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Seventeen Minutes of Science: How Scientific Societies Can Build Intentional Partnerships to Reach True DEI

Join us for episode 57 of 17 Minutes of Science as we talk with Dr. Pamela Padilla about how scientific societies can build intentional partnerships to reach true diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Dr. Pamela Padilla is the current President of SACNAS (Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science) in addition to being the Vice President of Research and Innovation (interim), Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies, and Professor of Biological Sciences at University of North Texas. Dr. Padilla received her Ph.D. from the University of New Mexico and conducted her post-doctoral research at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle WA. She has an interest in how environmental stress affects living organisms at the cellular, genetic and molecular level. She has experience studying stress with various genetic model systems including C. elegans, yeast, zebrafish, killifish, and mammalian cell culture.

SACNAS is the largest STEM diversity organization in the United States and is dedicated to fostering the success of Chicano/Hispanic and Native American scientists – from college students to professionals – to attain advanced degrees, careers and positions of leadership in the science, technology, engineering and math fields. Founded more than 40 years ago, the society serves nearly 20,000 members with more than 100 chapters at colleges and universities throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

Join us to learn more from Dr. Padilla about SACNAS, intentional partnerships, and how scientific societies can reach true DEI.


Ben Jussila (Host): [00:00:10] Hello, everybody. Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, wherever you are. My name is  Ben Jussila and I am your host today for today’s episode of 17 Minutes of Science with InVivo Biosystems. It is my pleasure today to introduce you to Dr. Padilla, who is going to be talking to us today about how scientific societies can build intentional partnerships to reach true DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion). Dr. Padilla is the interim Vice President of Research and Innovation, Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies and Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of North Texas, um a lot of hats. She has an interest in how environmental stress affects living organisms at the cellular, genetic and molecular level, and has experience studying stress with various genetic model systems, including C. elegans, yeast, zebrafish, killifish, and mammalian cell culture. Outside of her many roles at the University of North Texas, Dr. Padilla is also the current president of SACNAS, the Society for Advancement of Chicanos, Hispanics and Native Americans in Science -the largest STEM diversity organization in the United States and is dedicated to fostering the success of Chicano, Hispanic and Native American scientists to obtain advanced degrees, careers, and positions of leadership in the STEM fields. Um, sorry, that was – you’ve got a very impressive, impressive list there. So thank you again for joining us today. I don’t know if you want to take a second to give us a little bit more background about yourself and what you do.


Dr. Pamela Padilla (Guest): [00:01:33] Sure. I actually transitioned this summer from the um, Associate Vice President of Research and Innovation into the Dean of College of Science. So that’s actually a change in position. And so I’m also a Professor and have an active research lab where I mentor graduate students and run some research training grants as well. And the area of work that I’m interested in, I primarily use the C. elegan model system of use zebrafish as well as killifish as well. I’m interested in how organisms respond to stress and in particular, stresses that are relevant to human health related issues.


 Ben Jussila (Host): [00:02:10] Excellent. Well, thank you for the the background information there. I’m going to go ahead and as as we are called, I’m going to start this 17 minute timer here. And I guess I will just start off by asking. So what the today’s subjects. Can you elaborate a little bit on what intentional partnerships are in the context of the DEI initiatives and organizations?


Dr. Pamela Padilla (Guest): [00:02:36] Sure. And, you know, that’s something a really important word, the word intentional. That means that there’s something, some intent to it. And so in this regards, it would be that the partners themselves, whether they be academic institutes, scientific societies, government agencies, et cetera, that there’s really agreed upon and clear understanding of what the partnership is about. And there’s mutual benefit for both of those individual groups that are involved. And so, so that they work towards a specific goal and have particular outcomes that are benefiting both. And so what it isn’t is one partner taking advantage of another one or having sort of a false partnership just on paper that it looks like they’re doing something, but they may not actually be reaching particular goals. And so when we say intentional, we really want to make sure that there’s a vested interest of all the partners and deliverable actions and good outcomes for those involved.


 Ben Jussila (Host): [00:03:34] Ok, yeah, I mean, and that’s – I mean, you only want to actually back those things up with, you know, as you say, intentional and explicitly stated things, not a blanket statement or a title with kind of no outcomes at the end of the day that just looks good on the surface.


Dr. Pamela Padilla (Guest): [00:03:50] Right.


 Ben Jussila (Host): [00:03:52] So I guess along those lines. So what do you mean here by true diversity in terms of DEI? What is, so what are those sort of actionable outcomes look like that need to be put in place and be sort of held accountable to?


Dr. Pamela Padilla (Guest): [00:04:14] Well, it’s everything from beyond just the numbers and number counting to be able to try to state some objective that’s been made, but rather it is also that there is representation within various sectors of what the population within our country is. And so with that, we’re thinking about education, we’re thinking about leaders, we’re thinking about professors. Do they truly reflect, is there true diversity within those different sectors? Especially in individual groups that have Decision-Making roles, we want to have some diversity there as well – so that they can reflect and understand the different populations that they serve. And so true diversity is really beyond just a specific segment of the population, but really in terms of workforce, but looking at the workforce as a whole.


 Ben Jussila (Host): [00:05:09] Yeah, absolutely. That that makes sense. And so I guess, in terms of societies acting on these things and societies putting these these initiatives in place, where, where’re we starting sort of now versus where we need to go and who is, I guess, who is leading the way in that and that initiative in these scientific societies.


Dr. Pamela Padilla (Guest): [00:05:39] Right. Scientific societies. Well, I would say one of the major leaders has been SACNAS, so the Society for the Advancement of Chicano, Hispanic and Native Americans in Science. And so we’re going to be reaching our 50th anniversary before long. We’ve been around for 48, 48 years. We’ll have our 50th anniversary conference in Portland, next year is in Puerto Rico. And so that society really was built because other scientific societies were not as inclusive as they should have been during that time period. And so it was a place for scientists to be able – from those different demographics, to start building a very inclusive environment so that individuals who are going through the academic system, including myself, I mean a couple of decades ago as a student, could be welcomed into that area and learn about science as well as network. And then they feel a little bit more comfortable moving into other scientific society environments that’s required. And so SACNAS was definitely a leader. There’s been others as well. And then through the years, I’ve seen other scientific societies really take some good initiatives. American Society of Cell Biology, they have some great programs and seek funding to be able to support minoritized and marginalized populations. American Society of Plant Biology partnered with SACNAS more recently and is able to get some initiative started, as well as the American Chemical Society. They have committees and subcommittees that really specifically address diversity, equity and inclusion and respect. They call it respect, as well as an important initiative within their societies. And so those are just some that are moving forward, this particular initiative. And I think of them as leaders as well.


 Ben Jussila (Host): [00:07:30] And in terms of your your current roles, how do you incorporate DEI initiatives into your your own lab and how do you use your position to advocate, you know, within within the board? Yeah, if you can just tell us a little bit more about, I guess, your sort of day to day.


Dr. Pamela Padilla (Guest): [00:07:52] Right. You know, I think of it as a fabric of of what I do, whether I’m in the lab being a scientist and training students, whether I’m in the classroom teaching, whether I’m running particular committees within the organization, within the institute or my service to SACNAS, as well as a leader on campus, as a Dean of College of Science. I think about the foundation has to be equity and respect as well as inclusion. So being able to hear individual voices as well as understanding what’s important for the initiatives to move forward. So those are sort of the foundation of – if one comes to the presence of that table, wherever you’re working, you could have a more inclusive environment for individuals. And also that equity is very important as well. And I do recognize that there’s mosaic in terms of understanding or appreciation for these particular type of ideas. And so what I try to do is is really bring forward, you know, as the scientist in me, the the studies that have been done that really show that if you brought in participation and you have a group of individuals that are from unique and different environments, in fact, creativity and innovation is more likely to increase. And so, and that is a foundation of what science is. We want to be able to capture, you know, the best ideas. And those best ideas can be everywhere in terms of experiences. You know, I always say that every zip code in this country has great talent. And, um, but not always a great opportunity for those individuals. And so that’s something that we as educators want to be able to outreach to.


 Ben Jussila (Host): [00:09:42] Absolutely. And in terms of, sort of the the younger generations and, you know, entry into career tracks that go towards academia or industry or other other scientifically-based career paths, what is, what is being done right now to improve accessibility and what kind of outreach is being done for like K-12 to support that and make that happen? Because I feel like that’s also, kind of a, sometimes a disconnect between what’s happening at the collegiate level versus what’s happening in the public school system.


Dr. Pamela Padilla (Guest): [00:10:26] Right. And so there are different agencies that are really interested in that, whether it’s Department of Education, National Science Foundation – just by implementing their broader impacts historically have really pushed scientists and engineers to be able to move forward and think about how can what they’re doing reach a community at a broader level. And obviously, part of that community is the K-12 level. And so we’ve done things on campus, including myself, where we would have teachers come onto campus and they could learn something in the labs and then take it back into the classroom. I’ve partnered with a teacher before and taught high school students so that they have an educator and a professor learning something. So that was historically in the past what I’ve done, as well as partnering with organizations like museums, et cetera, to be able to take that information from the laboratory [into the museum] where there are thousands of people that can go through. And so there’s really – your creativity and what can be done within the community that you have yourself. With, you know, individuals and place can actually really move forward ideas about science to a broader community. But also those individuals can see, hey, there’s a scientist that actually looks like me who is doing this type of work, and I’m really interested in it. How can I move forward and have someone to ask those questions? I myself remember being extremely interested in science when I was 12, but I had never met a scientist before. I just knew I liked the topic and I’ve never seen a scientist before. And so we want to be able to put, you know, our graduate students, our undergraduates or, you know, different individuals within the field out there so that they can be role models as well within their community.


 Ben Jussila (Host): [00:12:16] Yeah. Now, that’s that’s something where my, I think my first exposure to a scientist – I’m from a fairly rural town in northeastern Minnesota in mining country, and my first exposure was my friend’s dad, who was a scientist at the EPA lab on Lake Superior there. And it just blew my mind. You can do that kind of work, because all I had seen is like mining and manual labor, like engineering jobs, and it was not having that exposure. I mean, I wish I’d had that exposure earlier, but being able to shadow that person for a day was was a big deal.


Dr. Pamela Padilla (Guest): [00:12:55] It can be life changing.


 Ben Jussila (Host): [00:12:57] Yeah, I guess. And so that’s, so that’s kind of at the academic level in terms of outreach. So this is addressing a question from the audience: which is, how can companies support scientific societies such as SACNAS? And related to that, and what we’re just talking about here – what are some things that industrial groups so companies, startups, our biotech start up here, especially smaller organizations that don’t have maybe a lot of resources, um, what are things that -what are sort of first steps, I guess, or resources that are available?


Dr. Pamela Padilla (Guest): [00:13:38] Yeah, definitely getting involved. And so there are partnerships between SACNAS and various industry partners as well. And so one of them was like Procter & Gamble provided some support so that we can provide leadership training. So we have access to the membership, to those individuals getting through PhDs or even thereafter. And those are potential members that can become part of who you hire. And so everything from providing information about internships, having partnerships so that we can build leadership components within, and development of our membership, as well as the presence at our various events. So whether it’s conferences, our national conference, we’re also moving into some other new initiatives that will be forthcoming over the next year that are intentionally built so that we can have that partnership with industry.


 Ben Jussila (Host): [00:14:40] Yeah.


Dr. Pamela Padilla (Guest): [00:14:40] Yeah. So so definitely knowing about it, and anyone can go to our Website, SACNAS.org, and be able to learn more information about that, too, but we really welcome the presence of of businesses and companies within the SACNAS National Conference.


 Ben Jussila (Host): [00:14:59] Excellent. That’s that’s great. And that’s you know, I know in, like in Eugene here we’ve got the University of Oregon and we have Thermo Fisher and a couple of other biotechs, including ourselves. And so I think that’s it’s really important for us to reach out to our own community. And, you know, I feel like there’s a desire to look outwards and see what’s happening out there and elsewhere and far away. But you have to start at home and make those opportunities available and encourage that.


Dr. Pamela Padilla (Guest): [00:15:35] One other thing I’d add is that SACNAS has conferences, or are rather chapters. A lot of the chapters are within universities, but there are also chapters within the private companies as well. And so that is basically another sort of local way in which there can be an immediate building of of SACNAS members, which is very inclusive. So anyone can become a member within your organization, as well as getting some information and resources from the national organization.


 Ben Jussila (Host): [00:16:06] Awesome. Yeah. And we will we will make sure to – when we share this, share the website, any other resources that we that we can. I guess, okay, so there’s one one more question here that we didn’t cover that I think is kind of an interesting one. So in science, the traditional measures of success, such as publication and grants, can be prone to bias by selection. How can we as a scientific community work to minimize this and create a more equitable space?


Dr. Pamela Padilla (Guest): [00:16:35] Right. That’s, and that’s a hard question to truly get solved. But one of the ways in which I think that I’ve observed over the last decade that is improving and moving us towards that, that goal is that there’s at least a recognition that biases exist. I don’t think biases were talked much about several decades ago. And now we actually -for reviewers within, you know, I’m a reviewer for grants or for publications – we get some sort of training to recognize that. I would highly encourage any organization that helps decision makers within the sciences to be able to have these biases trainings or at least resources for individuals. And so that’s the start, is to recognize it. And then what do you do as an organization or an individual to recognize and mitigate that bias is important. And as well as individuals feeling very comfortable saying, hey, that particular decision was probably made with not an equitable mind, but some biases as well. And so, you know, the recognition and then the follow through to really minimize and mitigate it is going to help and produce a more equitable environment as well as, then that pushes – that’s what pushes diversity when you have more of an equitable environment.


 Ben Jussila (Host): [00:18:08] We have we have just over a minute left here. I think we have time for one more question. And this is an audience one. So the question is, at the recent C. elegans conference, there was a DEI session. Are you starting to see more DEI focused sessions and initiatives at conferences across the board? Or, and to elaborate on that, are there areas that that that are doing better than others, say, life sciences or humanities? Like what – what would you say about about that?


Dr. Pamela Padilla (Guest): [00:18:39] Yeah, it’s probably a mosaic in terms of where individual societies are. I would say like American Society of Cell Biology has been doing this for a while. And this was actually for Genetics Society of America, which I was actually speaker at that particular session, this was the first time they did it. And so it’s really important that they maintain it. It was really highly attended. So that’s really positive. And to be able to get the word out that this is part of who we are. Again, who we are as a fabric in terms of scientists to be able to build upon these really important ideas. And it really is to push the science to become better, than in an inequitable type of environment. So, yes, GSA is doing this now, and I’m so happy that they did.


 Ben Jussila (Host): [00:19:29] That’s that’s excellent, and that’s, you know, and I, I feel like, too, it’s important for these more central organizations to really step up and set an example. And, you know, and emphasize that this is not a, it’s not a metric that you have to hit. It’s not about numbers. It’s not about a criteria. It is about improvement. It is about accessibility, it is about, you know, it is about who we are as scientists and what we represent and the kind of work that we do. And if we’re not going to represent the people that that we claim to be doing this research for, especially when it’s human health focused.


Dr. Pamela Padilla (Guest): [00:20:09] Exactly.


 Ben Jussila (Host): [00:20:09] I mean it’s, you know, it’s it’s crucial.


Dr. Pamela Padilla (Guest): [00:20:13] Yes.


 Ben Jussila (Host): [00:20:14] So that was, as I’m sure you heard, the timer. And I just want to say thank you again so much for taking the time to talk with us today. I really appreciate you taking the time and your insights. We will again share the SACNAS.org Website along with this video, when it’s posted. And if you have any questions that you weren’t able to get into the chat, you can still send them or comment and we will send those along to Dr. Padilla. So thank you so much. And we will, we will look forward to seeing what you do next.


Dr. Pamela Padilla (Guest): [00:20:54] All right. Thank you so much. Appreciate it,


 Ben Jussila (Host): [00:20:57] Alrighty. Take care, everybody, and have a great Tuesday.

About The Author

Hannah Huston

Hannah is the Marketing Manager at InVivo Biosystems. She received her Bachelor of Science in Science & Management specializing in Biotechnology from Scripps College in 2017. She has been with InVivo Biosystems since June of 2018. Outside of work Hannah coaches youth soccer and enjoys being active and outside with her dog, Siri.

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