Essay

Finding connection in identity ambiguity

This is the third-place winner in our “Meeting connections” essay contest
Heather Dwyer Martina Rosenberg
By Heather Dwyer and Martina Rosenberg
March 29, 2022

What does it mean to occupy an in-between space, both personally and professionally?

Our role in educational development often is described as a liminal position, somewhere between a traditional faculty appointment and a staff appointment. The two of us hold doctorates in the biological sciences, and we use our professional training to support instructors in their pedagogical efforts, from course design to classroom management to evaluating instructional effectiveness.

Referred to as “care work,” this job requires emotional labor and is mostly completed by women — specifically, white women. Membership of the Professional and Organizational Development, or POD, Network, our national organization, largely identifies as white (85%) and female (75%). Given these statistics and a racialized society, it can be particularly difficult for educational developers with minoritized identities to navigate daily conversations around educational equity and act as a “key lever for ensuring institutional quality and supporting institutional change,” as Mary Deane Sorcinelli and co-authors wrote in “Creating the Future of Faculty Development.”

For us, in particular, our professional identity ambiguity intersects with our personal identity ambiguity. Both of us individually have struggled to come to terms with our racial identities. As half-Chinese, half-white women who were raised in Westernized communities (Germany, the United States), we never felt comfortable in the usual categories. Are we BIPOC? Asian? Are we allowed to join such affinity groups? Sometimes we pass as white — what are the implications of this? Are we imposters if our upbringings involved little Chinese cultural tradition and language? How do we relate to the lived experiences of other Asians and other people of color? And how does all of this impact our work, particularly in the realm of supporting diversity, equity, inclusion and justice in higher education? 

We each had asked ourselves these questions alone. Then we found each other at a conference. The POD Network annual conference, held remotely in November 2021, for the first time incorporated affinity group meetings. We bumped into each other twice in spaces that were designated for Asian American and Pacific Islander folks and were pleasantly surprised at how natural it was to disclose our continued questioning and struggle with racial identity to a total stranger.

Our shared experience led us to establish a connection, thus beginning a mutual mentoring relationship. Though this relationship is nascent, we have discussed everything from our experiences as young children to the ways in which we navigate and even leverage our racial identities when working with faculty. Our miniature affinity group has felt affirming, both personally and professionally. Now we can ask, and begin to answer, some of these questions together.

This connection would not have been forged had there not been affinity groups interwoven in the conference schedule. We appreciated the fluidity of self-selection — after all, Asians are not a monolithic group, and we are examples of that.

We encourage event organizers on national, local or even departmental levels to create space for affinity groups so members of underrepresented identities can seek one another for mutual support, understanding and inspiration.

About ‘Meeting Connections’

Have you made a friendship or connection, forged a collaboration, gleaned insight or had another meaningful experience at a scientific meeting?

To celebrate the return of the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s annual meeting as an in-person event, ASBMB Today held an essay contest based on this question. This is one of the winning entries.

Enjoy reading ASBMB Today?

Become a member to receive the print edition monthly and the digital edition weekly.

Learn more
Heather Dwyer
Heather Dwyer

Heather Dwyer is assistant director at Tufts University’s Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching. She earned her doctorate in ecology at the University of California, Davis, and has been supporting university instructors in their teaching since 2011.

Martina Rosenberg
Martina Rosenberg

Martina Rosenberg is the director for teaching and learning assessment at the University of Connecticut. Her Ph.D. in biochemistry from Freie Universität Berlin, Germany, served her in neuroscience research, biochemistry education scholarship and now in academic development.

Get the latest from ASBMB Today

Enter your email address, and we’ll send you a weekly email with recent articles, interviews and more.

Latest in Opinions

Opinions highlights or most popular articles

Evolutionary constraints on disordered proteins
Feature

Evolutionary constraints on disordered proteins

Dec. 5, 2022

Best of BMB 2022: “There’s evidence that there must be conservation of function — so how does this happen, if the sequence changes so much?”

Fun in Seattle
President's Message

Fun in Seattle

Dec. 1, 2022

#DiscoverBMB 2023: Come to Seattle for the science. Stay for the aquarium!

The f -word (failure) in research: When good plans go bad
Books

The f -word (failure) in research: When good plans go bad

Nov. 29, 2022

This is an edited excerpt from “Life and Research: A Survival Guide for Early-Career Biomedical Scientists,” a book that started as a tweet, according to its authors.

Proteins for a green energy future
Essay

Proteins for a green energy future

Nov. 20, 2022

“We need giant steps, not small, if we are going to create the innovation in policies, political will, and technology needed to succeed with this existential problem,” writes Vanderbilt’s Borden Lacy.

A glimpse into the world of lipids
Interview

A glimpse into the world of lipids

Nov. 18, 2022

ASBMB’s Deuel conference provides "a bird’s-eye view of the field."’

Advocacy successes in 2022
Funding

Advocacy successes in 2022

Nov. 17, 2022

Here’s some of what the ASBMB Public Affairs Advisory Committee and public affairs department have been up to over the past year.