How Has Your Field Changed Over the Years?

Manavi Chatterjee (Biology):

I feel the Labs in US are more supportive of sharing and collaborating which was lacking in some places in India where I did my PHD.

Rajeev Erramilli (Physics):

My field, high energy theory (hep-th), is notorious for being very intimidating and adhering strongly to what I would call “genius culture”: the idea that it’s the work of lone geniuses who just intrinsically have some special sauce. I should add that this conception of science is laughably false: science of all flavors is and always has been a deeply collaborative project that needs different sorts of people with different skill sets.

Within my research collaborations, partially because I think everyone is so young, I think we have an understanding and a grasp of this collaborative structure. We try to be very welcoming and supportive to our newest members. I haven’t been in my group long enough to know if anything has really changed since I’ve entered, but I definitely see the difference between how my research collaboration acts vs how some other researchers in my field act. A significant problem is the nearly wholesale lack of women and URM and URM women in hep-th. I’m working on a project this year for the first time with a woman involved in the project, and that should be shocking considering I’m a 3rd year now. While I think we’ve done a good job of helping her feel welcomed, the broader reputation of the field keeps many, many more people out.

 

The Yale physics department has historically done a good job of hiring and admitting and matriculating a large number of women, but almost no URM and exactly zero URM women in recent history. Additionally, the department just very obviously has a corporate feeling to it. I don’t feel that my work or my opinions are respected by the department administration, and I feel that they often conceive of diversity, equity, and inclusion as purely numerical diversity and assimilative inclusion instead of true equity.

 

To majority students, I think we need to think outside of purely including people who have similar experiences to us, who talk like us, and who act like us. For example, I think many of the domestic majority graduate students in the physics dept, men and women alike, correctly perceive their experience as graduate students to be quite good. Our pay is great (for single, traditional grad students)! Our teaching is great! But the mistake we often make is that even though our experiences may be great, there are many others whose experiences aren’t great. I have heard too many stories of casual sexism and racism around the department; I know too many people for whom the university has made their lives hell by not providing dental/vision care or sufficient support for dependents; many of us graduate students without grant funding have been forced to double our teaching load with little to no say in this matter, as if it were just a “policy change” and that somehow this was a sufficient justification. My advice to majority students is to be compassionate, empathetic, and supportive of the students who will have different experiences from you. Put the people around you first, and don’t let the glitz of the ivy league university you work for blind you from that.

Rowan Palmer (Engineering):

  1. you feel the field is more welcoming now then when you entered?
    Although I’ve only been in college for four years and haven’t been in the industry for long, I have noticed a change in the ways in which people have conversations about representation and respect. There’s a lot more direct openness and honesty about the ways in which representation can affect power dynamics, learning, and work environments. And that, to me, is a positive first step. 
  2. What is your message for majority students? How can they be allies to URM?
    When someone speaks, Listen. And then respond. Validate their ideas, ask them to elaborate, amplify their voices. It’s not enough to be listened to — you also have to be heard and valued in the conversation. If you notice someone being quiet or struggling, ask for their input, build spaces. And recognize that just because one person who is an URM seems confident, comfortable, and/or respected in a space or conversation doesn’t mean that everyone is.