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:
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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.