I should use a magnifying glass to be able to see the percentage of underrepresented minority women in the graph above. This graph, published in a paper written by officials from the NIH, shows the percentage of women and men underrepresented in academia (African-American, Hispanic, Native American, Pacific Islander...) and those that are "well-represented" (White, Asian).(1)
According to the paper, underrepresented minority women make up a healthy proportion of graduate degrees awarded, but our numbers dwindle at the highest levels of academia. There are hardly any tenured full professors who are women of color. I care about this because I am indeed a Puerto Rican, female, tenured professor, and I am NIH-funded.
Although the reality of this lack of people who look like me in academia stares me in the face every morning when I arrive at work, seeing it depicted in this graph makes me feel even lonelier.
I swear that I try to do my part to increase the numbers of underrepresented men and women in academia: I mentor. I develop and get funding for training programs. I recruit. I create networks. But there are many forces that contribute to the attrition of women and minorities from the highest levels in academia. Loneliness is certainly one that I can attest to, and also discrimination and exclusion, both subtle and overt. It seems to me that students come to academia, they see the struggle, and they leave thinking "I don't want to put myself through that". And I understand.
Many minority students have asked me "How do you do it?" "How do you persist?". Here are some of the things that I hope can help underrepresented students and faculty, both male and female, survive and thrive in academia:
In an interview for a Mother's Day article, a reporter asked me to talk about the best career advice that my Mother ever gave me.
My Mom gives me a lot of advice, but it has never been particularly career-oriented. Nevertheless, I have found that her wisdom can be applied to all aspects of my life, including my professional life.
As I answered the reporter's question, I struggled to translate my Mom's advice from her original Spanish, not just because of the language, but because my Mom speaks in funny anecdotes that may not make much sense to you at the moment.
Writer Emily Moore, captured motherly career advice from my Mom and 12 other professionals in her article for Glassdoor.com, the employers rating website.
Here is the section on my Mom:
"Although my mother only has [a] middle-school formal education level, she is one of the wisest persons that I know... Roughly translated, one of the best pieces of advice that she has given me is 'Try not to lose the rope trying to catch the goat.' What she means by this is that when you have something (a rope, a job), don't throw it out trying to get the next thing (a goat, a venture) — that rope can help you catch many other goats if you learn how to use it.
I have heeded my mother's advice by building on my career from my steady base as a tenured professor. From this position, I have written a book, built a consulting business and helped others build their own careers. So I feel that I have used my rope to catch many goats."
To read the full article and see pictures of each contributor with our mothers, click HERE .
Do we work to make a living
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Dr. Luz Claudio is an environmental health scientist, mother and consultant, originally from Puerto Rico. She is a tenured professor of environmental medicine and public health. Luz recently published her first book: How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper: The Step-by-Step Guide. Dr. Claudio has internship programs and resources for young scientists. Opinions expressed in this blog are solely her own and may not reflect her employer's views.