 pm

Location: BU College of Graduate Arts and Sciences and BU Beach

Coffee and snacks will be served throughout the event. Dress is casual.

 

 

Now what? Science Activism Beyond the March

The effects of the March and the outpouring of support for scientific research and evidence-based policymaking are already showing, as exemplified by the increase in NIH funding approved by the Congress instead of the Trump administration’s proposed cuts. However, this should not make us complacent in our demands. The EPA’s scientific advisory board is being replaced by representatives of agencies it is meant to regulate, climate change action is still being hindered and the environment is increasingly threatened, and the anti-vaxxers just succeeded in invoking an outbreak of measles in Minnesota. As Dr. Harris Berman, along with the deans of other medical schools in Boston, recently wroteWe must harness this energy and ensure that the March for Science on Saturday marks the beginning of closing the rift that got us here in the first place”, we should also ensure that this march becomes the global movement it is meant to be. The enthusiasm & sense of urgency that brought out the scientists out on the streets on April 22 should be harnessed to battle the anti-science hysteria currently spreading across the nation. The only way to do it would be to not isolate, but engage the public, to whom we have a responsibility for putting their faith in us, in meaningful ways to improve science literacy through relevant communication. Here we present some additional resources for you to get engaged in science activism after the March:

  • Communicate Your Science – Increasing visibility of scientists and science among the general public would help to shore popular support for scientific research. The #ActualLivingScientist campaign on social media helped dispel the alienation between the scientific community and the people who support their work. Share the importance of your work by writing or speaking about it online or offline. For example, check out The People’s Science’s new initiative, The Field Project, where researchers are encouraged to write a brief summary of their work for the “broadest possible audience”. Talk about your work and how you got into scientific research through our “Humans of Sackler”. Or even better, write for us if you want to practice your writing and communicating skills. Visibility Matters!
  • Volunteer in Science Outreach – The greater Boston area provides ample opportunities for science outreach programs, especially with large-scale events like Cambridge Science Festival. On a smaller scale, you can volunteer for the BIOBUGS, the Brain Bee, the annual mentoring opportunity at Josiah Quincy Upper School and more. Keep an eye out for emails re: these events & more from the Sackler Graduate Student Council.
  • Engage in Policy Action – Since the election, scientists have started to take on political action themselves. One such group is 314 action, who seeks to elect “more leaders to the U.S. Senate, House, State Executive & Legislative offices who come from STEM backgrounds”. The Union of Concerned Scientists, who have been fighting for evidence-based policy to solve social & environmental problems since 1969, hosts an advocacy resource where you can learn how to take action with or without getting involved with the organization. If you would like to write about policy, this writing program by Rescuing Biomedical Research can be your first foray into that world. You can also get involved with the new student organization at Sackler, Scientists Promoting INclusive Excellence #@ Sackler (SPINES), which seeks to increase visibility of minority scientists among other goals.
  • Educate Yourself – If you are not sure on how best to participate in science activism, you can start by learning. Follow the official March for Science blog to learn how the movement is advancing. Check out this online class being offered by faculty from University of Michigan on how to “more effectively discuss knowledge”. Get involved with the Emerson Science Communication Collaborative between Emerson media students and Sackler students. For an even extensive gamut of resources, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has an online toolkit for you to start getting involved!

If you know of any other organizations or groups involved in science literacy, education, outreach & communication, please leave us a comment below!

Introducing SPINES

As scientists who come from underrepresented backgrounds, we have had many informal discussions about the climate at Sackler and advocating for diversity in the graduate programs at Sackler. While Tufts Sackler supports various pipeline initiatives (PREP, P2P, BDBS) we feel that it does not have mechanisms in place that intentionally create a space for minority scientists who are training at Sacker. We met in March and had an open discussion about our interests relevant to the group, the immediate needs of the community, and long term goals.

Mission:
Programs aimed at diversifying the STEM academy have successfully increased recruitment of undergraduate and graduate students from groups traditionally underrepresented in careers in the sciences. An emphasis on recruitment may help to update the narrow image of what a scientist looks like, but additional action is needed to evolve the full picture of who scientists are. We are Scientists Promoting INclusive Excellence at Sackler (SPINES).

Inclusive excellence is a model first proposed by the American Academy for Colleges and Universities and recognizes that efforts of diversity can result in meaningful, measurable improvements in the excellence of an institution when that institution creates an environment that welcomes the cultural diversity of those included. For the STEM academy to benefit from a diversity of contributors, the culture and atmosphere of the STEM academy must update to include that of the new participants. It is this dissonance that may be responsible for the ever discussed “leaky pipeline” or disappearance of diverse bodies from the STEM career path as their career trajectory progresses. As problematic as the “pipeline” analogy is (we can unpack that for days), anyone concerned with progress in the sciences should recognize that this progress requires sustained conversations around social justice issues and retention of minority scientists.

SPINES believes we can help each other achieve inclusive excellence in the sciences by building a community of scientists at Sackler who recognize and celebrate each other’s diversity of ability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation and gender identity. We formally describe our mission below, but loosely we want to build spaces where we feel free to discuss all aspects of our lives as developing scientists. We will offer each other support even if this means giving technical advice as someone works through frustrating equipment errors in the lab or offering a shoulder to lean on as one struggles with the pain and helpless feeling from viewing the latest videotaped example of injustice on the nightly news.

Below we list some short-term goals for the group; however, we would like to highlight that our organizational model relies on horizontal leadership and community-based decision-making. We recognize that the needs and priorities of a community can change over time and therefore we encourage all members to take active roles in developing and implementing their ideas with the knowledge that the entire group will support them.

Short-term goals
• Enhance the diversity of speakers that are invited to give program seminar talks
• Learn about active bystander, anti-oppression, intersectionality, and privilege via reading books, articles, and invited  speakers
• Connect incoming underrepresented graduate students with a peer mentor
• Build professional connections with biotech/industry to address the lack of diversity in these sectors
• Provide networking opportunities

Our priority is to establish a welcoming community at Sackler where people of all backgrounds and identities feel nurtured and supported in achieving their scientific, personal, and intellectual goals.

Look out for our upcoming events and for more information see: https://tuftsspines.wixsite.com/tuftsspines

Written by: Camila Barrios-Camacho, Chris Bartolome, Janel Cabrera, Laverne Melón, and Vanessa Yanez

ICYMI: Public Relations and Communications Essentials for Scientists

When it comes to reporting our scientific findings, we are trained to compose manuscripts that are measured, precise and objective. The mainstream media, however, take a very different approach to broadcasting scientific news: headlines designed to grab readers tend to be more sensationalized and the articles draw more conclusive and overarching statements. These contrasting approaches to reporting are appropriate in their respective fields and it is important that we as scientists learn to take advantage of mainstream journalism for the publication of our discoveries, not only for the reputations of our university and ourselves, but also to share with the public, whose tax dollars fund most of our work, what we have accomplished. Enter the Tufts Public Relations Office—a fantastic resource that allows us the opportunity to share our research with the community outside of our scientific world. The purpose of the seminar du jour was to inform the Tufts community on how the office works and how to best use it to our advantage.

The purpose of the seminar was to provide some information on how to work with the PR office when you are ready to publish work that you would like to broadcast beyond scientific journals. Kevin, the assistant director of the office, stressed that the earlier you get in touch with the PR office, the better prepared they will be to help you. The best time to contact them about publicizing a manuscript is when you are submitting your final revisions to the scientific journal that will be publishing the paper. You will be asked to share your manuscript with the office so that Kevin and members of his team, who are well versed in reading scientific literature, can familiarize themselves with your work. Soon after, they will meet with you to discuss the details of your study, get a quote, and draft a news release that your PI can edit and approve. From there on out, the PR Office works to spread the word on your research via prominent blogs, science, local, and potentially national media, depending on your work’s level of impact. The PR Office is also equipped to help you interact with reporters effectively: they can prepare you to talk about your science in layman’s terms to be more relatable and better understood by the general public.

By sharing your work with more mainstream media, you build your reputation as well as credit your university, your funding agencies, and the tax-paying public. Reach out to the PR Office for more information on communicating your science with the rest of the world and take advantage of the great opportunities they offer that can make you a more visible and effective participant in the science world!

One last tip for those of you interested in improving your science communication skills–keep your eyes peeled for more details on our upcoming joint Dean’s Office / TBBC / GSC Event, Sackler Speaks in April!  This is a competition for students to pitch their 3-minute flash talks in front of a panel of judges.  Besides critical feedback on presentation skills, there will also be cash prizes for winning presentations!

Contacts at the Tufts PR Office, Boston Campus:

Siobhan Gallagher, Deputy Director (Siobhan.gallagher@tufts.edu)

Kevin Jiang, Assistant Director (Kevin.Jiang@tufts.edu)

Lisa Lapoint, Assistant Director (Lisa.Lapoint@tufts.edu)

 

Notes from the North: Review of Online Course “Scientists Teaching Science”

Scientific graduate programs all over the country do a wonderful job training their students to become critical thinkers able to design experiments, write fellowship grants, write peer reviewed papers, and grasp complex scientific systems. Nearly all programs, however, struggle to provide career training. Traditionally, skills such as mentoring, teaching, and leadership have been learned by observing others. This has generated many excellent scientists, mentors, teachers, and leaders, but how many more could we have developed had students received directed training? And how much better would our current scientific leaders be had they not had to reinvent the wheel for themselves?

One of the dangers of requiring students to learn through osmosis is that we tend to recapitulate what we see, even if it is not the most effective method. Partly this is because many of us do find this an effective way of gaining skills and knowledge, but there is also a mentality of initiation: we had to struggle, the next generation should experience this too. There are many answers to this paucity of career development training, however, in the form of business clubs, student and postdoc association lead career workshops, and online extracurricular courses.

Some of us at Sackler interested in a teaching career have taken advantage of a short course entitled “Scientists Teaching Science” which teaches best practices in science education, based on the latest research on teaching and STEM ed sol logolearning by STEM Education Solutions (http://stem-k20.com/). This is a completely online course that runs about nine weeks with a different module every week. Depending on the week, the time commitment is about 3 hours per week for light weeks and as much as 8 hours per week on heavy weeks (depending on how assiduous a note taker you are when doing readings and how detailed you are in written assignments).

I found the intro to the course very illustrative and memorable. We were asked to read several articles on how science has traditionally been taught and how active learning has repeatedly been shown to improve learning outcomes, then Barbara Houtz started her own narrated lecture in the traditional “Sage on the Stage” style. My heart immediately sank as I envisioned the next nine weeks writing dense, jargon filled notes on topics that seemed esoteric and non-practical. This was not what I thought I was signing up for! Then she paused and asked the question, “what are you thinking?”

That’s when the real lecture began. The narrated lectures were fantastic! Available 24/7 and provided as both narration and transcript. Methods that make participants stop to think about what they are being told were used liberally to retain participant attention. This meant that we were being shown how to effectively employ all the skills we were being taught as they were being taught to us. The modules covered learning/teaching styles, generating effective assessments, Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning, writing your teaching philosophy (a part of faculty application materials that I only learned about last year despite years of aspiration to teach), cultural awareness, active learning and inquiry based teaching, writing course objectives, teaching online, course development, and syllabus compilation. Each module was comprised of a narrated lecture, readings, and a written assignment or discussion board post requirement. Additional resources were also provided on the Virtual Learning Environment and Barbara Houtz frequently sent out class announcements about recent articles on STEM education and careers for PhDs.STEM

I embarked on this online only course with a great deal of trepidation. Would I have the self-discipline to keep up with the material? Would I feel comfortable reaching out to the instructor with questions and comments? The answer is that with the help of an instructor devoted to keeping her participants involved and getting the most out of her course I was able to gain practical teaching skills in a remarkably short time.