The Diversity and Science Lecture Series is funded


Graduate Seminar Series Receives $460,000 Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Grant to Expand Programming at UC San Diego and Beyond

Amid the growing social justice movement in the summer of 2020, many graduate programs released equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) mission statements. But as Gene Yeo, a professor of cellular and molecular medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine, met with students in the Bioinformatics Graduate Program (BGP), he could see they needed something. beyond a management statement.

“It was clear that graduate students were looking to have their voices heard,” said Yeo, who co-leads BGP. “They wanted us to understand their experiences and listen to their needs. I thought, ‘what better way to give them a voice than to let them speak.’ ”

In the weeks that followed, Yeo recruited a group of students and postdocs to design a program where young life scientists could discuss their views on social justice in STEM. At the end of June, the group held its first session of the Diversity and Science Lecture Series (DASL).

The 2021-2022 DASL organizers include (left to right) Jillybeth Burgado, Fabiana Izidro Layng, Evan Boyle, Gertrude Ecklu-Mensah, Noorsher Ahmed and Gabriela Goldberg. Not pictured: Mike Cuoco and Dottie Dothard.

The virtual seminar series highlights the academic journeys of early-career scientists from diverse backgrounds. During the 20-minute lectures, each speaker shares their latest research and explores the personal life experiences that have shaped their career. Speakers are also encouraged to share EDI resources with audience members or suggest a specific call to action.

“Our mission is to give a highly visible platform to underrepresented, disadvantaged and marginalized life science interns – what they do with this platform is their choice,” said Evan Boyle, co-founder from DASL and postdoctoral fellow at the Yeo laboratory. Prior to leading DASL, Boyle also served as EDI Vice President for the UC San Diego Postdoctoral Association, where he established a group serving queer and allied postdocs.

The series has now hosted more than 80 graduate students and postdoctoral speakers, and has covered topics such as racial, immigrant and LGBTQ identities, rural backgrounds and disabilities. Boyle also noted that almost all of the speakers highlighted the importance of family support and mentorship in their careers.

“The message to university faculty and staff is clear: don’t ignore social connections to support the success of research programs.

The team recently published a preprint of a manuscript summarizing DASL’s strategy and results, hoping it will help other institutions launch similar grassroots efforts. Their success also helped them secure funding from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. (CZI). The $460,000 grant will allow DASL to expand its programming at UC San Diego and support new DASL programs at partner institutions including UCLA, Harvard University, Vanderbilt University, University Emory and the University of Utah.

Freedom of expression

While the ship is sailing smoothly now, Boyle describes the early days of DASL as “quite experimental”, with speakers and organizers unsure of what would be the best structure for these complex conversations. They expected the familiar format of a research conference to appeal to a wider audience, but they also wanted speakers to have freedom and flexibility. In this “by students, for students” program, collaboration would be key.

The group began holding rehearsals where each speaker had the opportunity to practice their speech and get personalized feedback from the organizers before facing an audience of students and professors. Now a staple of DASL, these practice sessions have proven important in helping speakers reinforce their message and feel ready to share their stories.

One of these speakers was Ege Yalcinbas, who holds a doctorate in neuroscience. student who presented in Spring 2021. In the lab, Yalcinbas studies the neural circuits of learning and motivation. In her DASL talk, she described what motivated her in her career.

Ege Yalcinbas

Ege Yalcinbas

As she guided the audience on her winding path to science, a central message emerged: she was not “destined” to become a neuroscientist, but through practical support (fellowships, prizes, invitations to conferences) and social (family, friends and mentors), she has now become one.

“My question is, how do we make science a space where anyone interested can stumble upon and feel comfortable? How do we remove the barriers that prevent people from following their interests and landing safely here? That’s how I think about diversity.

For Yalcinbas, who was born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey, before her family moved to the United States, one of the early attractions of science was its universality and objectivity.

“I was a Middle Eastern immigrant in post-9/11 America,” Yalcinbas said, “but in science class, it didn’t matter where I was from, my name, or what I looked like. I could almost escape those parts of my identity and just nerd out.

But like many students from underrepresented backgrounds, Yalcinbas began to struggle with this erasure as she progressed through her research career. She sensed that many scientists seemed to leave their unscientific identities at the lab door.

“I felt like I had to suppress my identities — as an immigrant, as a woman, as an artist — to be taken seriously, but now I’m claiming them.”

After her speech, Yalcinbas received a flurry of emails from students regarding her view of diversity and her difficulties in assimilating, but the response that surprised her the most was from the faculty in the audience.

“I thought it would be intimidating to share my story with teachers, but I really felt empowered by the dynamics. At a DASL seminar, teachers are the ones who listen and learn from you. And they can take that information back to their departments where they make decisions about program funding and culture. It’s a really creative way to come together and make things happen.

The future of DASL is bright

The CZI grant funding will usher in a new era for DASL at UC San Diego and its growing list of partner institutions. Some funds will be used to support their annual Diversity and Science Symposium, where leaders from each university meet and exchange ideas. Yeo also plans to engage local biotech leaders who could provide insight into how other science-based industries are approaching EDI.

Another part of the grant will be allocated to honorariums for future speakers and volunteers. Yeo said he hopes this reward system will help faculty members appreciate the work graduate students put into this initiative, in addition to their lab work.

“Thanks to this recent funding from CZI Science, DASL is well on its way to becoming a national movement,” Yeo said, “and it all started with the incredible interns here at UC San Diego.”


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