Diversifying the Professoriate – One Postdoc at a Time

Written by
Chris Coia

May 9, 2019

May 9, 2019 • by Chris Coia

According to some measures, 80% of university chemistry and biology professors are white. Research has shown that a lack of female role models and role models of color may be causing fewer women and students of color to consider STEM careers.

              In a country that is rapidly diversifying, it’s clear that students need a more diverse faculty to prepare them for careers in STEM fields. To address this issue, Stanford University’s Office of Postdoctoral Affairs has launched the Stanford Postdoctoral Recruitment Initiative in Sciences and Medicine (PRISM).

              PRISM is targeted specifically at postdoctoral candidates from underrepresented groups, including African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and those with disabilities or from disadvantaged backgrounds. The program invites students who may not otherwise consider Stanford to apply for a funded postdoctoral interview opportunity. Successful applicants will travel to Stanford and interview with faculty in person to decide whether Stanford may be right for them.

              Natalie Nevarez, a Postdoctoral Scholar in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, attended the first PRISM program in 2017. She said “It’s like when you do a visit for grad school, but at the postdoc level. It’s not a common practice. The experience of coming to the campus helps people envision how they can fit in. These intensive academic environments can seem out of reach for some students. If I hadn’t come to visit through PRISM, I never would have thought I would apply to Stanford.”

              Sofie Kleppner, the Associate Dean for Postdoctoral Affairs at Stanford reports that 23 scholars have so far taken postdoc positions after participating in the PRISM program, almost all of whom are from underrepresented groups.

              Robin Sugiura, Associate Director of Programs and Outreach, added that PRISM was modeled after a similar program at the University of Michigan, and “the goal is to diversify the professoriate.”

              Sugiura adds, “Some postdocs can see Stanford as too ‘elite,’ and may conclude that it won’t be a good fit for them.” The goal of PRISM is to give postdocs a chance to visit with faculty mentors and to let them determine for themselves whether Stanford might, in fact, be a great opportunity. The program initially started with a focus on medicine, but in its second year it was expanded to accommodate applicants from all STEM fields.

              For example, Nevarez interviewed with three different labs on her visit to Stanford. She received job offers from all three labs, and though she also received offers from other universities, PRISM was instrumental in her decision to attend Stanford.

              Applications for PRISM 2019 will open on May 13, and the campus visits will take place in October. For more information, interested advanced graduate students should visit the web site here: https://postdocs.stanford.edu/PRISM.