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Yale Black Postdoctoral Association Provides Visibility and ‘Home’ to Black Postdocs

September 20, 2021
by Brita Belli

The postdoctoral experience is an inherently isolating one, especially for postdocs of color, said cancer researcher Chrystal Starbird, PhD, one of three founding members of the Yale Black Postdoctoral Association (YBPA). Postdocs are former graduate-level students who have obtained their doctorate and are pursuing specialized training for one to six years in their area of interest. “There are not as many support programs for postdocs,” Starbird said. “And for postdocs from underrepresented groups, that sense of isolation is amplified.”

A year ago, Starbird and two other postdocs, Aileen Fernandez, PhD, and Brionna Davis-Reyes, PhD, sought to build that needed community, forming the YBPA, one of just a few such organizations across the country. The group hosts speakers and workshops, provides peer mentorship, partners with community groups, and promotes wellness events.

The group is partnering with the Union of Concerned Scientists this year on a science advocacy workshop, Fernandez said, where they will learn how to advocate within STEM roles and “leverage our power as postdocs.”

Upcoming wellness-focused events include a meditation session to celebrate and support Black postdocs during national Postdoc Appreciation Week (Sept. 20-24) and Beyoncé yoga in October.

YBPA is about community and support, said the founders, but it is also about enhancing the visibility of Black postdocs — to one another, and to the Yale School of Medicine community at large. Additionally, the YBPA is concerned with increasing the visibility of postdocs and early career faculty from groups historically underrepresented in the sciences. As part of this effort, they host the tri-annual Emerging Scholars Symposium where speakers are invited to give a research seminar and meet with various groups at Yale, including graduate students, postdocs and faculty. The next Emerging Scholar Seminar will host Tikvah Hayes, PhD, a research fellow in medicine from Harvard, virtually on October 21st at noon.

“If YBPA were not here, we would be on our own,” said YBPA co-founder and neuroscientist Davis-Reyes. “This connected us and made us visible to others.”

Fernandez, who is engaged in cancer research, agreed. “I lived my whole life not realizing how unseen I was,” she said. “To see people who look like me thriving is so important.”

The YBPA receives administrative support and advice from the Yale School of Medicine Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Their goals and the goals of the DEI Office are closely aligned, Starbird said.

“We are about building community and making sure we fit into the sense of belonging at Yale,” said Starbird. “When someone has a home, they feel more welcomed in the community as a whole and the value of their involvement improves overall.”

On a recent weekend, YBPA members and prospective members attended a social event at the home of Dr. Darin Latimore, MD, associate professor of internal medicine and deputy dean for diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer at Yale School of Medicine, where they also met Rochelle Smith, MS, associate dean of diversity and inclusion and associate chief diversity officer. Latimore and Smith are both in the DEI Office.

To see people who look like me thriving is so important.

Aileen Fernandez, PhD

“We invited new postdocs as an opportunity to learn about the YBPA and potentially join,” said Davis-Reyes. “It was a really enriching experience, especially considering how isolating the pandemic has been.”

“In just one year, the YBPA has already become an essential part of the Yale School of Medicine community,” said Latimore. “Black postdocs along with other postdocs of color are benefitting from the support and community the group provides. Hosting members of the organization at my home was a heartwarming experience.”

Submitted by Brita Belli on September 20, 2021