Thursday, 13 July 2017 08:58

Promote STEM Diversity by Volunteering as a Judge for Student Presenters

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Published in Teaching Microbiology

The U.S. scientific workforce doesn’t reflect the diversity of the U.S. population, though research suggests that more diverse teams have a greater scientific impact and solve problems better than less-diverse teams. Decades of effort by federal agencies, institutions of higher education, scientific societies, and others have been put into increasing the diversity of the scientific workforce, and while some progress has been made, there’s still a lot of work to do. As a faculty member, one way that you can help diversify the future STEM workforce (and your lab) is to mentor students by providing feedback on their presentations.

You may be providing advice informally, or perhaps you have the opportunity to judge student posters at a campus, regional, or national research symposium. The most important thing to remember, particularly when working with students from underrepresented groups, is to build the students’ confidence. You should provide constructive criticism while also helping the student feel like they belong in science. You can also mentor students in other ways, including helping them choose research projects, write up their work for publication, and even just by sharing your enthusiasm for science.

Judges can provide the hook that student presenters need to stay engaged in STEM. They “have to make positive comments and have an open mind, trying to motivate these students and keep them involved on a path to graduate level education,” says Dr. Alfredo Torres. Dr. Torres is a longtime judge and member of the Steering Committee for ABRCMS, the largest conference for underrepresented minority students in STEM in the U.S. “Your contributions as a judge will change the spectrum of graduate students you’ll receive in the future. If we expand the number of underrepresented minority students interested in attending graduate school, get more applications from these highly qualified individuals, and they go on to attend graduate school, then promoting the diversity that we talk about so much in universities will be accomplished,” he adds.

It is helpful to have a good judging rubric, like the one that ABRCMS judges use, and students should see the rubric before they prepare their presentation. Learn from colleagues who have assessed student presentations before, and hear from students about what makes feedback helpful.

One way to start mentoring student presenters is to be a judge at ABRCMS. New judges receive a lot of support before and during the conference, and first-time judges who apply for and win a travel award receive conference registration, housing, airfare, and a travel subsidy (the application deadline is July 20th, 2017). Even if you only inspire one underrepresented student to stay involved in STEM (and at ABRCMS you’ll likely reach a lot more than one!), you’ve helped to make the future STEM workforce stronger.


ABRCMS is sponsored by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under award number R13GM113579 and managed by ASM. ABRCMS 2017 will be held in Phoenix, AZ, November 1-4, 2017.


Bethany Adamec is a Science Education Specialist at ASM, where she communicates about ASM’s work in student and faculty professional development, supports the ASM Education Board, and works with colleagues to promote evidence-based education reform.