Do You Know How Your Colleagues, Mentees, and Students Will Spend the Holidays?

by Jamie Vernon | Dec 17, 2019

2019 Student Research Conference Top Presenters

The top poster presenters in the 2019 Sigma Xi Student Research Conference. (Images by Sam Waldron for Ruthie Hauge Photography)


Jamie Vernon

Sigma Xi takes pride in creating an inclusive environment for the creative pursuit of knowledge. We gather together for member and chapter events to connect and build relationships. Research is our common bond, but it’s also important to think about the quality of life that those around us have outside of our work environment. 

For example, how often do we ask our colleagues, mentees, and students about their plans for the holidays? We assume that most people have a plan that is like ours. However, as science has become more diverse so, too, have holiday plans, or the lack thereof. For economically disadvantaged students, traveling home may be a little too much to bear. Likewise, immigration protocols may deter our international colleagues, mentees, and students from visiting their families in distant places. So where do these folks spend their holidays? 

Many may occupy their time by spending additional hours in the laboratory, hoping to get a little more work done, or just fill time. Would they choose to do so if they had a more welcoming place to go? 

During the recent Sigma Xi Annual Meeting in Madison, Wisconsin, member Ashanti Johnson, recipient of the 2019 John P. McGovern Science and Society Award and a champion of broadening participation in research, described her student experience as a woman of color. Her childhood dream to be like Jacques Cousteau was diminished by the loneliness of her early research experiences. While her classmates, who were predominantly white, completed their daily tasks and then headed out for after-hours imbibing, she and her classmate, also a person of color who wasn't interested in drinking at the local pub, returned to their campus housing without peers who shared their interests or cultures. 

The problem of being left out continued into her professional career. She gave the example of colleagues who at a social activity, discussed and made decisions that were scheduled to be addressed at an upcoming faculty meeting. She wasn’t present during the discussion and didn’t have the opportunity to have a voice at the table. 

The message of her story is: diversity of representation is not enough for research to thrive. We also need to be inclusive  with our colleagues, mentees, and students—to ensure they have a voice in decision-making, to give them equal career-growth opportunities, and to find ways to welcome them into the research community. Sometimes, especially during the holidays, making everyone feel welcome extends beyond the laboratory. 

Ashanti Johnson

Dr. Ashanti Johnson speaks about the importance of diversity and inclusion in research as she accepts the Sigma Xi John P. McGovern Science and Society Award at the Society's 2019 Annual Meeting and Student Research Conference. 

As many of us prepare to leave the lab or the office for the holiday break, it might be appreciated if we simply ask our colleagues, mentees, and students how they plan to spend their time. Other ways to be inclusive this time of year include:

  • hosting a potluck at your home,

  • organizing social time around a shared goal such as a service project,

  • starting conversations about interests outside of school or work,

  • inviting those who would otherwise not have plans this time of year to join in your activities,

  • asking about community events or traditions that they enjoy, whether those take place in December or not,

  • joining them in their preferred social environment.

You might find that your holidays are enriched by the presence of a few new faces around the dinner table. 

Have you found a way to be more inclusive with your colleagues, mentees, and students, such as starting a dialogue about different cultures or traditions? What have you done? Please share in the comments below.  

Jamie Vernon signature

Jamie L. Vernon
Executive Director and CEO, Sigma Xi
Publisher, American Scientist

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