Lab heads: how have your minority ethnic trainees fared?

University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.

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For scientists of colour, like me, the vocal support of so many in the scientific community in the past few weeks has been a gratifying change from a history of silence and complicity in racism (see Nature 559, 153; 2018).

But words come easy. Pledges to enact changes to combat racism rarely result in action. Indeed, the poor representation of people from minority ethnic groups at higher levels of academia in most countries only exists because of an accretion of overt discrimination and, more commonly, a lack of consciousness of racism among individual mentors and principal investigators.

As part of his pledge to do better, Michael Eisen, editor-in-chief of the journal eLife and a geneticist at the University of California, Berkeley, has admitted his own lack of mentorship of Black students during his career (M. B. Eisen eLife 9, e59636; 2020). I call on more leaders in science to examine their actions. Compile data on the career trajectories of your trainees, broken down by ethnicity. Share the aggregate data through social media, your journals and society newsletters, or with your own laboratory members and department.

The acknowledgement of past failings by senior colleagues will go a long way towards demonstrating to scientists from under-represented groups that academia is willing to reform. Lab heads: hold your own feet to the fire. The first step towards change has to be a deeply personal recognition of our own roles in creating and maintaining discriminatory systems.

Nature 582, 341 (2020)

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