A young scientist works on a chemistry problem. (Shutterstock photo)

The meager percentage of Black and other minority students involved in STEM disciplines has been the source of much research and public discourse. But Andrew C. Campbell, a professor of biology at Brown University, recently took a  different approach, adding the voices of those who have been the subjects of these  ongoing conversations.

“STEM training program analyses aimed at defining what matters in trainee (student) choices, persistence, and motivation have always been guided from the top,”  Campbell’s report stated. “Part of this work relies on administering surveys constructed using assumptions and inferences that we as trainers make regarding what motivates trainees and the factors that affect their choices. While useful, these approaches are often derived in prescriptive ways, which can lead to unintended  biases by undervaluing or failing to measure the traits and the attributes trainees themselves possess and value.”

In his study, Campbell took 50 minority students from 15 different colleges and universities on a retreat and gleaned their thoughts on the shortage of minorities in  STEM fields.

The participants provided eight recommendations of approaches to increase those numbers:

*Including a social justice component in STEM education. For, example students discussed aligning biomedical research with very real concerns such as health disparities.


(Alamy stock photo)

*Providing training to help students explain science to nonscientists, particularly family members who would be needed to provide support to help that student succeed. It could also help promote greater understanding of STEM disciplines in minority communities, making them more accessible.

*Connecting STEM with other disciplines, including the humanities and the arts.

*Educating students earlier rather than at the late graduate and postdoctoral levels about science careers.

*Giving better guidance and assistance in achieving work life–family life balance.  Older trainees may be tasked with child care, but even undergraduates are often responsible for helping to rear siblings or contribute financially to their families.

*Re-evaluating the current metrics that fail to value diverse traits trainees can bring  to science or fail to account for cultural differences.

*Providing access to “invested mentors” who show a genuine interest in their careers.

*Creating greater opportunities for ancillary training, that accommodate students evolving interests.

The research, “NEST 2014: Views from the Trainees — Talking About What Matters in Efforts to Diversify the STEM Workforce,” was published in the journal CBE-Life Sciences Education.