Picture a Scientist Q&A Tonight

Screen Shot 2020-06-17 at 2.28.17 PMA friend just alerted me to a Q & A happening tonight on the new film Picture a Scientist. According to their synopsis, this film chronicles the groundswell of researchers who are writing a new chapter for women scientists. 


I haven’t watched it yet, but just the trailer is haunting and compelling, consistent with these reviews:

“Quietly devastating.” – The Boston Globe

“Fascinating and frightening examination of bias.” – WGBH in Boston

“Sweeping in scope yet intimately compelling.” – Science

The Q&A will be tonight, June 17  at 8PM on Youtube will feature the female scientists on a panel and will be moderated by RadioLab’s Molly Webster. The subjects and fill makers will participate.

Here are the scientists:

Nancy Hopkins, PhD, professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Raychelle Burks, PhD, professor of analytical chemistry at St. Edward’s University

Jane Willenbring, PhD, professor of geology at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography

We in the white #STEM Pipeline must be better.

Today, many of us #ShutDownSTEM (https://www.shutdownstem.com).

Instead, the assignment to us was to spend the day learning and discussing ways to be anti-racist. Because, in the words of Ibram X. Kendi, if your actions and words and policies are not anti-racist, then they are racist. You can hear Dr. Kendi discuss this online or read his best-selling book with the appropriate title How to Be an Anti-Racist.

There should be no room in STEM for racism. First, it’s socially unjust. Second, our country must be able to take advantage of its entire talent pool. Third, it’s been shown many times in many settings that a diverse group of people working on a problem results in greater creativity and more innovative solutions.

Yet the so-called STEM pipeline leaks like a sieve when viewed through the lens of race. As I’ve stated before in my writings and seminars on gender and STEM, the idea that people leaking out of the STEM pipeline have some problem is a fundamentally flawed concept. It’s the pipeline itself that is the problem. And when it comes to race, it’s largely the white STEM pipeline that is the problem. We have met the enemy to equity, and it is us because we, collectively, are the STEM pipeline.

We, the white practitioners of STEM, must be better. We, the white scientists, must must look at ourselves and at each other, and we must do better. It is not up to Black STEM members of our community to fix this problem. We white people must fix ourselves.

We white people must recognize that there is no neutral ground. In the words of Robin DiAngelo:

Nice, white people who really aren’t doing anything other than being nice people are racist. We are complicit with that system. There is no neutral place.

We white people must appreciate that good intentions are not enough. If our actions or words are harmful to our Black colleagues, they are racist. What matters is impact, not intent.

We white people must educate ourselves using the many resources out there to understand our white privilege and how it has shaped our lives and our accomplishments. It is especially important for us to learn from works written by people of color. Some good starts include the video of Dr. Kendi’s work mentioned above, the Ava DuVernay movie 13th (free on YouTube); the movie Just Mercy about Bryan Stevenson’s work, which is streaming for free this month; and the True Justice HBO documentary, also free on the Equal Justice Initiative website.

We white people in STEM must question our assumptions about our Black colleagues and students. A 2018 article asks the question: What are the assumptions and observations that might be holding us back or might provide insights into how we can better understand the challenge? In examining this question, this article examines many of the hypotheses that are frequently given for the under-representation of #BlackInSTEM.

As scientists, we must, of course, bring our usual skepticism, but we must do so in a way that fully recognizes that we are not, in fact, objective. On the contrary, we humans favor studies that confirm our current beliefs, a phenomenon called confirmation bias. Indeed, when hypotheses and data on diversity are discussed within this context, HHMI Gilliam program mentor development workshops found a more self-reflective view of the race dynamics in science.

Participants wondered whether subtle, unintentional differences in guidance or in assignment of projects might follow from assumptions, conscious or not, on the capabilities of (minority) trainees.


My fellow white people, say hello to our old friend Implicit Bias.

Newsflash that should not be so: we are all biased.

This means that we white people in STEM must first and foremost check our biases.


It’s not enough to just do this once in your career. A simple way to check yourself is by taking the RACE IAT (implicit association test) at the Harvard Project Implicit site. There’s still time today, on #ShutDownSTEM day. While you are there, you can also take several other IAT tests that report on your implicit biases in other dimensions of diversity.

We white people of STEM must recognize that diverse hires and admitting diverse students is not enough.

Not even close.

We white people of STEM must accompany invitations to the diversity party with embracing dancing by everyone. We must actively nurture an inclusive STEM community that creates a sense of belonging for all its members. This is how we plug the leaks in the STEM pipeline.

This is work. In #STEM, we signed up for this. Science is intrinsically intertwined with the search for truth, which can only be achieved through inclusive excellence.

In #Academia we signed up for this. We made a choice to stand in front of a classroom and teach and mentor and inspire the next generation. It is incumbent upon us to be anti-racist.

This work will require white people to conduct some frank self-evaluation. It will be uncomfortable at times. We white people will make mistakes. We must do this work anyway. We must become comfortable being uncomfortable. We must reflect and not react when we are wrong even if our intentions were good. We must believe all people when they speak their truth.

And we must thank our Black colleagues when they do the labor of giving us feedback, educating us, and sharing their perspectives and experiences.


Seven Steps to Walk-the-Walk

After my workshop with Women in Academic Research Pathways (WARP) back in December, Emily Hanover at JHMI wrote a great article that summarizes seven pieces of advice for promoting gender equity here at Hopkins. I’ve been meaning to find time to explore these in greater detail on the blog, but I’ll just start with the article, which can be found in the Hopkins medicine news here and posted below:

1. Check your hidden biases often. Even as females and allies who care about equity, the environment we grew up in has instilled in us implicit biases, which we may then unintentionally perpetuate. The only way to address these biases is to acknowledge them ourselves. Researchers have developed a quiz to help us identify our implicit biases. Every year, Fleming encourages people in her lab to take this quiz, which has been an excellent way to start conversations around these issues.

2. Normalize the discussion and keep the conversation going. As a topic that permeates every aspect of our lives, equity should be part of our everyday conversation. The impact of a seminar, a book or an article on equity can be amplified by us sharing our thoughts and discussing what we have learned. With people who may hold a different opinion, Fleming says asking probing questions may help clarify their thoughts.

3. Read social psychology literature on gender equity with friends. There is a wealth of social psychology literature on gender biases and how they affect us. It can be a fun starting point to learn more about ourselves and others. Fleming runs a journal club where they meet and discuss the social psychology literature, and has always enjoyed the discussions generated.

4. Use inclusive pedagogy. If you teach or mentor other people, you are part of the pipeline that trains the next generation of scientists. Keeping inclusivity in mind will help prevent existing biases of the system from negatively impacting your students.

5. Know that images matter. It means a lot to have role models and see people who look like you succeed. Sometimes when we see a last name attached to a brilliant piece of work, we may not assume it is produced by a woman. She may have been through similar moments of struggle and self-doubt like we have. It is important to show the images and tell the stories of diverse women in science.

6. Learn how to perform bystander intervention. This is arguably the most powerful and immediate way to protect one another from harassment. Take a few minutes to learn about this strategy, and start making your environment more inclusive.

7. Do not underestimate the agency you bring, and remember inclusive community starts with each of us. Progress in eliminating systemic bias can feel slow and depressing, but our actions are powerful in shaping the immediate environment around us!

Happening Today: Women in Academic Research Pathways

Screen Shot 2019-12-13 at 8.43.52 AMToday I’ll be at JHMI from 3-4 PM speaking to WARP – the Women in Academic Research Tracks. Topics to be covered include

Come join the discussion in the Vivian Foster Conference Room (#602) 1830 E. Monument Street, JHMI.

This event is sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Office of Postdoctoral Affairs and UHS Wellness. Organizers Margaret Ho and Sarah Maguire

Where We Stand 2019

Come out for the Women Faculty Forum annual Where We Stand Event sponsored by the KSAS Dean’s Office. Our themes this year are Mentorship, Community, & Equity.

Happening later today from 5:30-7PM. Mudd Atrium ~ refreshments ~ kids welcome.

Remarks by Professors Anne-Elizabeth Brodsky & Karen Fleming, Dean Beverly Wendland and Senator Barbara Mikulski followed by round table discussions on topics related to the status and success of women faculty, staff and students.

Screen Shot 2019-11-04 at 3.58.39 PM

Women of Whiting

I’m using this post to salute the Women of Whiting (WOW). “Whiting” is the name of our engineering school, and this group of women are graduate students who have taken the initiative to come together, lift each other up and build their network.

When I give talks, I am often asked about what we can all do to nurture a more inclusive community. Among my answers is THIS: support each other at all levels. And what the Women of Whiting are doing is just one example of what each of us could do with our peers at any stage in our professional development. 




Although WOW had existed in fits and starts in the past, Alexandra Sneider and Inez Lam re-started the Women of Whiting in Fall 2016. Its purpose is “support women in STEM through professional development, outreach, and social events”. Alexandra and Inez are now in their third year as Co-Presidents, and they have grown the organization to include over 200 members (students, staff, and faculty) across the many divisions of the University. They imagined and executed the annual Women in STEM Symposium, a one-day event providing communication, negotiation, and career planning guidance that draws over 150 attendees from Hopkins and surrounding universities with 20 diverse speakers, a poster session, networking, and career fair component. 

In addition to WOW, Inez and Alexandra are involved in many outreach and leadership positions on campus. Inez has served on the Biomedical Engineering PhD Student Council as co-president and now as faculty-student liaison, and has helped in planning PhD student recruitment for the BME program. In addition, she is a mentor in the P-TECH Dunbar program, a speaker for prospective students at the Institute for Computational Medicine, and has served the BCI-EDGE advisory committee to promote career opportunities for biomedical PhD students.

Alexandra serves as the WOW representative on the Diversity Council for the School of Medicine graduate students, and as a Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Program mentor for the past two years. Alexandra is also actively involved in recruitment efforts for the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (ChemBE) PhD program, for prospective undergraduates through the Hopkins Office for Undergraduate Research (HOUR), and as a speaker for the Mechanical Engineering Department’s Graduate Recruitment Day. 

We can all walk the walk

Several people asked for a transcript of the remarks I gave yesterday at the awards ceremony for the Provost’s Prize.

This award recognizes the grassroots work that we can all do to nurture a more inclusive community. And I want to empower each and every one of you by quickly mentioning three aspects that I think are important.
The first is the distinction between culture and climate.

An institution’s culture is defined by how we aspire to do things. You find institutional cultural values in the form of a mission statement. These are often found online. At Diversity.jhu.edu, it starts, “Diversity of people, thought, experience, and background is fundamental to the mission of this university.” This statement comes down as policy from the top. This a pre-requisite to inclusive excellence, and I like to think of this as “talking the talk”.
In contrast, the climate we all experience is the expression of culture. We can think of this as the shared perceptions of our community. How do we all feel when we come to work each day? In the STEM fields – and probably all other male-dominated fields (law and politics come to mind) – data show that the climate is hostile to white women, to women of color, to under-represented minorities, to LGBTQ+ members of the community, to differently abled and to other so-called out-group people. So these people opt-out. I think of climate as “walking the walk”.
The key to authentic, inclusive excellence is finding the synergistic overlap between culture and climate.

My second point is how do we do this? 
Well, we need to think big. We need diversity in our highest levels of leadership. We need courageous leaders to foster change away from the status quo of Hopkins past into a new Hopkins future that leads inclusive excellence. We need our prestigious endowed professorships to be roles models held by faculty with demographics proportional to their representation in the population. We need programs that incentivize change. Because nothing will change if we continue to do the “same old thing”. Instead, we are going to get the “same old outcome”.
We also need to think small, because institutions are fundamentally people. The institutional transformation we so urgently need is not the metamorphosis of a nameless, faceless entity that is someone else’s problem. Any change must come from within us – each and every one of us. And so what we can all do, one-on-one, every day, is to check our biases. We need to value our colleagues as individuals and not as members of a group. We need to listen to each other. We must be inclusive of each other. We must respect that each of us brings a different lived experience to the table. We must be better bystanders for each other. These small, daily transactions are how institutions leverage diversity.
And as faculty we must especially value diversity, equity and inclusion in our classrooms through our actions and words and through what we choose to teach because our students are the academic community of the future. We must teach them to be good to each other and to lift each other up. We must instill within them that they alone hold the amazing power to nurture the kind of inclusive community that they want to have going forward. 
My third point is about the money.

Thinking big will cost money, and I hope Fenimore Fisher (our Chief Diversity Officer in the Provost’s office) has deep pockets. Or at least I hope his friends in high places have deep pockets.

But I also want to point out that thinking small can be free. We can all individually do the work of nurturing a sense of belonging. Every day. Stated another way: we can all walk the walk in our own way.

So my final challenge is for you to all to look in the mirror and ask yourselves every morning: How will I be an ally today?

Provost’s Prize

Update: Here is a link to the remarks I presented at the awards ceremony.

I’m delighted to share with all of you that I have been selected as the 2019 recipient of the Provost’s Prize for Faculty Excellence in Diversity. If you are local, the Awards Ceremony will be Wednesday, May 15 (tomorrow) from 3:30 – 5:00 PM in Charles Commons, Salon A. Come celebrate with me and the other winners of the Diversity Recognition Awards.

This award recognizes the grass-roots efforts that we can all do at all of our own institutions to nurture a more inclusive #STEM community. I’m grateful to everyone who worked with me, supported my enthusiasm in these efforts, and helped me to find my voice. In particular, I appreciate my Women of Hopkins cohorts (Dominic Scalise, Jeff Gray, Anna Coughlin, & Jeannine Heynes) as well as my Women Faculty Forum Co-Chair Anne-Elizabeth Brodsky. In thinking about how to share this great news, I decided to post the nominee statement I wrote, which captures my aspirations for the next generation of #WomenInSTEM.

To truly achieve the excellence we seek at Johns Hopkins, we need a more diverse faculty, and we must support this faculty by nurturing an inclusive academic community. 

We the faculty are the first-line role models for students. Through who we are, through our lived experiences, and through whose work we choose to teach, we have an extraordinary power to influence our students’ goals and aspirations. We mold and coach the next generation of scientists, writers, artists, engineers, historians, musicians and healers. A diverse student body – like the one Johns Hopkins seeks to build through needs-blind admission – deserves no less than a diverse faculty.

I am a basic scientist who believes in data as a fundamental source for building evidence-based solutions to the world’s problems. Data on faculty demographics in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields from the National Science Foundation show that STEM is heavily male dominated and mostly white. The fraction of female full professors in STEM is increasing at the dismal rate of 0.73 percent per year. This has profound implications: it will take almost a century for women to be represented in the STEM professoriate at levels comparable to their representation in the population. The STEM numbers for women of color, members of under-represented groups and other dimensions of diversity have not been as systematically collected, and they are likely to be much worse. 

The STEM “pipeline” is a metaphor used to describe the educational/professional pathway of the developing STEM workforce, and it is a well-documented problem that women “leak” from the STEM pipeline at all levels. For many years, the loss of female STEM talent has been blamed on overlap between the child bearing years and career-development milestones. However, a recent report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering & Medicine debunks this rationalization and essentially states that women leave the STEM pipeline because it is a hostile, unwelcoming place. Over 58% of women faculty and staff have experienced some form of gender harassment, a rate second only to the military. As a consequence, white women, women of color, under-represented minorities, and people representing other dimensions of diversity do not feel a sense of belonging in STEM. So, they leave. 

As the only woman in the history of my department to be hired as an assistant professor at Hopkins and promoted through the ranks to full professor with tenure, I want the pipeline experience to be better for my daughter, for your daughters, and for their daughters. I want our country to leverage all of the talent it holds. I want Johns Hopkins to lead in this area through inclusive excellence, and I want this change to happen in less than a century. 

My work focuses on reshaping the pipeline. After all, when your faucet at home leaks, you don’t blame the water – leaking water is just a symptom. To solve the problem, you fix the pipe. I approach this challenge using the scientific method: first, by equipping myself and others with data and second, by working to implement evidence-based solutions.

I started small by running journal clubs on the social psychology literature for graduate and undergraduate students. I cover peer-reviewed papers that studied unconscious bias, in- group/out-group dynamics, the male-female confidence gap, emotion in the workplace, backlash, best practices for hiring, and bias in letters of recommendation. I hosted guest speakers who covered white privilege and the gender gap in communication styles. These “gender equity” journal clubs form the basis of grass-roots advocacy that empowers students with skills to lead informed discussions with their peers and lab groups on best practices. For our new professors, I teach a session on inclusive pedagogy as part of the Center for Educational Resources Best Practices in University Teaching

While marching past portrait after portrait of the white male luminaries of Hopkins during the Freshman High Table dinner (now called First-Year Banquet), I wondered what the freshmen women were thinking about when they walked by and internalized the portraits within those ornate frames. In response, I worked with a team to create the Women of Hopkins art exhibit that displays images and accomplishments of women with a Hopkins connection from all disciplines. The digital exhibit has been accessed from around the world, and alumni from the first class of Hopkins female students found the Women of Hopkins as a validation of their experiences as pioneers of gender equity here. 

I turned these efforts into an outspoken voice for change. I speak to all levels of faculty and students through formal seminar presentations in the areas of equity and inclusion. I give these in departmental seminar time slots here at Johns Hopkins and as second “diversity” seminars when invited to speak about my science at other institutions around the country. I regularly offer a session at the Diversity & Inclusion Conference operated by the DLC. I conduct evidence-based Socratic-style discussions on women in STEM at international scientific conferences, and I have led highly successful workshops at the last two international Biophysical Society meetings. This last meeting was in Baltimore, and I recruited undergraduate biophysics majors as actors in an edgy play act scene on the topic of unconscious bias to stimulate the discussion. 

What difference can one person make? And could that be worthy of this prestigious Provost’s Prize for Diversity? One example of the impact of my work is summarized by a black female PhD student I met at Oberlin College after I conducted a workshop on Bystander Intervention there. While I was packing up, she came to the podium, thanked me and shared, “I’ve never heard an actual, real, live scientist talk about diversity and inclusion before. I am so grateful.” 

This student’s comment gets to the heart of what the STEM pipeline actually is. We need to know its structure in order to fix it. And I argue that we the people – each one of us – form the so-called STEM pipeline. We are its core structural elements. Especially as faculty, we are the lives and souls of universities. What this means is that we have met the enemies to equity, and it is us. The institutional transformation we so urgently need is not the metamorphosis of a nameless, faceless entity that is someone else’s problem. Rather, our institutions are composed of people: presidents, provosts, deans, faculty, staff, and students. We the people must develop the resolve to solve this problem. No amount of policy from the top can mandate a more inclusive climate. Any change must come from within us. We all need to plug the leaks in the STEM pipeline through our actions and words each and every day. One-on-one. This is how we ensure a sense of belonging for everyone. All of us at all levels, collectively and individually, have a responsibility to create and nurture inclusion throughout the academic enterprise. This is how institutions build and leverage diversity. 

We must do this work. Inclusive excellence depends on it. The next generation is counting on us. 

How will you be an ally today?

Women of Hopkins Survey

We are conducting a survey on the Women of Hopkins art exhibit to assess its impact. Please fill out the survey if you have visited either the physical exhibit or it’s corresponding website. 


Women of Hopkins is here and was created using a Diversity Leadership Council Award. Click the WomenOfHopkins Category to read more about its history.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center has an opportunity to lead. Will they take it?

I ran a workshop at Oberlin College last fall on the topic of Bystander Intervention. Afterwards a black woman graduate student thanked me and went on to express how stunned and pleased she was that an actualreal scientist was speaking out about the institutional inequities experienced by women and minorities in the STEM community.

She’s right. The fact is that the vast majority of actual, real scientists do not speak out, even when something really bad happens to them personally.

The pool of targets who could potentially speak out is not small. The National Academies of Science Engineering and Medicine reported that over 58% of women in STEM have personally experienced something bad. And when this happens to you, or a female colleague, or your sister, or your wife, or your daughter, or your trainee, it is incumbent upon you to recognize that these women have been put between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

There is currently no good way out.

Women who don’t file formal reports, which is most of them,  pay high costs as documented by links between experiences of harassment and declines in personal and professional well-being. These women have less job satisfaction; and they detach, disengage, and eventually leave. Hence the leaking STEM pipeline.

Still, most targets do not report harassment because of even higher perceived and real risks to their careers. Even though my younger self was totally confused about the rules of the game, I implicitly understood as an assistant professor that making any kind of formal complaint would be a career killer.

This is not hypothetical drama. I am not being sensitive. We are, in fact, now witness to this actually transpiring in a public forum.

Last week, Science magazine published an article about BethAnn McLaughlin – aka @McLNeuro –  and the very real possibility that she will lose her tenure-track job at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC). From Meredith Wadman’s Science article:

“In the past 9 months, McLaughlin has exploded into view as the public face of the #MeToo movement in science, wielding her irreverent, sometimes wickedly funny Twitter presence, @McLNeuro, as part cudgel, part cheerleader’s megaphone. In June 2018, she created a website, MeTooSTEM.com, where scores of women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) have posted mostly anonymous, often harrowing tales of their own harassment. In just 2 days that month, she convinced the widely used website RateMyProfessors.com to remove its “red hot chili pepper” rating for “hotness.” And after launching an online petition, she succeeded last fall in spurring AAAS, which publishes Science, to adopt a policy allowing proven sexual harassers to be stripped of AAAS honors.“

The 2018 NASEM report makes it clear that women are bullied or harassed out of career pathways in STEM. And it appears from the Science article, that some serious institutional bullying has been going on at VUMC. After voting to tenure her, they reversed the decision in a second meeting called by the dean and put her tenure on hold for 17 months after hearing reports that she posted anonymous, derogatory tweets about colleagues.

Being under consideration for tenure is one of the most stressful times of an academic career. What did the leadership at VUMC expect she was going to do in response to freezing her tenure? What were they secretly hoping she would do? Was this a tactic to just wait out her contract after they set her up for failure?

In full disclosure, I do not know @McLNeuro personally. I have never even met her. I only know what is in last week’s Science article and what she posts on Twitter.  For this, I greatly admire her unwavering courage in speaking out, and I fully support her initiatives to remove harassers from science. As with any complicated situation, I appreciate that there may be more to the story than is published in the Science article. Is @McLNeuro perfect? None of us are.

Yet, plenty of men are grabbing and touching and mansplaining and retaliating against and interrupting and marginalizing and diminishing women on a regular basis with no negative consequences whatsoever. Why? Because women are afraid of the consequences of speaking out.

With this in mind, should @McLNeuro be essentially fired because she tweeted a few things?

Similarly, do I think that the environment at Vanderbilt is especially hostile? Probably not. Sadly, it’s probably the norm. Based on data in the NASEM report, academia in general is hostile to women. I suspect what is playing out at Vanderbilt could conceivably play out at many of our own institutions.

But Vanderbilt University Medical Center is in hot seat right now, so to speak, and timing is everything. And guess what? #TimesUp. In a little over two days, almost three thousand people have signed a petition protesting the retaliation against @McLNeuro by VUMC. (Update: the petition below has reached over 5,000 signatures in 5 days!) You can sign it here: https://www.change.org/p/nicholas-s-zeppos-vanderbilt-do-right-by-bethann-mclaughlin

At this scientific crossroads, one way to look at this messy predicament is to realize that VUMC has been given a unique opportunity to lead. Instead of firing Professor BethAnn McLaughlin, Vanderbilt University Medical Center could, as the NASEM report suggests institutions should, “convey through their actions that reporting harassment is an honorable and courageous action”. VUMC could acknowledge that the institution essentially killed her career by placing her tenure decision on hold for nearly two years. VUMC could leverage @McLNeuro’s energy, passion and platform for the greater good. VUMC could lead in developing novel and creative mechanisms to nurture inclusive excellence in STEM environments.

Opportunities to make a real difference do not come along every day.

Will Vanderbilt University Medical Center make the right decision? Which side of history will they be on?

Women are watching.