In 2007 I took a group of undergraduates from my lab to the APS (American Phytopathological Society) meeting in San Diego. The three Hispanic students from Salinas were some of the only undergraduates at the meeting and they were keenly aware that they were some of the only Hispanics at the meeting too. They pointed out that the only other Hispanics they met at the conference were waiting tables. Although APS is diverse and has a large international membership, participation by underrepresented minorities from the US was low even a few short years ago. But thanks to students like these, undergraduates joining APS now have a few more Hispanic leaders in APS.
Contrast that with last week’s meeting of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) https://sacnas.org/ where all the keynote speakers are Hispanic, Native American, or African American.
Three notable speakers were Monica Basco, PhD –Assistant Director, White House Office of Science & Technology Policy, Clifton Poodry, PhD (Seneca) –Senior Fellow Science Education, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Romelia H. Flores, PhD, Distinguished Engineer & Master Inventor, IBM Global Solution Center. And Talithia Williams, PhD (TED talk star) served as the moderator for the entire conference.
These distinguished speakers discussed the difficulties they faced as underrepresented minorities in science, the joy of discovery that motivates us, and how to continue forward when you doubt you belong. The advice from the conference that keeps running around my head is ‘Simply do the very best that you can.’ It was just what I needed to hear as I start month three of my PSU tenure. It is what I hope to encourage everyone in our department to do.
The SACNAS meeting is life support for undergraduate students just beginning their work. It gives them an opportunity to present their first research papers in a supportive environment. The hundreds of employers and universities recruiting at the meeting make it an outstanding place for career exploration. Four of my students from Salinas attended and gave three posters from our lab. The meeting also serves as a smorgasbord for graduate students and postdocs looking for role models, workshops on professionalism, and opportunities for broader impacts. SACNAS gives cultural as well as scientific context for these early career scientists and it often feels like an oasis.
I am hoping that some of our students and postdocs will choose to present their work next year at SACNAS. You would get a great deal from the meeting and would be a huge help in our recruiting effort. SACNAS offers travel scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students and postdocs. It is an inclusive society and although their target audience is Hispanic and Native American, they encourage all members of the STEM community to apply for travel scholarships.
Stay healthy and do your best this week.