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Intersections Science Fellowship Symposium Gets a Boost

August 20, 2021
by Isabella Backman

Yale School of Medicine has received a grant from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund’s (BWF) Career Guidance for Trainees program to expand and institutionalize the Intersections Science Fellows Symposium. The $25,000 grant will help the program continue to elevate the voices and careers of talented minority and other marginalized scientists and promote inclusive hiring and career development practices.

The contrast between the racial and ethnic diversity of our college students and the lack of diversity among our faculty is stark and, until now, has been slow to change. Over the last 20 years, the number of faculty from Black and Hispanic populations have barely budged despite increasing representation of Black and Hispanic students in PhD programs, says Giovanna Guerrero-Medina, PhD, director of the Yale Ciencia Program.

“PhDs degrees from historically excluded groups have increased, but we have not had a proportional increase in their representation at the faculty ranks,” she says. “It’s not that we don’t have enough PhDs of color, it’s that there’s something happening where they’re not being recruited into academia.”

The Intersection Science Fellows Symposium, a multi-institution program led by Yale School of Medicine, was designed to address common barriers to diversity and inclusion among faculty ranks. The Symposium showcases the work of a diverse cohort of promising postdoctoral investigators in the biomedical sciences and supports them in their search for faculty positions through a full year of mentoring, professional development, networking, and a supportive community of peers. The program is particularly attuned to countering challenges that have systemically prevented certain groups from entering academia. In addition to submitting a description of their scientific accomplishments and future research directions, applicants are asked to submit a summary of past and planned contributions to advancing diversity and equity and addressing the lack of inclusion in academia as future faculty members. This piece is equally valued and prioritized during the application review process.

The first symposium launched virtually last January thanks to the leadership of organizations like the Yale Black Postdoctoral Association and faculty, leadership, and postdocs across 26 institutions, including Yale. It was a major success. Twenty-six fellows were selected from a highly competitive applicant pool to present their research to the program’s nearly 2,000 online participants. The symposium also provided the young scientists opportunities to network with faculty members and chairs of departments and now, says Guerrero-Medina, many of last year’s fellows are in the process of starting their faculty careers.

“It’s a way to accelerate careers and expand their access to hiring institutions across the U.S.,” she says.

The BWF Career Guidance for Trainees program supports projects that improve trainees’ readiness for stable, fulfilling careers. The grant from BWF will allow the symposium to expand and extend its impact. Last year, the selection committee was only able to choose 26 fellows out of over 400 applications. The grant will allow the number of selected fellows to grow to 30. It will also help support a more structured mentoring program and peer mentors for the selected fellows. In addition, the prestige of the grant itself, says Guerrero-Medina, will highlight to institutions that barriers to academia are addressable and attract additional collaborators.

“I think that’s the most important piece of the Burroughs—the visibility that the award will give to the event. And in getting other institutions to collaborate,” she says.

PhDs degrees from historically excluded groups have increased, but we have not had a proportional increase in their representation at the faculty ranks.

Giovanna Guerrero-Medina, PhD

Guerrero-Medina says she hopes to see Intersections continue to grow and become a model for future DEI programs. The symposium currently focuses on the biological life sciences, but the lack of diversity in academia is a problem that extends across all STEM disciplines.

“I don’t see why this model couldn’t be applied to engineering, or to physics, or to other disciplines,” she says.

Darin Latimore, MD, deputy dean for diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer, says he firmly believes the format of Intersections can revolutionize how departments scout out new talent. This is especially true during a time when virtual events are the norm, and online symposiums can help forge instant connections across the country between institutions and underrepresented scientists.

“The long-term goal is for Intersections to become what Yale School of Medicine does on an annual basis and for Yale to become known for it nationally,” says Latimore.

The second symposium will be held from November 1–3, 2021. Latimore highly encourages all interested post-doctoral scientists to apply, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds and other marginalized groups. Postdoctoral scientists seeking faculty positions can apply through the symposium’s website. Applications are due Tuesday, August 31 at 11:59 pm EST.

“It’s a great opportunity to get your science seen and shared,” says Guerrero-Medina. “And not just that, but also to connect with groups of people that really are committed to change the state and culture of science.”

Submitted by Jill Max on August 20, 2021