My goals to further Diversity and Inclusion in Science

Being a visible minority and often underrepresented, I know the importance of improving diversity and inclusivity, in all the important dimensions including but not limited to gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, race, culture, geography and school of thought. My lived experience in this domain taught me a lot of things, and provided me an important perspective on diversity and inclusivity. Hence, I am passionate about making the environment of various institutes and conferences I am involved with, as diverse and as inclusive as possible. Hence, I am very delighted to announce I am joining the Diversity and Inclusion Committee (D&IC) of the Organization for Human Brain Mapping (OHBM) from 2020 till 2023. I thank the current D&IC in selecting me, and I’m quite excited to build on their amazing efforts and great progress they have mades so far: learn more here, here, here, and here.

OHBM is a fantastic community – you should totally join us! I promise you won’t regret it :).

Some of the goals I’d personally like to pursue going forward in this position are listed below. These important goals are not specific to OHBM, I would be pursuing them in all the organizations and events I would be involved in. I would appreciate your feedback and support, and encourage you to share them with the relevant people and organizations. To be clear, these are individual personal goals, and they do not represent the views or interests of any committees I may be serving on today, or in the future. If there have been similar ideas pursued elsewhere, please let me know so we can learn from and improve on them further.

Transparency

Some respectable societies and conferences are already transparent in many basic and important areas such as their bylaws, election process, diversity statistics, and financial reports. These actions are necessary, but not sufficient to make the societies fully diverse and inclusive e.g. in terms of different outputs emanating from them such as awards and their demographic characteristics. Hence, I would like to suggest the following ideas:

  • sharing of detailed diversity reports (in various important dimensions) along with statistics and trends over different stages in a given year (from submissions to acceptance of papers, talks and symposia etc, and award winners) as well as over the years to come. This is already done in some basic form by some respectable societies, but I would to pursue the sharing in a higher-resolution into deeper-stages, within the limits of privacy and ethics guidelines
  • sharing of nominators and the nomination letters for all awards (e.g. Life Time Achievement, Early Career Investigators and others). This would help the community judge not only the quality of nominations but also the watch out for and prevent “rich clubs” and concentration of awards into few universities, cities, ideas, ecosystems and other powerful factors. Some related important studies and discussions are available here, here.

Inclusion

  • eradicating the toxic and non-inclusive concepts of “Prestige” of journal names etc in our discourse e.g. by avoiding implying (directly or indirectly) papers in certain journals are somehow better than others in talks and tweets etc. I think this should be included in the speaker code of conduct (to be developed and formalized if that doesn’t exist), as guidelines for presentations under the OHBM umbrella
  • improving value alignment: ensure the values and actions of the speakers align with the values of the OHBM as a society e.g. open science. That is, we can not be promoting a “data hoarder” (no commitment to share data they collected with public money) or a “toxic bully” (who runs a sweat shop) on our keynote stage

Impact on volunteers

Scientific events and conferences are mostly envisioned, organized and run by volunteers, at different stages in their careers (graduate students + postdocs vs. Assistant + Associate + Full Professors) and at different levels in the organizational hierarchy (one-off individual sessions vs. multi-year commitment on committees vs. council etc). However, if not properly taken into account, much of this burden would disproportionately fall on the more vulnerable population as well as leading to overworked committees. I think this is a preventable problem with some proactive planning and organization, towards which I suggest the following:

  • explicitly include the impact on early career researchers (ECRs) into the decision making at different levels, so the societies can make the best decisions (in running the societies and conference) while minimizing undue impact on volunteers and ECRs. For example, where do we draw the line between what should be done by volunteers or the staff, or get it outsourced?
  • develop guidelines on what would constitute a reasonable amount of work that can be expected from a given volunteer position, that is practically feasible. This may vary based on the type of work, member career stage and other relevant factors. However, targeting only the minimum amount of work per member, and expanding the size of the relevant committee as needed (e.g. in program committee or council) would be sustainable
  • adopt better project management (e.g. Asana, Basecamp etc) and communication software (e.g. Slack, Teams etc) to plan, divide and delegate the work to reduce confusion and chaos, which in turn would get the necessary work done, and provides peace to the organizers

Diversity

  • improve diversity in speakers, not just in a single session but over the entire event as well as over few years. I plan to advocate for a maximum of 1 talk per speaker per year, unless there are clear exceptions and/or justifications
  • incorporating a diversity dashboard into decision making in different areas, to help the decision makers easily and immediately visualize the diversity outcomes of their choices. This would greatly help developing a diverse annual program (educational courses, symposia, keynotes etc) as well as in award selection
  • increase the number of travel fellowships to enable and specifically target certain countries and continents which haven’t been recipients of any fellowships from OHBM in the recent years. Some possible strategies could be a rolling focus to target certain continents and countries every year, taking their participation rates into account over a 3 to 5-year period
  • identify opportunities to reduce the registration costs to the fullest extent possible to enable increased participation of trainees and PIs with access to very limited or no travel funds
  • encouraging and easing the participation for young parents, to assist in arrangements for childcare and the related, and making it more affordable

Miscellaneous

  • leveraging collective brilliance: in addition to the D&IC’s own research, I’d like to survey the current membership on their observations on their own experience, current state of diversity, and ideas on how to improve it, to avoid guess work and to leverage the society’s collective brilliance
  • instead of passively encouraging everyone to be inclusive, I’d like to take an unassuming approach to educate everyone (and esp. the newcomers) on the Code of Conduct (CoC), set the expectations, clear any gray areas (on what’s constitutes a CoC violation) and common misconceptions. For example, I believe using a few minutes before every keynote is an effective way to reach and educate our membership on a number of important topics. I would like this sort of training be targeted towards not just the members at large, but also the members of the D&IC
  • in addition to the attendee and speaker diversity, I’d like to develop approaches to review the methodological diversity, and ensure proportional coverage for all schools of thought, in close collaboration with the program committee as well as the community
  • making it safe to disagree in controversial debates, scientific or political:.. Safe spaces for disagreement, anyone? 🙂
    (I support this letter, calling for the “need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences.“)

Some of the aforementioned ideas may seem far-fetched and impractical, but I believe they must be considered and discussed by our community. Even if we couldn’t achieve some of them in the next few years, I hope to at least share the reasons why. Please hold me accountable to this :).

Note: the above list may be updated from time to time, based on community feedback as well as to post updates.

There are other ideas and issues the D&IC is trying to solve (e.g. accessibility for those hard of hearing is just one of them), and the other D&IC members are more qualified and experienced to lead and solve them. I would learn from them and support them.

If you have any feedback on my [personal] goals (positive or negative), other ideas and suggestions, let me know via this anonymous survey. I appreciate your input, and promise to reflect carefully on it.

My past experience in this domain include:

  • as the co-chair for OHBM satellite conference PRNI 2017 in Toronto, we were one of the early movers in arranging childcare locally for young parents, and doing our best to enable participation from young parents e.g. one keynote speaker gave their talk via Skype from another continent back in 2017
  • petitioning Society for Neuroscience (SfN) to rotate their venue to enable & improve minorities participation rates, that were dramatically affected by Trump Travel Ban (also referred to as Muslim Ban by some). This is ongoing: sign this petition to SfN, and check the #MoreInclusiveSfN hashtag]
  • served as the President for a Graduate Student Association at SFU comprising of a very diverse and international pool of students
  • lobbied the Deans at SFU (circa 2010) to raise the guaranteed minimum stipend from C$8000 to $18000, and to never offer an admission for international students without securing the necessary funds (to avoid potentially toxic and horrible scenarios)
  • developed a “buddy” program in 2008 for international students to ease their early years, by 1) compiling a “newcomer guide” to orient them to the new world and new rules, and 2) improving their support network by pairing them with buddies.

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