Global statements on diversity: Safia Jilani

Scientists around the world answer the same three questions...
Global statements on diversity: Safia Jilani

Answers by Safia Jilani, PhD Candidate, Georgetown University

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

There are many rich scientific questions that directly influence our daily lives. Two scientific questions I am interested in are: [1] How can we produce ammonia using more energy efficient methods? (i.e. electrochemical catalysis) [2] How can we design safe and cost-effective materials to desalinate saltwater into clean drinking water? There is significant research done in both fields and finding strong solutions to each question will shape our quality of life in the future.

How do you experience diverse leadership, diversity in your lab, publication and peer-review, promotion and career progression, in your host country? What practical steps can be used to encourage inclusive, equitable research labs, departments and practices?

In the United States, there are many efforts to improve diversity in leadership and using diversity to enhance excellence in science. In my direct experiences, I see my colleagues, other students and postdocs, leading the way by example on using diversity as a powerful scientific skill. Collaboration, creativity, problem solving, perspective, innovation, and leadership have all been strengthened by diversity of scientists working together.

In terms of shaping more inclusive and equitable scientific environments, I have also seen students in multiple institutions advocate for more inclusive language in department policies (to be conscious of medical circumstances, culture, and religions). Students have also advocated for more diverse speakers both in representation of speakers who come to visit but also on topics presented – research, diversity, career development, mental health, and mentorship. This enriches the graduate student learning experience and development of a scientist. These actions lead to a more inclusive and supportive scientific community.

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

There is no instruction manual for paradigm shifts. If you wish to see the next great CO2 reduction catalyst in the world, you have to be the one to make it. If you wish to see a stronger and more inclusive scientific community, you have to actively shape it. You cannot contemplate and wish for a catalyst to exist, and similarly, you cannot contemplate and wish for a better scientific community. The power of change lies within our actions.

A mentor shared with me that, “making friends is a scientific skill,” and, “learning to ask others for help,” advanced his career significantly. Both have helped me scientifically in being part of more research collaborations, but I think more importantly, both have deeply shaped my development as a scientist. Asking others for help assists in making new friendships and in turn, opportunities come for when I can pay it forward to help someone else. When we care and help each other, we all progress together.

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