Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Demographics of Science!

African Americans are generally underrepresented, both in the universities, and in the sciences. Berkeley is no exception in this case.

During my time in grad school I have interviewed well over 100 undergraduates who were applying to work with me, and taken on (as volunteers or paid workers) about 30 of them. Currently, I have 18 undergraduate collaborators. I've not given a great deal of thought to the demographics of this group, other than to notice that the great majority of my applicants (and therefore of my assistants) are female. A recent conversation (about Pres. Elect Obama) made me stop and think about the race and religion of this group. It is a very diverse group. I have had assistants who are Christian, Jewish, Hindui, Muslim and non-religious. Maybe other religions, I don't know. I have had assistants whose ancestors (or they themselves) came from East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Pacific Islands, Latin America and possibly other places I am not aware of. They have been male and female, heterosexual and homosexual. There are few places in the world where I could have ended up with a more diverse group, but I have no one of obvious African decent.

African Americans are not represented in my lab for a simple but sad reason. I have had not one African American applicant (that I am aware of), out of maybe 120. It is striking that African American representation in this group is lower than among our nation's elected officials. I am not sure why exactly this is, what combination of bias, cultural factors and public policies to blame, but I know this is one area where African Americans don't yet seem to have made sufficient inroads.

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