Dr. Perez is one of the social scientists for the CIRTL AGEP project and has been engaged in longitudinal qualitative research at two NIC institutions to understand graduate students' socialization experiences, their role in changing racial climate in their departments, and how departments engage in the work of improving racial climate to better support racially minoritized graduate students.
Underrepresented (UR) graduate students and postdocs are regularly affected by others' implicit bias and by their microaggressive and direct racist remarks and acts. The cumulative effect of a negative climate in their departments and research groups creates draining challenges for UR students until, often, they decide that they do not belong and thus do not seek a faculty career if they remain enrolled at all. Many universities offer a broad range of programs that directly support UR students and postdocs through services such as bridge programs, mentoring, and professional development. This project will create a major, complementary initiative to improve the climate.
Approximately half of UR PhD students are initially interested in faculty careers, yet over the course of their PhD their interest in faculty careers declines by 50% more than the corresponding drop for white and Asian-American males. This project’s goal is to reduce this gap by expanding UR graduate student and postdoc interest in faculty careers. The CIRTL AGEP team will work towards narrowing the gap by improving campus climate to increase each student’s and postdoc’s sense of belonging and interest in a faculty career. Since the partners are all members of the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning Network (CIRTL), they will disseminate their tested practices and workshops across CIRTL universities that produce 30% of the nation’s STEM PhDs and 45% of STEM postdocs.
To tackle this complex, multifaceted problem of inclusive climate, the investigators have formed a Networked Improvement Community (NIC) of nine CIRTL universities. NIC universities will undertake coordinated initiatives to improve faculty advising as well as the mentoring provided by postdocs, who spend considerable day-to-day time with graduate students. The NIC will also develop and test initiatives on building an inclusive community amongst graduate students.