Diversity at RMBL


Diversity among researchers, teachers, and students promotes academic rigor, enhances research quality, and improves learning effectiveness (1,2,3).  RMBL strives to engage with people from all walks of life, including ethnic, cultural, and socio-economic diversity, and to provide opportunities for shared collaboration in accelerating scientific learning and discovery.

REU students at RMBL. Photo from RMBL Archives

From the very beginning, RMBL has been committed to a culture of inclusiveness.  In 1928, a woman, Vera Adams, was among RMBL’s five founders.  Dr. Harriet Barclay was one of the RMBL’s first faculty members.  RMBL scientist Dr. Jean Langenheim served as the second female president of the Ecological Society of America.  This tradition of inclusiveness continues as RMBL scientist Dr. Noah Whiteman is the first openly gay faculty member hired into the Integrative Biology department at Berkeley.

RMBL encourages diversity through a range of mechanisms.  We provide our services without regard to race, color, religion, national origin, gender, or sexual orientation.  We welcome families, including children and spouses. RMBL has always had a strong, family-oriented work environment for both women and men. Over the last five years, 43% of the 175 scientists with approved research plans have been female, and five of the 11 trustees are women.

Marmot researchers processing an animal. Photo from RMBL Archives

RMBL is working to ethnically diversify their community.  In 2015, out of 50 scientists with approved research plans, 14% of the scientists lived outside the US and only 2% were Hispanic.  No other ethnic groups were represented. RMBL does not track ethnic data of research assistants or undergraduates, but we do track backgrounds for participants in our Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program.  Approximately six out of ten participants in this program are minorities.  Additionally, we typically have another 5-10 minority students working as research assistants or participating in the undergraduate research program.

RMBL actively recruits and supports students with diverse backgrounds into our education programs, including students who are the first in their families to go to college.  In addition to serving minority students from across the county, we work closely with faculty from Los Angeles Community Colleges to reach first generation and minority students.  We also provide fellowship support for first-year students through the REU program and scholarships for returning students, including funds that target students from Hispanic-serving institutions.

Student researchers in the Gothic Research Center. Photo by Greg Dimijian

RMBL also provides funding for faculty with experience in working with minority students, particularly from Hispanic-serving Institutions, to work at RMBL.  We provide this funding in order for RMBL to gain institutional experience for working effectively with students of all backgrounds, provide culturally relevant role models for students, and to encourage long-term diversification of RMBL’s research community.

Moving forward, RMBL has incorporated a Diversity Liaison to be active during the summer as well as safe spaces to facilitate open dialogue and discussion on diversity-related topics. These efforts have been arranged by the RMBL Diversity committee. RMBL encourages feedback to this committee, or directly to our Executive Director, Dr. Ian Billick, about how we can better serve students and scientists of all backgrounds as well as diversify our long-term research community.

Literature Cited: 1) Gurin et al. (2002) Diversity and higher education: Theory and impact on educational outcomes. Harvard educational review 72, 330-367. 2) Freeman & Huang (2014) Strength in diversity: Richard B. Freeman and Wei Huang reflect on a link between a team’s ethnic mix and highly cited papers. Nature 315, 305-306. 3) Campbell et al. (2013) Gender-heterogenous working groups produce higher quality science. PloS one, 8, e79147.