The following is a proposal on behalf of the scientific community to federal agencies in the sciences (e.g. the National Science Foundation, NASA), to be implemented and managed by Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs within these organizations. We propose the creation of a common infrastructure and format for the collection of data from grant recipients regarding (a) demographics and (b) availability of resources (e.g. fieldwork, training, mentorship, emotional health). Anonymized data would be made available both internally and to the larger social science community for analysis and to inform policy.
The larger goal is to better link necessary resources to the minoritized populations that currently lack them, and to identify the resources required to succeed at various career stages to build on-ramps outside of the pipeline.
We propose the collection of data designed to capture the health of the scientific community and assess how equitably resources are made available to agency-funded researchers throughout their career paths. This would be an effort conducted fully in conjunction with Diversity and Inclusion specialists, with aggregate data to be made available to social scientists, and with the goal of helping agencies develop long-term strategies for the development of a strong scientific workforce. This data collection effort is intended both to address inequities in a short timeframe and to develop long-term strategies for increasing diversity and inclusion. The data collection effort would amount to a questionnaire implemented in a centralized system, to be filled out as a requirement of the annual review process by all direct and indirect recipients of awards, including PIs, Co-PIs, postdoctoral researchers and students. This could be built upon the current required questionnaire implemented at NSF, but expanded to collect more holistic information, including focusing on specific resources (i.e. mentorship, access to fieldwork). While this would include researchers throughout their careers, the primary focus would be to meet the needs of students, early career researchers and those in the transition stage to senior status (such as tenure).
The objectives of this effort would be to amass an evidence-based understanding of the factors that most contribute to the long-term success of scientists, to understand whether these resources are distributed equitably, with the specific goal of quantifying the factors that contribute to the long-term success of historically under-represented groups. The regular collection of data would enable central agency resources to be reactive, i.e. to identify specific students/researchers who are being left behind along with the resources most critical to their success. This dataset would also help inform long-term strategies to tackle systemic inequalities by identifying which resources are most crucial to success as well as how equitably these resources are distributed. Further, anonymized data would be made available to social scientists at large as well as the Diversity and Inclusion/Equal Opportunity offices and program managers, thus linking how we assess systemic inequalities with those who are empowered to correct them.
The list of researcher resources may include, for example, mentorship, resources to attend appropriate conferences and field schools, the availability of financial resources, inclusion into their academic community in tangible ways (such as invited collaborations), as well as factors external to academic life. We emphasize that questions should be designed by existing specialists in the social sciences to assess results rather than simply accessibility. This focus on outcomes will assign responsibility to institutions and mentors for active inclusion rather than simply for the provision of information. The maintenance of data collection at the agency level allows for researchers to be tracked throughout their careers, through multiple classifications of identity that may change over time (e.g., gender, title, name, affiliation), within the space which is most relevant to defining their success as scientists: their research community.
As a part of the data collection effort in Part 1: Quantifying equitable resource distribution, we suggest providing a space in the questionnaire for graduate students and early career researchers to identify organizations and members of the researcher’s scientific community who have contributed to their success (potentially ancillary to their immediate supervisors). This gives an opportunity to amplify the successful strategies of those individuals who provide crucial mentorship, inclusion and opportunities without necessarily occupying an official role. This outside mentorship may be especially crucial for minoritized students who may need to reach outside their home institutions. We can pinpoint and lift up community members who actively reach out and reach back, many of whom (especially those minoritized by gender and race) are currently performing unpaid labor for the community at large.