Pursuing a career in science is challenging; it is a race that is long, hard, and almost never-ending. But is it a race worth running? What if your hurdles that spanned the track were higher, the distance to your finish line seemed somehow longer, your trophy appeared somewhat nonexistent? What if the race doesn't seem suited to you at all? This is the world of the minority scientist. Graduate school and subsequent professional endeavors present many challenges, in general, to aspiring scientists. However, when other variables are present, the pursuit of the dream becomes more arduous.
What can be done to even the hurdles and the distance? The authors of this month's feature articles have brought forth a sampling of their experiences in working toward their professional goals. All agree that inclusion of minorities in the scientific structure--providing mentoring and networking opportunities--is extremely important for the success of existing and future minority scientists. The low minority representation in mentoring positions in science directly dictates the feeling of isolation that most minority students, postdoctoral fellows, and junior faculty experience.
With the submission of these articles, the authors have opened the door to dialogue and greater understanding of the issues facing minority scientists. The next step would be to take the resources listed in this feature and utilize them for developing solutions and creating new paradigms. The hurdles could become more even, the distance to the finish line could become more defined, the race would seem worth running.
Sonya Clemmons, of SSC Enterprises, argues that it's time to stop talking about the challenges faced by underrepresented minorities in science and engineering and start doing something about them.
Anthony DePass, who is an Assistant Professor of Biology at Long Island University, explains that establishing collaborations and identifying your own scientific society are among the keys for research success at smaller institutions.
Tasha Inniss's family instilled in her the notion that she could succeed at whatever she set her mind toward, and this notion has propelled her education and her career ever since. Having experienced the loneliness of being one of only a very few minorities in an academic department, Inniss urges others seeking higher degrees to select their graduate programs very carefully.
Alfred Johnson writes about the NIH Black Scientists Association and its goals and objectives for scientists of color working within the NIH.
Born in South Africa but now living in the U.K., Wendy McLean writes candidly of her experiences as an employee of a white-owned and white-run company in SA during and after the apartheid years. It is a harrowing tale.
Claudia Navarro's dream is to run a lab on the international space station. In the midst of her graduate studies in aerospace engineering, she is acutely aware of the challenges she faces, both as a woman and as a Mexican-American. She hopes that by her own example, she will persuade others to pursue their dreams and overcome the obstacles they face.
Roland Owens, a senior scientist at NIH, is frequently asked to share the keys to his success. As he elaborates in his essay, they include a supportive family, networking, good mentoring, hard work, and professionalism.
Gil Sambrano's involvement in the Chancellor's Committee on Diversity at UCSF has given him the opportunity to get behind the numbers and explore the real meaning of diversity.
Michael Taylor describes how the hardships he has faced and his own pride in who he is helped to forge this particular African-American physicist.
In an article published last year in Next Wave, "Anne Tyler" (not her real name) wrote about the loneliness and undue burden of being the only black student in her graduate department. In her essay for this feature, Tyler turns the spotlight on gender biases and her dawning realization that, as a woman, she may one day be obliged to choose between career and family.
Like many other essayists contributing to this feature, Kim Weems emphasizes the importance of finding good mentors.
Writing from France, where she works as a veterinary pathologist at L'Oreal, Monique Wells echoes Weems's sentiments and outlines what can go wrong when mentoring fails.
Shree Whitaker realizes that to succeed she must do well for herself. But her experiences have convinced her that she must also work to ensure that the Ph.D. pipeline flows ever faster for minority scientists, an obligation that she describes as her pleasure.
Like others, Lee Wilson found that access to mentors and support networks are vital for success at university. He also found that promoting science and mathematics to young indigenous people can help them realize that they, too, can attain their goals.
Finally, Lesley McKarney, Next Wave's Canadian editor, writes about CASEA, a grassroots organization of science and engineering professionals dedicated to furthering the education and careers of Native Canadians.
If for some reason these essays don't tell you what you need to know or help you to place your own experiences in a broader context, then please consider visiting the Resources Page affiliated with this feature. On it, you'll find links to all manner of useful information from Europe and North America.
And if you're looking for funding support for your studies in the U.S., then check out GrantsNet, which this month features essays on National Science Foundation grants to minority postdocs and Ford Foundation grants to minorities throughout their Ph.D. and post-Ph.D. training. GrantsNet also lists over 70 programs that provide funding for underrepresented minority undergraduate students.