MCB’s Community Task Force (CTF) on Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging will host an open house at 3:00 pm on Thursday, May 19 on Zoom. Delegates from the CTF are encouraging anyone who is curious about their work or interested in joining to attend the open house. Attendees can register here.
Throughout the past year, the CTF’s working groups have been organizing projects, such as the Community Forum and the Bellono Lab Open House, and interfacing with departmental leadership to promote positive change throughout the MCB department. At present, the CTF has three working groups–one dedicated to Community Engagement, one focusing on Recruitment & Retention, and a third exploring ways to increase Transparency, particularly around departmental policy and the leadership’s decision-making.
CTF projects stem from monthly discussions, where staff, faculty, undergraduates, graduate students, and postdocs from various labs and departmental niches come together (usually on Zoom) to talk through actionable solutions to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion issues in MCB. Outside of larger CTF meetings, working groups meet on their own to establish goals and plan projects. They later bring these recommendations to department leaders and, with support from faculty and administration, can organize their own events.
CTF delegate from the Community Engagement group and MCB concentrator Felicia Ho says these discussions are unique opportunities to meet and interact with MCB community members that she otherwise might never have encountered. MCO student and CTF delegate from the Recruitment & Retention Group Paula Pelayo (G4, Balskus Lab) adds that when she initially joined the CTF, she felt like a “a very shy person” but through interacting with colleagues on the CTF, she has gained confidence. She adds that being part of the CTF is “a professional development opportunity to learn how to talk to faculty.”
New working groups are formed each year, based on the current CTF members’ interests and the issues that are being raised in discussions. MCO Graduate Program Administrator Lindsay Guest, who is part of the Transparency working group, says that deciding which working group to focus on wasn’t easy, as all of the working groups provide a great deal of value.
The Transparency working group focuses on communication within the department and fostering a sense of belonging through “demystifying the hidden curriculum.” Prior to the working group’s formation, plans for the establishment of an MCB department-wide listserv and a Slack workspace were already in the works, but conversations within the Transparency working group reiterated the importance of conveying the rationales behind departmental decisions. Last year, the Transparency working group added delegates from the CTF to major departmental committees, such as the Faculty Search Committee and Graduate Admissions Committee, enabling more direct flow of communication.
The Transparency working group’s upcoming projects include creating an “administration page” for the MCB website, explaining the roles and responsibilities of the department’s administrative staff and a digital “handbook” spelling out frequently-used Harvard acronyms and academic jargon, and providing more information about departmental guidelines, policies, and procedures. They also hope to make Community Forum events, where members of the community can ask questions and raise issues with leadership, a recurring tradition. The first Community Forum was held this past semester in March.
The Recruitment & Retention working group is addressing the lack of faculty and postdocs from diverse backgrounds. The most recent faculty search efforts by MCB have seen very few applicants of color. So the CTF working group has recommended that MCB request authorization to run a “cluster hire,” where a department recruits several new faculty to join as a cohort. The working group’s extensive research indicates that this approach can be an effective way to attract and retain a cohort of outstanding junior scientists from underrepresented backgrounds. Therefore, the CTF working group is working to ensure that job listings for faculty and postdoc positions use inclusive language and are distributed widely, especially on sites where candidates from underrepresented groups look for jobs. They are also encouraging faculty to provide more benefits to postdocs, as the absence of benefits can limit the applicant pool, and to disseminate postdoc job listings more widely.
In the coming year, the Recruitment & Retention group would like to seek more feedback from stakeholder groups in MCB, such as undergraduates and staff. They also plan to provide resources and guidance to faculty who are hiring, as many professors adopt an attitude of “I’m only going to hire people who show up at my door,” which tends to favor already privileged applicants.
The Community Engagement Working Group is oriented more toward outreach and fostering informal connections in the MCB community at large, from undergraduates to faculty and staff. Most recently, they applied to receive funding from the FAS Community Renewal Fund, which was granted, and sponsored the May Coronavirus Bash party. Earlier this semester, they organized the Bellono Lab Open House and plan to use the successful event as a template for more lab open houses next year. They have also launched the MCB Mentorship Awards initiative that will be incorporated into the MCB retreat later this year to recognize those outstanding mentors for their valuable guidance. They also hope to collaborate with the Bok Center and other groups on running events like a mentorship workshop, where undergraduate and graduate students can learn about how to seek and provide mentorship, and “mix & mingle” lunches where members of the MCB community are randomly matched to meet with each other and talk informally.
Delegates from the CTF say the overarching goal of their work is to make the department as approachable and accessible as possible, to foster a sense of inclusivity. New recruits join the CTF every year, adding vital new perspectives to these projects. If you’re interested in learning more, or potentially joining the CTF, please RSVP to the open house by Thursday, May 19, or contact a member of the CTF with any questions.