Lessons from the Literature: A discussion of best practices for equitable recruiting and hiring in EEB

On April 15th, Garth Covernton (post-doctoral fellow, Rochman Lab) led an interactive discussion about equitable hiring practices in academia. Garth presented data on representation in academia from the undergraduate to faculty level, highlighting areas for improvement. Notably, he shared that, although academia has improved in terms of increasing representation, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology departments are lagging, especially in ensuring PhD graduates from under-represented groups make it though the postdoctoral stage to a faculty position. He then engaged in an interactive discussion of what policies and strategies can be used by EEB and other departments alike to improve representation at all career levels. Some highlights included open and competitive recruitment of grad students, postdoc to faculty tracks, cluster hires, and improved departmental climate and active recruiting of faculty with diversity in mind. Improving equitable hiring practices may help to address EDI issues within academic departments. 

Assessment of FREED Student Experiences for Accessible Experiential Learning

On November 23rd 2023, co-founders Mariel Terebiznik and Aranya Iyer presented recent research from FREED, Field Research in Ecology and Evolution Diversified. FREED is an organization dedicated to increasing access to field work for Indigenous, Black, and/or Racialized (BIPOC) individuals who are underrepresented in EEB and related fields.  FREED addresses these barriers by creating a field-based curriculum that is led by majority BIPOC graduate students and early-career professionals for BIPOC undergraduate students. In their presentation, Mariel and Aranya discussed how their team assessed the impact of accessible, experiential learning experiences for BIPOC undergraduate students in field work and ecology and evolutionary biology. By conducting surveys during the 2023 event that assessed student experiences before and after participating in FREED, they measured how student perceptions of their own skills and confidence in field work, sense of community in conservation and ecology sectors, and likelihood of pursuing a conservation-based career changed after participating in FREED.  Preliminary results demonstrate an increase in all three areas, suggesting a positive benefit of experiential learning to FREED participants. FREED co-founders also discussed future plans to organize more FREED events within and beyond the University of Toronto community.  

Incorporating Indigenous Knowledge into Ecological Research

On January 22nd, 2024, Jaime Grimm (PhD Candidate at the University of Toronto EEB department) and Reta Meng (PhD Candidate at McMaster University Department of Biology) shared their knowledge and experiences with knowledge co-production. Drawing on their own experiences working with Indigenous communities, Reta and Jaime described their respective processes in co-producing knowledge, highlighting the various ways that this approach builds more inclusive projects and capacity within and outside of the community. They also reflected on the individual and system-level challenges associated with co-producing knowledge including the typical academic process, research timelines, and the necessity of sharing control and intellectual ownership with the communities they work with. Thank you Reta and Jaime for an amazing talk!

The Matthew Effect in NSERC funding

Megan Frederickson studies mutualism, so naturally she is fascinated by positive feedback loops. Positive feedback is a self-reinforcing process, and often very rapidly amplifies the effects of an initially small perturbation. (Remember Bob May’s description of populations of mutualists exploding out of control in “an orgy of mutual benefaction”? That’s positive feedback in action.)

In academia, positive feedback between early and subsequent successes is sometimes called the Matthew Effect, after a parable in the Bible. The Matthew Effect is likely one reason why measures of academic success are highly unequal across scientists. If early successes tend to snowball and increase the chances of future successes, then this runaway process may explain why some scientists are so wildly successful, while other (potentially equally talented or insightful) scientists labour in relative obscurity or end up leaving academia.

A Matthew Effect, if it occurs, will tend to exacerbate initially small or even non-existent differences among individuals in academic merit. Worse yet, the Matthew Effect will also tend to exacerbate any biases in the academic reward system. Thus, if gender or race have even slight influences on early academic success, these effects can build up over the course of long academic careers to result in large gender or racial gaps in later academic success.

Megan Frederickson analyzed the NSERC Awards Database for evidence of the Matthew Effect in NSERC funding. The NSERC Awards Database provides data on all NSERC grants, scholarships, and awards made to scientists at Canadian institutions since 1991. Because it includes 30 years of data, Megan can use the NSERC Awards Database to track awards to thousands of scientists over the course of their careers—in some cases, from winning NSERC Undergraduate Student Researcher Awards as undergraduate students, through M.Sc. and Ph.D. programs funded by NSERC Postgraduate or Canada Graduate Scholarships, through postdoctoral training funded by NSERC Postdoctoral or Banting Fellowships, to Discovery Grants to faculty members, and ultimately to NSERC’s very highest science prizes. Megan will present the results of her analysis, which finds that early NSERC successes do indeed beget later NSERC successes. In other words, her analysis suggests that the Matthew Effect operates in the NSERC funding system.

Panel Discussion on Designing EDI Grad Courses

This panel was moderated by Nicole Mideo and featured Maydianne Andrade (U of T Scarborough, Professor), Corrie Moreau (Cornell University, Professor), Rosalie Fanshel (Berkeley, PhD Student) and Kenzo Esquivel (Berkeley, PhD Student). Maydianne and Nicole ran an EDI course for graduate students in the department last summer, modelled after a course developed by Corrie Moreau. Rosalie and Kenzo were part of a team of graduate students at Berkeley that designed and ran an EDI course for their department.

Building a Better Fieldwork Future – Preventing Sexual Harassment + Assault in the Field Sciences Workshop

Fieldwork is an important and often necessary component of many scientific disciplines, yet research suggests that it presents a high-risk setting for incidents of sexual harassment and assault. This 90-minute online workshop has been developed by a team of field researchers at UC Santa Cruz. It identifies the unique risks posed by fieldwork and offers a suite of evidence-based tools for field researchers, instructors, and students to prevent, intervene in, and respond to sexual harassment and assault. Through a series of practical intervention scenarios, this workshop guides participants on how to be an active and engaged bystander, how to report incidents, and how to plan field settings to minimize risk. Armed with these tools, participants can play a role in ensuring that field settings are safer, more equitable, and more welcoming for the next generation of field scientists.

This session was organized and hosted by Jessica Leivesley and was run by May Roberts (PhD Candidate, UC Santa Cruz https://mayroberts.wordpress.com/) and Amanda Adams (lecturer at Texas A+M and Conservation Research Program Manager at Bat Conservation International; https://amadams.org/)

Recommendations to the Departments of EEB and Biology at the University of Toronto, on the Decolonization of Department-Affiliated Field Work, including Increasing Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Undergraduate Field Courses

Field research is performed widely across EEB/Biology at the University of Toronto. We surveyed whether tenured or tenure-track EEB professors incorporated fieldwork into their research programs. Over 75% of faculty were identified as incorporating fieldwork in their research. Further, our departments offer a number of field course opportunities for undergraduates. For these reasons, we were motivated to develop department-level recommendations and instructional-level guidelines for decolonizing fieldwork. We will discuss those recommendations and some resources available to decolonize biological fieldwork-based research, including increasing equity, diversity and inclusion in undergrad field courses.

Religion and Science

Simon Coleman, Amin Mansouri, Pamela Klassen, and Suzanne van Geuns discussed different ways to approach the domain of religion and science, emphasizing how permeable and arbitrary the boundaries between the “religious” and the “secular” can be. The conversation focused especially on teaching and evolution, from the idea of “local” secularism to the intellectual contributions that religious traditions have made to techno-scientific development.