Global statements on diversity: Vy Maria Dong

Scientists around the world answer the same three questions...
Global statements on diversity: Vy Maria Dong

By Professor Vy Maria Dong, UC Irvine.

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

In the coming decade, we'll see more scientists coming together from different disciplines to solve problems in energy, medicine, and sustainability. I expect chemists will also assimilate concepts from the cognitive sciences to learn more about being mentors and leaders. My research team is focused on developing catalysts that allow one to forge bonds with greater control, efficiency, and less waste.

What practical steps can be used to encourage inclusive, equitable research labs, departments and practices?

Step 1. As chemistry professors, we are passionate about thermodynamics, kinetics, and reactivity. We spend years mastering complex concepts and passionately teaching these ideas to our students, with the belief they will use this knowledge to impact the world. The same way chemical principles are ingrained, let's learn about anti-racism, implicit bias, and inclusive excellence. By educating ourselves on these critical ideas outside our field, we can be better teachers, colleagues, and leaders. There's a lot to learn and do. But first, we must agree on the mission. Creating the most inclusive and equitable climate possible for doing chemistry is an objective and honorable mission we can share; the result will be more excellence in teaching, service, and discovery.

Step 2. A second practical step is to evaluate and improve the process we use for accepting graduate students and hiring and promoting colleagues. Are the criteria biased, short-sighted, unjust or perhaps just incomplete? Grades, GPA, and recommendation letters are the typical metrics—yet, they cannot tell the complete story. We can take into account an applicant's "grit" factor, which has been shown to be a more important predictor of achievement than talent. In addition, we can evaluate a candidate's ability and interest in promoting a more inclusive and diverse climate.

Step 3. Recruiting and hiring is important, improving the climate is paramount. As practical steps, I created an orientation lecture for incoming graduate students to teach about imposter syndrome, implicit bias, and inclusive excellence. I serve as the faculty advisor for Iota Sigma Pi, the women in chemistry club.  With diversity supplements through the NIH, I've had support to train and mentor postdoctoral fellows from underrepresented groups. As an invited speaker, I make a commitment to sharing not just chemistry, but a message that can help inspire change. By teaching large introductory courses, I encourage and inspire students at an earlier stage in their careers. Participation in social media allows us access to more diverse views. For example, I participate on twitter, a platform where diverse voices can be heard and amplified.

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

To the next generation, my advice is read widely. There's not a single person who can guide you through the many challenges on your journey. Through books, you have access to world's experts on leadership, writing, creativity, and physical organic chemistry!

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