Diversity

A beginner’s guide
to minority professor hires

Michael D. L. Johnson
By Michael D. L. Johnson
February 11, 2020

What makes a good principal investigator? What makes a great one? Often, there is a certain mold that hiring committees look for in applicants. By and large, the first two cutoffs are funding and great papers. However, most of us in the professoriate do more than acquire grants and submit papers. We advise students, sit on committees and teach–all things that are essential to being a successful professor because they show that you can juggle more than just science. Many underrepresented minorities (URMs) take on a lot of those intangible items, not only because people ask us to serve in a multitude of areas for the sake of having representation, but because we also want to be that representation. As a postdoctoral fellow looking to be hired as an assistant professor, I performed service, mentoring, teaching and more. Doing some of these intangible activities can make it hard to measure current and future success as a principal investigator, and thus, may be a major problem facing URMs looking to join a research-intensive professoriate.

jose aljovin/Unsplash

How are these intangible activities scored during a faculty application review? When in the process are they scored? Are they scored?

The argument against looking deeper into the pool of applicants is that it takes time, money and lots of effort. Hundreds of applications have to be distilled down to 5 or so people to interview in-person. Practicality has to be valued, especially given the juggling act of being a professor with so many things to do. How does an institution that wants to add more URM faculty do so?

The increasing number of URM doctorates hasn’t been reflected in URM faculty hires. Despite a 930% increase in URM Ph.D.s since 1985, there has been no significant change in the percentage of URM biomedical professors at research intensive universities. The best solution is to hire more URMs, but no unilateral solutions to do so exist, or they would have been implemented already. Given this information, here are some things I propose that might help faculty searches increase their URM faculty candidates:

  • Recognize and evaluate the intangibles of prospective professors. 
  • Talk with and seek advice from minority professors at your institution and ask them what their background was, how they got recruited and what made them feel more welcome at one place over another. Let this be the start of the conversation, not the end. 
  • Identify URM individuals and encourage them to apply for open positions at your university. A selection of databases to look through includes:
  • Share job openings within groups and communities that commonly self-identify on social media, such as #BLACKandSTEM, LatinxandSTEM and #diversityinSTEM.
  • Create university initiatives to encourage or facilitate minority hires, such as having a designated slot to hire a URM Faculty. Add to the prestige by naming it after a donor.
  • Align your department/institution as a place that values diversity by making public statements on your webpage about diversity.  
  • Require new hires to submit a diversity statement with their application and make it a part of the decision-making process. It helps to surround yourself with people who value diversity. 
  • Re-evaluate what kind of candidate you are looking for and see if it excluded the people you talked to in the first bullet point.
  • Provide URMs with a platform to present their research by inviting them to a research seminar. 
  • Overall, as an institution, you must be willing to spend money and time for these efforts because after all, commitment without currency is counterfeit.

This article first appeared on the American Society for Microbiology’s website, asm.org.

Michael D. L. Johnson
Michael D. L. Johnson

Michael D. L. Johnson is an assistant professor in the department of immunobiology and BIO5 Institute at the University of Arizona.

Join the ASBMB Today mailing list

Sign up to get updates on articles, interviews and events.

Latest in Careers

Careers highlights or most popular articles

Pandemic threatens food security for many college students
News

Pandemic threatens food security for many college students

January 17, 2021

One spring 2020 report found that 38% of students at four-year universities were food-insecure in the previous 30 days.

Calendar of events, awards and opportunities
Announcement

Calendar of events, awards and opportunities

January 17, 2021

New: Catalyst Conversation "Constructing narratives for teaching science," a $35,000 outreach grant from ASCB, a webinar on mentoring URM trainees and more.

From neuroscientist to science policy analyst
Jobs

From neuroscientist to science policy analyst

January 15, 2021

Careers columnist Martina G. Efeyini talked to NHLBI staffer Nicholas Jury about his career path.

Calendar of events, awards and opportunities
Announcement

Calendar of events, awards and opportunities

January 10, 2021

Coming up this month: Lipids research talks, cancer–testis webinar, L'Oréal fellowship deadline and PALM Network fellowship deadline.

Mental health in academia: Shedding light on those who provide support
Wellness

Mental health in academia: Shedding light on those who provide support

January 09, 2021

An eLife survey explores the experiences of those in the research community who support colleagues struggling with their mental health.

How to get involved in science outreach
Outreach

How to get involved in science outreach

January 08, 2021

Our academic careers columnist writes about how students, postdocs and professors can get involved in the essential work of outreach while keeping their day jobs.