Implicit Bias - When we teach?

Look at your syllabus and the papers/books you are having students read. Now look at the composition of your students - is there a mismatch?

For me, a few years ago, I (finally) noticed this. Our grad population has been majority women as long as I've been at UGA, sometimes overwhelmingly so (certainly my own lab has been). So I started trying to be sure that when I'm representing science to them as an instructor, our students see how science output is generated by a diverse population of scientists - right now, just focusing on gender.

It can be tricky. I’ve had easy success in my climate change classes, where I readily know of work by folks like Jenn Sunday, Morgan Kelly, Sinead Collins, Gretchen Hoffman, Christina Richards, so many researchers representing tremendous diversity of background, gender, and so on. The challenges come when putting together a new class, or on-the-fly changes. When I wanted to follow G. E. Hutchinson’s Santa Rosalia paper in the ECOL 8000 class later this semester with a series of other readings/exercises on diversity and function, the first papers that came to mind simply happened to all be by men. So, I have sat down to address this and I am still fine-tuning what papers and people fill the same roles while representing diversity better in science. Now Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse, Randall Hughes, and Jane Lubchenco are certainly in the mix.

This process has its hiccups. In my coalescent theory grad class, it is easy at first to think of Kingman, Wakeley, Hudson, Tajima, Turelli, and so on. I saw that the readings so far were heavily white men (not heavy white men!). So in a week when we needed a paper to look at how summary statistics and site frequency spectra are used in applied ways, I thought - who do I know that is a talented population geneticist working on interesting data sets? The first younger name that came to mind was Melissa Wilson-Sayres, and I quickly (being in a rush with standard faculty/home life) found a good paper analyzing diversity on the Y chromosome. Was it the perfect paper for our needs? No. It is good but has some confusing details that I didn’t intend to hit the students with (yet). But it will lead to a good discussion.

And maybe this is the interesting part as a teacher, as a mentor, in representing diversity. We are often going to our easiest, most readily-available, resources that we know fit the job. We are overwhelmed, or sometimes actually feeling lazy. And to do better - representing those needs while representing diversity - means we need to add reading to our already tall reading pile! In this case, I maybe should have looked through this and a few other of Melissa’s papers, as well as those by folks like Rebekah Rogers or Lacey Knowles (whose papers I know well enough, but I didn’t want to get into the structured coalescent yet, the realm of phylogeography). 

These are of course just a few quick examples of ways to pay attention to lazy bias in our academic world. How many of the invited speakers you have hosted have been women? (In my case it is less than half, but if you include a couple of invitations that had to be turned down, my list doesn't reject a null hypothesis of equality 😀 ) Who is being invited for your symposium or panel? Who is being invited to be an editor or a reviewer? And of course, who is being hired? These are questions being generated and answered by the new Diversify EEB list, initiated by Gina Baucom - one of the Ph.Ds from UGA Genetics.

Now, I better get ready to go teach - today is graduate class in coalescent theory (80% women) and ECOL 3400, professional aspects for undergrads to consider as biologists. And one of the things they will certainly be considering is their place in this world of science, and how to make it better.