Global statements on diversity: Lori Ferrins

Scientists around the word answer the same three questions...

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By Lori Ferrins, Research Assistant, Northeastern University. 

In your opinion, which scientific questions will set the trends in the coming decade, and which science problems would you like to tackle?

Increasingly, interdisciplinary activities are playing a major role in chemistry. This is, in part, due to the complexity of the problems that we are trying to solve. This also demands that the education and training of our future and current scientists requires adjustment, into new techniques such as pairing organic synthesis with chemical biology or computational chemistry. Scientists today, and of the future, are pioneering new ways in which to solve problems on a global scale, necessitating the development of new methodology (such as using enzymes to catalyse chemical transformations) and skills (like the contribution of artificial intelligence to synthetic chemistry).

How do you experience diverse leadership, diversity in your lab, publication and peer-review, promotion and career progression, in your host country? What are the impediments for creating inclusive, equitable research labs, departments and practices?

Diversity is important in the research lab, which is synonymous with industry, and it has been shown that through increased diversity companies are more profitable, more responsive and there is an improvement in the company culture. Researchers with diverse backgrounds often approach the same problem from many different angles and, whilst one way is not necessarily the “right” way, this can lead to interesting discussions amongst a group and a sharing of ideas which ultimately leads to a better understanding of the question at hand. Working in a research lab is an opportunity for students (and professors) to be creative and to chase down interesting observations, often leading to those serendipitous discoveries that we hear about.

We need to start a dialogue about redefining merit, not only for hiring but promotion as well. Many women and POC are asked to take on more of the administrative roles at the department and university level leaving less time for purely academic endeavours. This needs to be considered when roles are assigned in labs, and also when applications for promotion and hiring are made. It is important that we challenge the assumption that the candidate with the most publications or the greater amount of external funding is automatically “better”.

What is your message to the next generation of scientists, and what are your tips for their success?

Despite the turbulent times that we live in there are an enormous number of opportunities waiting for you. Be brave and have the courage to chase after what it is that you are passionate about. And, if you take a wrong turn, don’t be afraid of change, no one has the right answer all of the time.

Some of the things that I have done to help me succeed have been by design, others have happened naturally. I would encourage you to find people who are open to push and educate you, these people will be fantastic mentors for the future. Seek out people with different opinions, they will challenge you in ways that you can’t possibly imagine, nothing is ever black and white, right or wrong, there is always another opinion or perspective to be had. Finally, we don’t arrive at our final destination on our own, make sure that you set an example for your peers and acknowledge the impact that others have had.

You have shown that you deserve to be where you are today, your hard work has made sure that you are ready for this moment, go out there and claim it!

Lori Ferrins

Research Assistant Professor, Northeastern University

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